Japan will keep coming back until they have achieved their dream of winning what they consider the greatest race in the world, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, said trainer Naosuke Sugai.
Sugai was speaking after his duo, Just A Way and Gold Ship, along with the Hiroyoshi Matsuda-trained Harp Star, failed to land a blow as wonder filly Treve, who denied Japanese star Orfevre last year, stormed to victory to become only the sixth horse to win back-to-back Arcs and the first since 1977-78.
Harp Star fared best, coming with a late run to finish sixth, while Just A Way and Gold Ship were eighth and 14th respectively.
However, the riding tactics on Harp Star and Gold Ship raised many eyebrows as they were dropped right out the back of the field and the debate over using European jockeys will no doubt be raised again as Orfevre’s handler used Christophe Soumillon very effectively in 2012 and 2013.
Many had also been surprised that unlike previous Japanese Arc runners they had not been brought over for a prep race so as to get acquainted with the tough and challenging Longchamp course.
Sugai didn’t see that as having been the problem for his old campaigner Gold Ship, who also acted up in the pre-race parade paying an unexpected visit to the stand rails, where many Japanese spectators were gathered.
“I am sorry that this time I couldn’t fulfil the Japanese people’s expectations,” said the 47-year-old.
“The result is clear that it is not easy to win the race. However, I am determined to and I will be back.”
Just A Way’s jockey, Yuichi Fukunaga, said his horse, who had won the Group One Dubai Duty Free by more than six lengths in March, had performed as well as he could.
“Staying the extra distance (2,400m as opposed to the 1,800 in Dubai) was not a problem. It was just the ground is not the same as in Japan,” said the 37-year-old.
Gold Ship’s jockey, Norihiro Yokoyama, shrugged off questions over his tactics and said it was simply not an easy race to ride in.
Harp Star’s jockey, Yuga Kawada, also refuted suggestions he had opted for the wrong strategy of holding her back, a long way off the pace and then being obliged to come wide to deliver her challenge costing her valuable ground.
“She ran like she always does, that is hanging out the back,” said the 28-year-old.
“She was calm in the stalls and didn’t act up. We raced according to the plan and she felt good in my hands. I have no regrets.”
Matsuda, who was believed to be none too keen to contest the Arc but the owner wanted to, was phlegmatic about Harp Star’s performance.
“It is just a race. She ran well and she has shown improvement in every race this season and I will take her back home and plan for the next one,” said the veteran handler.
For Arc-winning jockey Thierry Jarnet, the day of a Japanese winner in the Arc will come but they must adapt to the different conditions.
“When we go to Japan it is difficult to win because the ground is harder,” said the 47-year-old Frenchman, who was winning his fourth Arc.
“Here it is softer generally. Also the style of racing is vastly different here it is much more tactical and the racecourses are also very different. In Japan they are flat, here for instance Longchamp is undulating.”