Pedigree Insights: Epoca d’Oro

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Orfevre (left) is beaten by Solemia in the 2012 Arc after ducking badly | Scoop Dyga

By Andrew Caulfield

Japan’s lengthy quest to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for the first time has been punctuated by a variety of near misses, controversies and hard-luck stories. El Condor Pasa (Jpn)’s bold front-running effort looked as if it was going to bear fruit when he was three lengths clear with only 300 metres left to race in 1999, but Montjeu (Ire) emerged from the pack to snatch victory by half a length.

Seven years later the legion of fans who travelled to Longchamp to support Deep Impact (Jpn) put so much money on the Japanese superstar that his odds tumbled to 2/1-on on the pari-mutuel. He too was run out of it in the closing stages after leading entering the final 400 metres and was beaten three-quarters of a length. It was just as well that Deep Impact did not win, though, as he was later disqualified from third place after a banned substance was found in his post-race sample.

Nakayama Festa (Jpn)’s second to Derby winner Workforce (GB) in the 2010 Arc was another near miss but it wasn’t nearly as controversial as the defeat of Orfevre (Jpn) (Stay Gold {Jpn}) two years later. Orfevre started favourite, having warmed up with a victory in the G2 Prix Foy, and the 4-year-old seemed destined to become Japan’s first Arc winner as he swept majestically up the outside of the field.

Unfortunately, the 2011 Japanese Triple Crown winner’s forward momentum was compromised when he started to idle and hang right. Although Christophe Soumillon reacted quickly in his efforts to straighten Orfevre, the powerful son of Stay Gold hung right across the entire field. He finally hit the rails just before the winning post and Solemia seized victory by a neck. No one doubted that Orfevre was the best horse in the race, especially as he had been drawn 18 of 18.

Could anything have made the difference between defeat and victory for Orfevre? One commentator couldn’t understand why Orfevre had not raced in a hood. After all, trainer Yasutoshi Ikee had considered it necessary for Orfevre to wear a hood throughout the preliminaries, until just before he entered the stalls. We can only speculate about whether a hood would have made it easier for Soumillon to keep Orfevre on a straight line. I was also left wondering whether Kenichi Ikezoe’s greater knowledge of the colt, gained from riding Orfevre to so many victories, would have proved more valuable than Soumillon’s greater knowledge of the Longchamp track.

Watch Orfevre’s 2012 Arc defeat:

Of course, Orfevre returned to Longchamp for another attempt in 2013 and again started favourite following an impressive display in the Prix Foy. And he again finished second but this time no excuses were needed–he simply came up against a better horse on the day in Treve (Fr) at her brilliant best.

It was a measure of Orfevre’s talent that he returned to Japan to win the G1 Arima Kinen for a second time, this time by eight lengths, and only the mares Treve and Black Caviar (Aus) were rated above him on the 2013 World’s Best Racehorse Rankings. His career figures stood at 12 wins, six seconds and a third from 21 starts. One of his two unplaced efforts was a lack-lustre display in the G1 Tenno Sho (Spring) over two miles, but this defeat can’t be blamed on the distance, as Orfevre had won the Kikuka Sho, the Japanese St Leger, over a distance only a furlong shorter. The other unplaced effort came on his first attempt at graded level as a 2-year-old, but he could be forgiven that setback as he was a May 14 foal with a middle-distance pedigree.

Orfevre has the distinction of being one of only seven Japanese Triple Crown winners and the only one since Deep Impact in 2005. This inevitably raises the question of whether Orfevre was likely to emulate Deep Impact’s extraordinary success when he joined Deep Impact as part of the Shadai team.

There were several reasons for optimism. Whereas Deep Impact is a son of Sunday Silence, Orfevre is a grandson, sired by Sunday Silence’s son Stay Gold. This very durable performer was at his most successful as a 7-year-old, when he narrowly defeated Fantastic Light in the G2 Sheema Classic and Ekraar in the G1 Hong Kong Vase.

