At 16:05 (local time) on October 2, in a downpour that looked like an overturned bucket, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (GI, turf 2400m), the world’s biggest race, was held at the Longchamp racecourse in Paris, France.
In recent years, Japanese training farms have been very successful in the Dubai World Cup and other top-rated GI races around the world, but they have yet to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
In 2022, four Japanese-trained horses tried, but all were defeated. The title holder, who boldly ran ahead of the field, stalled in the straight and finished 11th. Staying Foolish, who had won long distance turf prizes in Saudi Arabia and Dubai in the spring, finished 14th, Deep Bond, who challenged for the second year in a row, finished 18th, and this year’s Derby winner, Doudeuse, finished 19th.
Other big races in the world that have yet to be won by Japanese-trained horses include the British Derby, the Kentucky Derby, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the United States, but this Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is the only race that the Japanese are particularly obsessed with.
The reason for this is that the winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is the leader of the world’s top turf race for older horses and is considered to have global authority. Therefore, it seems as if there is a competition among Japanese horse racing circles to see who will be the first to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It seems as if there is a competition among the Japanese officials to see who will be the first to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
In fact, various camps are challenging with their ace horses. However, the highest placing was 2nd. The good performances of Elcon Dolpasser (1999), Nakayama Festa (2010), and Orfevre (2012 and 2013) are burned into the memories of Japanese horse racing fans, and every year at midnight on the first Sunday in October, when the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is held, every time a Japanese horse fails to meet the challenge, we bite our lips as we remember the greatness of these three horses. Every year at midnight on the first Sunday in October when the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is held, I bite my lip as I remember the greatness of these three horses. And then, we repeat the debate, “What kind of horse can win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe?” It has become a regular event for me to repeat the discussion, “What kind of horse can win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe?
One of the topics that always comes up in these “Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe review meetings” is the suitability of the racecourse. Japanese horse racing, which places emphasis on speed, and European horse racing, which requires toughness, are different. It is said that even Japanese horses with good results may not be suitable for this race.
The turf at the Longchamp racecourse is a Western-style turf called perennial ryegrass. In Japan, Western turf is used in the cold regions of Sapporo and Hakodate. Western turf has its roots in the ground, and stems and leaves grow above ground. The stems are entangled in the ground, making the ground soft.
On the other hand, wild turf, which is the mainstream grass in Japan, has a stem called a follower that grows parallel to the ground, like a clover or strawberry, from which stems and leaves emerge perpendicular to the ground. The ground is hard because the creeping stems of wild turf grow underground.
Thus, the same turf grows in completely different ways, which has a great impact on the horses that run on it. This is the reason why European tracks such as Longchamp require toughness while Japanese tracks require speed.
When moisture is added to the equation, the experience becomes even more different. The Arc was “heavy” for the last two years in a row, which means that it was a soft track with a high moisture content. The race was run on a soft track with a high moisture content, so it may be true to say that the horse required more power to win the race.
After the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, there is the Prix du Forêt (GI) held at the Longchamp racecourse, and for two consecutive years, the Japanese-trained horse Entshaiden (Yahagi Stable) ran in this race, finishing third in both races. The Prix de la Forêt is a 1400m turf race, and although the course is different, the track conditions are almost the same as those of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Entshaiden, whose father is Deep Impact, has never won a major race in Japan, and he is not good on bad roads. However, he finished in the Longchamps, where the track was “heavy” both years.
It seems fair to say that Longchamps and Japan are clearly different in terms of turf quality, even if the turf is the same.
Not only the quality of the turf, but also the slope is different. The first 400 meters of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe turf course is flat, but from the front, it is an uphill slope with a height difference of 10 meters, and after the third turn, it turns into a downhill slope of 600 meters. After that, the horses run 250 meters on a straight course before the final straight, called the “False Straight,” and then run 533 meters on the final straight.
The height difference of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is almost double that of Nakayama Racecourse, which has the largest height difference in Japan (5.3 meters), but the composition of the race is different. In the case of Nakayama, the downhill is divided into three sections: a 100-meter downhill around the first turn, a 600-meter downhill around the second turn, and a 200-meter downhill between 400 meters and 200 meters before the finish line, which is 1,400 meters including the straight section in the middle. After that, from 180m to 70m before the finish line, there is an ascent with a height difference of 2.2m and a gradient of 2.24%.
