Japanese racing fans will hope they finally achieve their dream at Longchamp on Sunday of winning Europe’s most prestigious flat race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, after two agonising runners-up spots.
Australian turf followers too are likely to postpone their bedtime plans as former home-based champion So You Think bids to set matters straight in light of the bitter memories of their previous star runner Strawberry Road in 1984.
Japan has been trying for 31 years to win the race with 10 runners competing and failing, though El Condor Pasa, in 1999, and Nakayama Festa last year, both trained by 48-year-old Yoshitaka Ninomiya, have finished second.
Given that only eight winners (seven Italian and one German) in the 88 runnings of the Arc have been trained outside the traditional strongholds of England, Ireland and France it is not a record to be ashamed of.
However, Shingo Soma, from the Japan Racing Association, said that second best was no good to them.
“It is a Japanese dream to win the Arc and every year we try to have runners. Last year we almost won. Hopefully this year we can do it,” he said.
This time round Nakayama Festa is back for another tilt and will face last year’s winner Workforce who edged him after a thrilling duel down the straight.
Nakayama Festa, whose owner Shinichi Izumi fulfilled his late daughter’s wish for the horse to run in the Arc last year, will be joined by Hiruno D’Amour.
But this year’s Dubai World Cup winner Victoire Pisa is an absentee after suffering an injury.
Both the Japanese runners have a run under their belts with Hiruno D’Amour having finished second and Nakayama Festa fourth and last – to last year’s Arc third and this year’s favourite Sarafina – in the Prix Foy.
Mitsugu Kon, trainer of Hiruno D’Amour, believes that Sarafina showed a weak spot in the Foy and that his stable star can beat her.
“The winner is the likely favourite for the Arc, but to have had to go up the inside like she did, I’d say she was having a rough time of it,” said Kon.
“I think we can expect to turn the tables next time out.”
Ninomiya also believes Nakayama Festa has a lot more in him especially as the Foy was his first race in nearly a year since finishing a disappointing 14th in the Japan Cup.
“Since the Japan Cup, I’ve only tuned him with work. We needed this race. Considering the condition he was in after arriving from Japan, we absolutely had to give him a sharpener,” he said after the Foy.
Ireland’s Coolmore Stud may have bought a majority share in So You Think, but should he win Australia will try and claim him as one of their own after he plundered two Cox Plates, their most prestigious middle distance race.
AFP AAP TURF