Holder of a Master's degree from the Sorbonne, specializing in issues relating to Latin America, Mathieu Sauvajot first wrote articles dealing with the geopolitics and economy of this continent, before turning to the field of sport.
Like every year at the same time, the Paris Longchamp racecourse is preparing to host the most beautiful horse race in the world, and undoubtedly also the most prestigious: the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Renowned as competitive as it is difficult, the fame of this race offering an allocation of five million euros, nearly three of which are promised to the winner, goes beyond the borders of France and has been a particular dream of the Japanese public since 1969.
An (inter)national phenomenon
Although France is a horse racing nation, unfortunately the interest of the general public does not always live up to expectations. Fortunately, there is a country where the sun rises, with enthusiasts in the thousands. If each year around 35,000 spectators come to watch the best thoroughbreds in the world take to the Longchamp tracks, it is estimated that at least 5,000 of them come directly from Japan.
The less fortunate have to be content to watch the race on television, despite the significant time difference, but many do not fail to participate in the event by betting on their favorite horse, because the Japanese are as fervent supporters as bettors . In 2020, they had bet a total of 41.8 million euros on this race alone, a sum a priori disproportionate, but nevertheless insignificant, on the scale of the 20 billion euros in horse racing bets recorded by the JRA l 'last year.
Passion is priceless, some will say, but to understand the scale of the races in Japan, you must either have been lucky enough to have gone there, or listen to the best French jockeys who have experienced this adventure talk about it. Despite his exceptional career in France, including four victories in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Olivier Peslier himself admitted that his greatest pride was having won the Japanese triple crown. This champion even went so far as to abandon the race for the golden whip, as practicing in Japan is exceptional: “At the time I went abroad, I had to stop concentrating on the golden whip because I had other contracts in Japan where I won very good races, with the pleasure of having such an audience applauding you, encouraging you and supporting you, even when you are last. (…) There was even a year (editor’s note: 2001) where I lost it by one victory. I was 30 ahead, I was in Japan, I was told “come back” but I was having so much fun, the audience was there and it’s difficult to do two different places. It’s a sacrifice, but it’s also such a joy. »
Where the Japanese public is unique is also in its ability to travel massively during horse racing events. If reaching the mark of 35,000 spectators at Longchamp again this year would be seen as a success, the Japanese public may wonder, wondering why the racecourse is so empty during such an event: “In general, for small days we must have 20,000 people on the racecourses, and on big days, it's between 50,000 and 100,000 people when there are groups 1(...) There is also this aspect of the fan Japanese who supports his favorite horses, his favorite jackets, his favorite jockeys and that, I would say, is almost unique in the world. » declares Christophe Lemaire, star jockey in Japan where he has been shining for over a decade now.
The other explanation is perhaps linked to the way in which the main actors of the event are perceived. If jockeys and trainers are relatively accessible in France, particularly because the number of enthusiasts able to recognize them is more limited, the situation is very different on the Japanese archipelago. “Concretely, you are recognized almost everywhere, people here have deep respect for jockeys. It's a profession that challenges you, we say to ourselves that it's something a bit special, especially in Japan where racing is very popular. As far as top jockeys are concerned, we are facing real stardom, real recognition from the public. We face people who recognize you, who are surprised and happy to see you sometimes, who ask you for a handshake, an autograph or a selfie. » says Christophe Lemaire.
The Arc de Triomphe, more than half a century of curse
The history between Japan and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe dates back to 1969, the year they first participated in the race. Since then, many horses have tried their luck, but if the dream came close to becoming a reality on several occasions, nothing has happened until today. There was notably El Condor Pasa who, in 1999, was one of the first to whom victory escaped by a thread. Starting in the lead, nothing seemed to be able to stop him until a certain Montjeu decided otherwise in the last meters, and offered John Hammond the second and last Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe of his career. It was no less necessary for a true obsession with this race to be born definitively. Less than a decade later, in 2006, it was Deep Impact's turn to be struck by the curse that affects the Japanese. Considered one of the best horses in history, he was then associated with Yutaka Take. Unbeatable according to the bookmakers, this legendary duo aimed for nothing other than victory. Alas, the conclusion was less glorious than expected, a modest third place, then a disqualification for doping which shocked an entire country.
But the greatest performance and at the same time the greatest disappointment, took place during the 2012 edition. A work of goldsmith which, launched alone, rushed towards victory less than 200 meters from the finish. The public then began to believe it, but it was without counting on a certain Olivier Peslier, who won on the wire thanks to Solémia whose odds were nevertheless 50/1 according to the British bookmakers. A year later, this same Goldsmith tried to take his revenge, again he was announced as the big favorite, but nothing worked, second for the second year in a row, because this time it was Trêve's turn to move on to the posterity.The 2022 edition was no exception to the rule. However, Japan then pulled out all the stops and sent four of its best horses, including Titleholder, acquired for the sum of $180,400 in 2018, and Deep Bond, which cost $158,776 the same year. But alas, that very day the weather was not on their side, as the most Japanese of the French explains: “We experienced the worst possible scenario, that is to say a track which was already very soft on Saturday and a heavy downpour a quarter of an hour before the race, which made the track extremely heavy and difficult, which does not suit the Japanese horses at all because they are not at all used to this type of ground. As long as we have very heavy tracks, it will be very complicated for them. (…) It is an old track, really European style, as soon as it rains it becomes difficult and therefore it is a track on which the horses must get used to running. »
As for the rest of the story, its pages will be written this Sunday, October 1st. It's difficult to predict how it will unfold and even less so the outcome, but it will be the turn of Through Seven Seas accompanied by Christophe Lemaire to try to break the curse. Achieving victory would be historic and would make an entire nation proud, while a defeat would undoubtedly only be postponed and would affect neither the determination nor the quality of the Japanese horse racing community in its quest for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. .
 Japan Cup (2001, 2004), Arima Kinen (2002, 2003)
 Award given to the jockey who has won the greatest number of races over a year within the same country.