09/16/2012 6:59PM

Longchamp: Orfevre sets himself up as Arc favorite

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The Japanese horse Orfevre punched his ticket to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, while the French horse Moonlight Cloud booked trainer Freddie Head passage back to the Breeders’ Cup Mile during the course of a major day’s racing Sunday at Longchamp.

Orfevre, the 2011 Japanese Triple Crown winner who was making his first start outside Japan, captured the Group 2 Prix Foy while racing for the first time since June. Orfevre beat the solid but unspectacular Meandre by one length after racing at the rear of a five-horse field and making his move at the quarter pole. Orfevre’s pacemaker, Aventino, didn’t help much, setting a slow tempo out front, but Orfevre won comfortably enough in what obviously was a prep race for the colt’s main objective in three weeks’  time. Though the field in the 1 ½-mile Prix Foy presented nothing like the daunting challenge of the Arc, and while jockey Christophe Soumillon suggested afterward that Orfevre would need to improve a few lengths to win the big race, overseas bookmakers generally have installed Orfevre as the Arc’s ante-post favorite.

On the day, another Arc hopeful, Shareta – who finished second at huge odds in the 2011 Arc – turned in a performance at least the equal of Orfevre’s winning the Group 1 Prix Vermeille for fillies and mares. Racing near the lead in the 1 ½-mile Vermeille, Shareta asserted her superiority a furlong from the finish and coasted to a comfortable win, her second from five starts this year. The good going at Longchamp worked in Shareta’s favor, but she appears to be coming into peak form at the right moment again this season, and barring heavy going, will make a return appearance in the Arc. Pirika was second and Solemia third, while well regarded Galikova (5th),  Sagawara (6th), and Princess Highway (7th) failed to threaten.

The Prix Niel for 3-year-olds also probably produced at least one Arc starter, as victorious Saonois is expected to be supplemented into the race. Upset winner of the French Derby in his most recent start, Saonois outfinished Bayrir in the 1 ½-mile Niel, winning by 1 ¼  lengths. The performance from Secretariat Stakes winner Bayrir, though, seemed plenty solid to send the colt on to the Breeders Cup Turf, the stated objective of his connections following his trip to Chicago in August.

Meanwhile, Freddie Head is set to return to the Breeders’ Cup even after the retirement last year of three-time BC Mile winner Goldikova. Moonlight Cloud, bred and owned by George Strawbridge, beat high-class Farhh in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin. The victory was significant because Moonlight Cloud, the filly who came within inches of beating Black Caviar in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes this past summer, has mainly spent her career as a sprinter. The Moulin marked her first victory at one mile, with Head saying afterward he fully intended to point Moonlight Cloud to the BC Mile.