Japan dreams their Deep Bond with Arc will end in elusive victory
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Chantilly (France) (AFP) –
Deep Bond and Chrono Genesis attempt to fulfil a dream of the Japanese racing fraternity on Sunday and win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, 52 years after their first runner came up short.
Speed Symboli finished down the field that day but undeterred the Japanese have come back again and again with several going agonisingly close to becoming the first horse from outside Europe to win the race.
"It's a thrill to challenge the best in Europe," Deep Bond's trainer Ryuji Okubo told AFP.
"It feels like I have the Japanese flag behind me. I feel as if I am representing Japan at the Olympics!"
Deep Bond and Chrono Genesis face a tough ask in the 100th running of the race, lining up against the likes of Epsom Derby winner Adayar and the last two winners of the Epsom Oaks, Love (2020) and Snowfall (2021).
Their hopes, though, are not forlorn as El Condor Pasa, Nakayama Festa and Orfevre (twice) have all finished runner-up.
Indeed, but for a disastrous lapse of concentration, Orfevre would have writ large his place in turf history in 2012.
He burst clear inside the final two furlongs at Longchamp but despite the desperate urging of jockey Christophe Soumillon he drifted over and clattered the rail allowing Solemia to edge him by a neck.
That sent Japanese racing fans home disappointed.
However, it was nothing compared to the sense of letdown for the 6,000 who came for Deep Impact's tilt at the Arc in 2006, backed him down to odds-on only for him to finish third.
- 'Bigger the dream' -
The high regard in which the Arc is held by Japanese racing is illustrated by Deep Bond's owner Shinji Maeda.
"The owner has always said it is the greatest race in the world and it is a dream to win it," said Okubo.
Okubo's runner may be the least fancied of the Japanese duo -- at least in the bookmakers eyes -- but he won the influential Arc trial, the Prix Foy, earlier this month.
It is the same route taken by El Condor Pasa and Orfevre.
For two-time Arc winning trainer John Hammond -- the second of his winners Montjeu just got the better of El Condor Pasa in 1999 -- Deep Bond holds a good chance of making history.
"There won't be a horse in better mental or physical shape," Hammond told AFP.
"There will be a few tired horses going into the race so if he's good enough he can win it."
Hammond -- whose stables in Chantilly, north of Paris, is where Deep Bond is based during his stay in France -- says a Japanese win would be welcomed by all and sundry.
"It would be great if Japan won the Arc which is such an iconic race," said Hammond, who is now retired after a stellar training career.
"I am sure racing people in England, Ireland and France would be delighted if they did as Japan is a vital part of the racing world. It would be a popular victory."
For Okubo -- who will have crack French jockey Mickael Barzalona on board Deep Bond -- victory on Sunday would resonate back home.
"If we do win it will be plastered across the front pages of all the Japanese newspapers and headline the news bulletins," he said.
Okubo admits that each year a Japanese challenge fails it only makes their hunger greater to return.
"The longer the drought goes on, the bigger the dream of winning it," he said.
"It is a dream for me too but it is difficult for me to do so at the moment as I cannot sleep!"
© 2021 AFP