(Stay Gold - Oriental Art)
A crowd of 124,000 braved the wintery weather to witness 2011 Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner Orfevre (Jpn) (Stay Gold)’s last hurrah in Sunday’s G1 Arima Kinen at Nakayama Racecourse, and the strapping chestnut gave his loyal legion of followers a performance to remember.
Settling near the back of the field off the rail through the early stages of the 2,500-meter event while an honest tempo played out up front, Orfevre switched gears coming off the final turn and, with one devastating move, turned the race into a procession. Sweeping to the lead in a matter of strides while still under a hold from jockey Kenichi Ikezoe, Orfevre swung into the stretch about three wide and three lengths clear, distancing himself with every stride and hitting the wire eight lengths the best.
It was the sixth Group 1 victory - and the second in this prestigious affair - for the 5-year-old, who recorded the second-largest winning margin in the history of the Arima Kinen, second only to Symboli Kris S’ nine-length tour-de-force in 2003.
According to Equineline stats, Orfevre bows out with earnings of $19,005,480, making him the richest racehorse in history. Fellow Japanese runners Buena Vista (Jpn) ($17,018,548) and T. M. Opera O (Jpn) ($16,200,337) sit second and third, respectively.
It took a young Orfevre four tries to break through in group company, but once he accomplished that feat in the G2 Fuji TV Sho Stakes in March of his 3-year-old career he was almost unstoppable, taking down four Group 1s including the Triple Crown Band wrapping up his season with a victory in the Arima Kinen against his elders.
His sophomore exploits earned him Champion 3-Year-Old and Horse of the Year honors, and it was with great anticipation that the horse who lifted the spirits of his country following the devastating earthquake of 2011 returned to the races at four.
Orfevre’s career thereafter was defined as much by his quirkiness as his brilliance, a streak that began to unravel in his seasonal debut in the G2 Hanshin Daishoten last year, when he bolted to the outside rail approaching the final turn, dropping back to last before re-rallying to finish second. A flat 11th in the G1 Tenno Sho Spring thereafter, Orfevre rebounded to take the G1 Takarazuka Kinen in June before setting off on his maiden voyage to France, with an eye to becoming the first Japanese horse to take the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. All appeared to be going to plan with a smooth victory in Longchamp’s local prep, the G2 Prix Foy, and a deep stretch lead in the main event three weeks later, until Orfevre veered sharply, hitting the rail and allowing the 4-year-old filly Solemia (Ire) (Poliglote) to collar him on the line.
Orfevre returned to Japan to close out his campaign with a controversial nose defeat by Triple Tiara winner and subsequent Horse of the Year Gentildonna (Jpn) (Deep Impact) in the G1 Japan Cup, and was nearly retired but for the pleadings of trainer Yasutoshi Ikee. It was decided that Orfevre would race on, with revenge in France the target, and the 5-year-old appeared in good order with a first up victory in the G2 Sankei Osaka Hai March 31. He set his sights on the G1 Takarazuka Kinen June 23, but was withdrawn after bleeding during a work nine days out from the race.
Partnered once again with Soumillon for his French engagements, Orfevre scored an eye-catching repeat victory in the Prix Foy, and appeared poised to put his Arc horrors of last year behind him. A super filly called Treve (Fr) (Motivator), however, had other plans, handing the chestnut a five-length beating and dashing Japan’s hopes for Arc glory for another year.
This year, connections opted to forgo the Japan Cup in favor of a second Arima Kinen bid, a decision that likely paid dividends, as the champion delivered the most devastating performance of his career. A retirement ceremony was held for Orfevre at the conclusion of the racecard, and 60,000 held sway in the cold and darkness to bid farewell to one of Japan’s all-time greats.
Extracts from Thoroughbred Daily News