Can Satono Diamond shine in Arc?
Japan still in search for that elusive victory in European racing's crown jewel
SATONO DIAMOND lines up in Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in an attempt to end years of Japanese heartbreak in European racing's crown jewel.
Since El Condor Pasa's gallant second to Montjeu in 1999, the lure of the Arc has become an obsession for the Japanese.
In 2006, Deep Impact was backed through the roof by a 3,000-strong army of ardent supporters at Longchamp.
The betting surge saw the colt start at a prohibitive 1-10, only to finish third to master Arc trainer Andre Fabre's Rail Link.
Four years later, it was the turn of Nakayama Festa to carry the nation's hopes. Agonisingly he got to within a head of the holy grail, the head belonging to Michael Stoute's Workforce.
Orfevre was sent over in 2012 and 2013 and, on both occasions had to settle for second best, beaten by 33-1 outsider Solemia and then the mighty Treve.
Deep Impact's son Makahiki failed to figure last year, leaving Satono Diamond, another son of the 2006 third place-getter, seeking to finally scratch Japan's Arc itch.
Partnered by French jockey Christophe Lemaire, Satono Diamond has appealing claims on Sunday's five-million-euro (S$8 million) showpiece.
After narrowly missing out on Japanese Derby glory last year to Makahiki, he went on to capture the St Leger before landing the celebrated Arima Kinen on Christmas Day with Lemaire on board.
Satono Diamond arrived in France a few months ago to fine tune his bid, setting up temporary home in Chantilly, where the Arc is being run for the second year as its traditional home Longchamp gets a makeover.
He ran in one of the traditional big race trials, the Prix Foy, over the Arc trip of 2,400m this month and, on the surface his modest fourth of six, hardly enhanced his standing as a serious Arc candidate.
That surprisingly muted display saw his odds pushed out from 6-1 third-favourite to around 16-1 behind odds-on favourite Enable.
Trainer Yasutoshi Ikee, who looked after Orfevre, believes his 2017 charge was hampered by two key factors in the Foy.
"In terms of whether, the soft ground or the horse's condition were the main factor in Satono Diamond's defeat, I would say they both contributed equally," Ikee told The Racing Post.
"It's good he's gained experience of racing in European conditions with horses much closer together."
Lemaire reported that Satono Diamond took three or four good gulps of air on the way round, which suggested he was short of race fitness on such soft ground.
"He tied up a bit in the last furlong (200m) and, against Group 1 winners, we finished where we deserved to," he said.
Before the Foy, Ikee had highlighted his colt's plus points.
"Satono Diamond is a very intelligent horse and can adapt to any situation in a race," he told The Racing Post.
"If there's no pace, then you can take him forward and make the running. If they go quick up front, you can ride more of a waiting race and accelerate at the finish.
"He can handle any change of pace during a race and he's much better suited to the Arc (than Orfevre) in that he can adapt to all kinds of races. That was the main reason I chose to bring him."
His disappointing prep performance aside, Satono Diamond has a lot going for him.
But, in a high-quality year, the formbook suggests Japan may be left short-changed once again by the world's fifth-richest race. - AFP