Solemia (nearside) gets up late on to deny Orfevre in tight Arc finish
Japan denied again as Solemia flies for Arc win
Report: France, Sunday
Longchamp: Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Group 1) 1m4f, turf, 3yo+
IN A finish that was as dramatic as it was unexpected, unheralded French filly Solemia (Carlos Laffon-Parias/Olivier Peslier) nailed Orfevre by a neck in the final strides to deny Japan a hugely coveted victory in agonising circumstances in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Despite worries about the wide draw and energy-sapping testing conditions at Longchamp, Orfevre was heavily backed into favouritism on course by a huge Japanese contingent.
They must have been counting their money as the flashy chestnut four-year-old looked sure to land a sensational first victory for his nation after storming to the front under a hugely confident Christophe Soumillon a furlong and a half from home.
Solemia, a 41-1 chance on the Pari-Mutuel, was seemingly brushed aside at the head of the remainder. All the other major fancies, Camelot and Great Heavens among them, were immediately put into the red zone as the Japanese star charged down the Longchamp straight looking destined to succeed where El Condor Pasa, Deep Impact and Nakayama Festa had narrowly failed.
But it wasn't to be: Japan may be getting closer and closer but Orfevre wasn't their horse of destiny. Waywardly brilliant, he has shown his quirks at home and he showed them again on this occasion, hanging across the track into the rail - he banged into it close home - and possibly waiting on his rivals after hitting the clear.
Olivier Peslier kept chivvying away on the unconsidered longshot Solemia to somehow claw back the leader, the rider thereby recording a highly improbable fourth victory after a 1990s hat-trick in the Qatar-sponsored €4 million contest.
"I was looking through my binoculars and with 200 metres to run I thought we were going to be second," admitted trainer Carlos Laffon-Parias. "I was happy to be second but when I saw Olivier change the whip I knew he thought he could win because he never gives a hard race to a horse."
With hindsight, the science that's never wrong, Soumillon will surely wish he had waited a shade longer before delivering the Orfevre surge.
Not that Orfevre's shell-shocked trainer Yasutoshi Ikee was handing out any brickbats, which is rarely the Japanese way.
He said: "Christophe Soumillon rode a perfect race but it was unlucky because other horses slowed down so quickly so he passed them very quickly then he was a target for the winner."
Given the unpredictable preamble to the 2012 running of the world's richest turf race - Snow Fairy out, Danedream out, Nathaniel out, Great Heavens in and (most startling of all) Camelot in plus Frankie Dettori - perhaps nobody should have been totally surprised by a shock result.
The Solemia team were completing a memorable Group 1 double on Europe's number one raceday after another surprise success with two-year-old filly Silasol in the Prix Marcel Boussac.
Owned by the Wertheimers, Solemia was sent off a 33-1 shot with British bookmakers - hardly surprising, given that the daughter of Prix du Jockey Club runner-up Poliglote had only a single Group-race victory on her cv, and that a Group 2 event at Saint-Cloud in May.
Orfevre was returned a 5-1 shot on the books with third-placed Masterstroke - seven lengths behind the runner-up - an 11-1 chance for Andre Fabre's Godolphin France squad.
Rank outsider Haya Landa stayed on for fourth in a gruelling contest where Great Heavens did best of the British and Irish visitors in sixth, just ahead of dual-Derby winner Camelot and Sea Moon.
Trainer John Gosden was pleased with Great Heavens, who came off the bench as a supplementary entry once her full-brother Nathaniel was ruled out.
"She has run a great race today at an Arc that she was not truly aimed at," he said. "She has run a blinder. She isn't her big brother but she is a very good filly."
Camelot (seventh), who now has a point to prove, is set to stay in training as a four-year-old after never really being able to land a telling blow on ground softer than ideal.
Part-owner Derrick Smith said: "I think it was the combination of a long season and the ground but we look forward to next year as I think the plan is to stay in training."
Sea Moon (eighth) was in trouble a long way out from his wide draw under Ryan Moore. "I would say that for a good-actioned horse he doesn't want the ground as puddingy as that," said Sir Michael Stoute. "Ryan said he never felt smooth on it."
According to owner Khalid Abdullah's racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe, the Breeders' Cup Turf remains a possibility for Sea Moon. "We'll see how he is," said Grimthorpe.
"He ran an honest race. The draw didn't help but he had a reasonably good run up the inner if he had been good enough. It's specialist ground out there."