Lemaire dreaming of Arc glory
Views from connections ahead of the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly on Sunday.
Makahiki goes for glory in the Arc (Copyright of the Japan Racing Association)
Christophe Lemaire admits it would be "something special" if he can steer Japanese superstar Makahiki to victory in the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
It is 17 years since Japan's first narrow reverse in Europe's premier middle-distance event, with El Condor Pasa looking set to prevail in 1999 only to be mown down late by the brilliant Montjeu.
The heavily-backed Deep Impact passed the post third before later being disqualified in 2006, Nakayama Festa came within a head of causing an upset in 2010 and Orfevre was runner-up in both 2012 and 2013, with his last-gasp defeat to 33-1 shot Solemia on his first attempt particularly heartbreaking for his supporters.
A handful of others have tried and failed but Lemaire, who has spent a good chunk of his successful career riding in Japan, is confident Makahiki can stop the rot.
A son of Deep Impact and carrying the same colours of owner-breeder Makoto Kaneko, Makahiki won the Japanese Derby in May and made a successful start to his European stint in the Prix Niel.
While that performance was workmanlike rather than spectacular, Lemaire is expecting his mount to raise his game in Paris this weekend.
He said: "It is a big challenge, but I feel my horse is in great condition.
"He's a top-class horse in Japan and won the Prix Niel when he was not 100 per cent fit. He was fit enough to win, but it was his first run for a couple of months and he had to travel.
"He has plenty of talent and I'm certain he will improve and he will be ready for Sunday, so I'm very confident.
"The Arc is always a tough race to win, but I think we have a very good chance.
"I have a good story with Japan so for me, as a Frenchman, to win on a Japanese horse, would be something special."
Heading the home challenge is the Andre Fabre-trained New Bay.
The French maestro has saddled a record seven previous winners of the Arc, but has not tasted victory since Rail Link struck gold a decade ago.
New Bay, winner of last year's French Derby, was third to Golden Horn 12 months ago and while he was a big disappointment on his return to action in the Prix d'Ispahan in the spring, he bounced back to to winning ways at Deauville in August before finishing a creditable fourth in the Irish Champion Stakes three weeks ago.
Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager for owner Prince Khalid Abdullah, told Racing UK: "He's come out of the Irish Champion really well. It was really his first proper race of the year.
"He started in the Prix D'Ispahan in the spring and things really didn't go very well. He'd had a slightly interrupted winter anyway and the ground was bottomless that day. It was a combination of factors.
"Andre gave him time and he came back nicely and won at Deauville, but the Irish Champion was probably the best race run in Europe this year and we couldn't have been more pleased with him.
"Everybody is going there thinking they have a good chance. Andre is very happy with him – we couldn't be more pleased."
Fillies have a strong recent record in the race with Zarkava, Solemia and dual winner Treve all successful for the fairer sex in the last eight renewals.
Among those hoping to follow their lead this year is Left Hand, who is unbeaten in two starts since chasing home La Cressonniere in the French Oaks, most recently landing the Prix Vermeille.
She sports the same colours as Solemia and is also trained by Carlos Laffon-Parias.
Pierre-Yves Bureau, racing manager to the Wertheimer brothers, said: "The two things in her favour are she loves Chantilly – she won the Vermeille and was second in the Prix de Diane – and she proved she stays the mile and a half.
"We had no doubts about the distance, but she confirmed it last time and to have a runner in the Arc is fantastic."
Laffon-Parias added: "She's taken time to improve but we always hoped she was a nice filly.
"She is never going to win by more than a length, when she hits the front she stops so we never know what is left.
"Found and Postponed will be hard to beat, they are the two, after that there are a few with the same chance."
Pascal Bary has trained Group One winners across the globe, but an Arc triumph so far eludes him.
The Chantilly-based trainer saddles an interesting outsider in this year's renewal in the form of Silverwave, winner of the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and the Prix Foy on his last two starts.
Dual Arc-winning jockey Christophe Soumillon takes over in the saddle from Maxime Guyon, who is committed to riding Left Hand.
"I am very happy with the horse. He worked very well (Monday morning)," said Bary.
"We are looking forward to the Arc."
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