09/09/2016 11:36AM

Japan's Makahiki tunes up for Arc

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The Prix Vermeille for fillies is the lone Group 1 prep race for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on the Sunday card at Chantilly, but it is the Group 2 Prix Niel for 3-year-olds that will attract the most attention. The race features the European debut of Makahiki, the latest Japanese horse in France to try to win the Arc.

All three Arc preps Sunday – the Niel with five entrants, the Vermeille with six, and the Prix Foy for older horses with four expected runners – drew short fields as Irish Champions weekend continues to poach runners from what has traditionally been an important date on the French racing calendar. Tradition this year, however, is out the window, with the remodeling of Longchamp Racecourse moving both the Arc trials and the Oct. 2 Arc itself to Chantilly.

Japanese racing interests and the country’s legions of fans long have coveted the Arc, and in 2012, the mercurial Orfevre was poised to bring the trophy home before he hit the brakes in deep stretch and surrendered the prize to Solemia, a horse not his equal whom he already had passed in upper stretch.

This year’s big Japanese hope originally was thought to be A Shin Hikari, who was nothing short of brilliant in winning the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan on May 24 by 12 lengths, but a month later, A Shin Hikari ran poorly at Royal Ascot, and he has only just returned to training in Japan.

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Makahiki, meanwhile, has gone 5 for 6 and was last seen May 29 beating 17 rivals in the Group 1 Japanese Derby, contested over the Arc and the Niel trip of 1 1/2 miles. Makahiki, a son of Deep Impact trained by Yasuo Tomomichi, has been in France for nearly two months now preparing for his two-race campaign there. He’ll be ridden Sunday by Christophe Lemaire, the French jockey who has spent the last two seasons in Japan, and is the odds-on favorite to beat four rivals.

The best of the others probably is Midterm, a Juddmonte colt trained by Michael Stoute who makes his first start since being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his pelvis following a fourth-place finish in the Dante Stakes in May.

Candarliya, a distant second to Treve in the Vermeille last year, might rate a slight edge to win the fillies’ race this year, with her chief rivals a pair of 3-year-olds, Left Hand and Highlands Queen. Highlands Queen was disqualified to last in the French Oaks, a race in which Left Hand finished second, and none of the top three at this point would be considered a major contender for the Arc, which currently has Postponed as a solid favorite in ante-post wagering.

Nothing the likes of Postponed starts in the four-runner Prix Foy, which has the rugged 4-year-old Silverwave as a tepid favorite. Silverwave posted the first Group 1 victory of his career in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud on July 3, his most recent outing.

The second Group 1 on the Sunday card is the one-mile Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, which attracted just seven entrants. The 3-year-old Zelzal has come a long way since he faded out of the picture in the French 2000 Guineas this past spring and comes off a sharp course and distance win in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat. Zarak, Vadamos, and Dutch Connection are his principal rivals.

First post for the card is 7:55 a.m. Eastern, and the course is expected to be good to soft.