Retired to the Big Red Farm, Stay Gold played a major role in Japan’s quest for that elusive Arc victory, as he was responsible for Nakayama Festa in addition to Orfevre. He also went quite close to siring a second Japanese Triple Crown winner, with the enigmatic Gold Ship (Jpn) taking the first and final legs in 2012, but he was beaten a length and a half in the Derby. Gold Ship went on to further Group 1 successes at the ages of four, five and six, winning at up to two miles. Gold Ship also emulated Orfevre’s win in the G1 Arima Kinen, as had Orfevre’s older brother Dream Journey (Jpn). Dream Journey had also taken Japan’s top juvenile prize, the G1 Asahi Hai Futurity, as well as the Japanese 2,000 Guineas.

Remarkably, Orfevre, Dream Journey and Gold Ship all share the same broodmare sire, Mejiro McQueen (Jpn), as does Stay Gold’s Japanese Group 2 winner Fateful War (Jpn). Mejiro McQueen may be an unfamiliar name outside Japan but he was a top stayer, winning the Japanese St Leger and two editions of the Tenno Sho (Spring) over two miles.

In other words, Orfevre has plenty of stamina in his background. Indeed he is the type of stallion that many European breeders would dismiss out of hand, but the same could have been said of Deep Impact, who won at up to two miles. Now top European breeders and buyers are highly eager to breed to Deep Impact or buy his stock.

Deep Impact became Japan’s leading first-crop sire of 2010. Although Orfevre failed to match him when his first 2-year-olds raced last year, there was no disgrace in finishing third behind two very fast horses, Lord Kanaloa (Jpn) and the ex-American Henny Hughes [with his first crop since being expatriated to Japan], who are better qualified than Orfevre to sire precocious 2-year-olds. He still showed plenty of promise; his daughter Rock The Town (Jpn), helped by having a dam by Storm Cat, a multiple champion sire of juveniles, won the G3 Sapporo Nisai S. in September and then his excellent daughter Lucky Lilac (Jpn) won the G3 Artemis S. in October and the G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies in December. Lucky Lilac’s dam Lilacs And Lace had won the GI Ashland S. over 1 1/16 miles in the U.S.

Lucky Lilac extended her unbeaten sequence to four prior to contesting the G1 Oka Sho, Japan’s equivalent to the 1000 Guineas. She started odds-on but suffered her first defeat, at the hands of Lord Kanaloa’s daughter Almond Eye (Jpn). Orfevre gained ample compensation two days ago when his progressive son Epoca d’Oro (Jpn) won the 2000 Guineas equivalent–the 10-furlong G1 Satsuki Sho–by two lengths from the Rulership (Jpn) colt Sans Rival (Jpn).

A first crop containing the 2000 Guineas winner and the 1000 Guineas runner-up has to be considered a golden start for a stallion whose name translates as goldsmith. The golden theme continues in the bottom half of Epoca d’Oro’s name as his broodmare sire is Mr. Prospector’s son Forty Niner, named after the people who joined the California gold rush in 1849.

With Lord Kanaloa and Orfevre both enjoying first-crop classic success, as did Rulership in 2017, it is also beginning to look as though Japanese breeding also has a golden future, even though Deep Impact is now 16 years old.

Epoca d’Oro is now a winner of three of his five starts. Although his dam Daiwa Passion (Jpn) was a speedy mare who gained her stakes wins over six and seven furlongs, the Orfevre colt has good prospects of staying the mile and a half of the G1 Tokyo Yushun, the Japanese Derby. Forty Niner stayed well enough to win the GI Travers S. over a mile and a quarter and Epoca d’Oro’s second dam was sired by Shady Heights, a Shirley Heights colt who won York’s G1 International S. over an extended mile and a quarter. Third dam Tikanova was sired by Northern Dancer from Cairn Rouge, winner of the G1 Irish 1000 Guineas and G1 Champion S.

If Orfevre can build on this very bright start, it’s a certainty that his 2019 fee will be much more than this year’s ¥5,000,000 (€37,690/ 32533), which is an eighth of the price charged for Deep Impact.

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