Photo: Kate Hunter - Eclipse Sportswire
No matter what happens in tomorrow’s Arima Kinen, Orfevre will be remembered as one of Japan’s greatest horses of recent years. The 2011 Horse of the Year will take his final bow in front of his adoring fans when he uses the big race at Nakayama Racecourse as his grand farewell from racing. If the popular son of Stay Gold is to go out a winner, he will need to defeat a solid field that includes the race’s defending champion, Gold Ship. So, the Arima Kinen will serve as one final big test for Orfevre, a horse very familiar with being challenged.
Still a work in progress at two, the big chestnut put things together as a three-year-old in his native land. By sweeping the Satsuki Sho, the Tokyo Yushun, and then several months later, the Kikuka Sho, Orfevre became only the seventh horse to win the Japanese Triple Crown. He finished off his amazing season of 2011, by defeating a strong field of older horses in that year’s edition of the Arima Kinen.
He’s had his ups and downs since, more ups than downs, but Orfevre, now five, has continued to remain as central a figure in Japanese racing as any horse. Two well documented trips to Europe have proven his class on an international scale. In both of the last two years, the Yasutoshi Ikee trained star has won the Prix Foy, a major prep for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Unfortunately, those successes did not quite translate to victory in the big one, twice finishing second to outstanding fillies, Solemia and Treve in the Arc.
After last year’s Arc, Orfevre came back much quicker, and lost a heartbreaker to the star filly, Gentildonna in the Japan Cup. This year, the grandson of Sunday Silence was given more time after his trip to France, and his connections believe that he is now ready to give his best in his career finale.
Orfevre will have his familiar partner, Kenichi Ikezoe, back in the irons for the Arima Kinen after being ridden by Christophe Soumillon in his Longchamp races. Speaking of riders, Orfevre’s top rival will get the services of perhaps the hottest jockey in the world.
The winner of this race last year, Gold Ship, will be ridden by Ryan Moore for the first time. The switch was made after a surprising and uncharacteristic poor showing last time for the colt in the Japan Cup, won by Gentildonna again, and ridden by, you guessed it, Ryan Moore.
One year younger than Orfevre, Gold Ship is also a son of Stay Gold and comes into the Arima Kinen with major credentials. Besides this race, the grey also accounted for the Satsuki Sho and Kikuka Sho, on his way to being named three-year-old champion last year. As a four-year-old, his biggest win came in the Takarazuka Kinen, where he easily defeated Gentildonna among others. Despite his off showing in the Japan Cup, it is worth noting that Gold Ship is a perfect two-for-two at Nakayama.
While the two champions figure to be the ones most will be watching, several others in the large field could be ready for an upset including a pair coming off strong showings in the Japan Cup. Seven-year-old Tosen Jordan showed a dramatic return to form with his excellent third, while Admire Rakti was only narrowly behind him in fourth.
Similar performances tomorrow put either Tosen Jordan or Admire Rakti in with a chance for victory. But make no mistake, at his very best, Orfevre is the one they all have to beat, and wouldn’t it be nice to see the great champion go out a winner.