The uphill is tough, but the downhill, which is run at a constant speed, is also the toughest part of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Racehorse research institutes have also observed that racehorses do not excel on downhill slopes due to their running form. Many Japanese training facilities are artificially built and designed with the uphill load in mind. In other words, they are not designed to train horses to run downhill at a constant speed. In Europe, however, training is conducted on vast natural slopes. It is not surprising that there are differences in the parts of the body that can be trained on artificial slopes and courses, and on training grounds with random undulations.
And it is believed that there is also a difference in bloodlines. In horse breeding, selected blood is crossed over and over again, and only those in demand remain. The battle to preserve blood is also a very tough game indeed. If the formulas are repeated according to the main field of competition, it is only natural that each horse will have its own distinct personality.
Orfevre, who finished second twice in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, is by Stay Gold. His mother’s father was Mejiro McQueen. Mejiro McQueen is a pedigree that the famous Mejiro Ranch of the Showa period (1926-1989) created with great persistence. The bloodline was inherited by Mejiro Asama and Mejiro Titan, and their main goal was to win the 3200m Tennou-sho (Emperor’s Championship), and Mejiro McQueen was the culmination of their efforts.
The name “Mejiro McQueen” has recently become well-known as a character in the popular video game “Uma Musume Pretty Derby. In the game, she is a young lady from a prominent family with light purple hair. She is usually modest in her speech, calling herself “watashi,” but when it comes to racing, she changes completely, shouting “Yaaaaaah! and she aims for the finish line with all her might.
Nowadays, many people probably remember her as such when they think of the white horse McQueen. However, the racehorse Mejiro McQueen, born in 1987, was a classic horse that won the Kikka-sho in 1990, and in 1991 and 1992 won the 3200m Tennou-sho (Spring), the same race as her father and grandfather, making her a historical masterpiece, winning the Tennou-sho for three generations in her father’s lineage.
And his rider, Yutaka Take, said of Mejiro McQueen, “He had half stamina, was good on bad roads, and had good speed. He didn’t give too many orders in the race.” He even mentioned McQueen as one of the great horses in the past that he would have liked to challenge for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
As time went by, however, the emphasis in Japan came to be placed on speed racing rather than long-distance racing, and Mejiro Farm was closed at the owner’s request. The overall impression of Japanese horse racing is that lighter and faster bloodlines tend to remain, which is a far cry from the trend of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, which requires heavier and tougher bloodlines.
After reading the above, some may think that Japanese bloodlines are inferior to those of the rest of the world, but this is not the case. Japanese bloodlines are very superior from a global perspective, and they continue to improve by importing the world’s best bloodlines one after another.
Historically, horses that have won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, such as Tony Bin, Ramtara, Eliseo, and Bago, have been imported and bred in Japan, and there is a good chance that a Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe horse will be born from the formulations of horses in Japan.
However, there are those who think that there is no need to aim for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe so enthusiastically.
While it is true that the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is one of the world’s most prestigious races, as mentioned earlier, Japanese-trained horses, which have been trained with an emphasis on speed through continuous improvement, do not need to challenge the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, a race that emphasizes tradition and toughness. It would be sufficient if Japanese-trained horses could win in Dubai or Hong Kong, where their aptitudes can be utilized as they are.
I agree with this opinion, but I do not think that the game of “who will be the first Japanese horse owner to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe” will ever stop. Horse racing can be enjoyed in many ways, but for those horse owners who already have the status and honor, there is no reason why the “game to be the first to win the world’s prestige” should not be interesting.
The JRA supports the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe challenge in the form of a 5 to 10 million yen overseas travel subsidy for owners of JRA-affiliated horses that meet certain conditions. However, in the case of 2022, Deep Bond and Stay Foolish are not eligible. Deep Bond, in particular, has been challenging for two years in a row, which shows his strong desire to become the first Japanese-trained horse to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
The game has already begun for the 2023 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It is precisely because we can enjoy horse racing from all angles and from all points of view that it is so interesting.
Written by： Hanaoka
Horse racing critic who has closely followed numerous famous horses, including Deep Impact, Buena Vista, and Agnes Tachyon