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PARIS: Outsider Solemia produced a stunning late burst to deny Japan their first victory in Europe’s most prestigious race the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe here at Longchamp yesterday.
Solemia, giving trainer Carlos Laffon-Parias his first winner in the race, looked beaten as Japanese favourite Orfevre swept past her in the last 400 metres under Christophe Soumillon.
However, somehow Olivier Peslier summoned a second wind out of Solemia and instead of Orfevre galloping away to end Japan’s drought after 33 years of searching for victory the filly overtook the gallant Japanese raider within metres of the line.
Orfevre, a quirky character at the best of times, hung badly right and connected with the running rail in the dying strides - in the straight he had been 1/100 on Betfair to win once he hit the front.
It left Japan’s 13th raider having to make do like El Condor Pasa and Nakayama Festa in 1999 and 2010 with the runners-up spot, the 7-2 chance beaten a neck by the 41-1 outsider.
“It is not good enough, second place is not sufficient, we came here to win,” said a distraught trainer Yasutoshi Ikee, whose father Yasuo also suffered disappointment in the 2006 Arc when his favourite Deep Impact finished third.
For the winning team the feelings were very different.
“Waow the thing of dreams!” beamed Peslier, who was winning a joint record fourth Arc but first since 1998.
“I thought the game was up when Orfevre passed me but she somehow rallied and the Japanese horse suddenly looked as if he had slowed and she showed so much guts to get back. Fantastic!”
Laffon-Parias, Spanish-born but based at Chantilly, said he hadn’t thought she would rally to give the Wertheimer Brothers their first in the race, though, the same colours running for their late father Jacques were carried to victory by Gold River back in 1981.
“I thought it was game over as Orfevre swept past but this filly showed such courage and when she rallied I thought there is only one winner now,” said Laffon-Parias, who will send her to the Breeders Cup Turf in November.
Masterstroke, who had threatened briefly in the straight, took third for Godolphin, seven lengths behind, while wide outsider Haya Landa was fourth.
Frankie Dettori’s gamble in risking his retainer Godolphin’s ire in riding for their bitter Irish rivals Coolmore Stud ended in disappointment as dual Derby winner Camelot finished seventh alongside last year’s runner-up Shareta.
English filly Great Heavens failed to repay her trainer John Gosden’s faith in paying out 100,000 euros to enter her on Thursday as she finished sixth.
While Soumillon sportingly shook hands after the finish with Peslier as they pulled their horses up the disappointment was etched all over the 31-year-old Belgian’s face.
“It is heartbreaking, we did everything right from a dreadful draw and I really thought history beckoned as we eased into the lead,” said Soumillon.
“It looked like it was a dream unfolding but in the end it was a catastrophe, a nightmare.
“When Solemia got back at me it was really hard to get him going again, I have to look at myself,” added Soumillon, who had engineered a stunning run from the 2011 Japanese Horse of the Year from the worst possible draw 18.
The Belgian-born rider, who partnered the great Zarkava to Arc victory in 2008, then somewhat surprisingly described Orfevre as “the best horse I’ve ever ridden”.
“He’s got everything to win the Arc, now I hope he goes for the Champion Stakes (at Ascot on October 20) to take on Frankel!”
Camelot’s trainer Aidan O’Brien insisted despite his second successive defeat on ground he didn’t like had not changed his opinion of him. “He is the best horse I have trained and he will stay in training,” said O’Brien. French popular favourite French Derby winner Saonois failed to fire leaving his trainer Jean-Francois Gauvin perplexed.
“Usually he finishes his races in great style, but here he just stopped and it must have been the ground,” said Gauvin, whose horse had loads of supporters bedecked in scarves with his name on them.