Top riders in two-horse race
Soumillon and Dettori have had poor seasons so far but are on the co-favourites at Longchamp
Racing's two most charismatic jockeys, Christophe Soumillon and Frankie Dettori, have had relatively low-key seasons but, at Longchamp today, they both have chances to turn their seasons round.
Soumillon, 31, and the Dettori, 10 years older, clash on the co-favourites in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, which they have won five times between them.
Both will ride horses they wouldn't have expected to be on at the beginning of the season, Soumillon on Japan's 2011 horse of the year Orfevre and Dettori on dual English/Irish Derby winner Camelot, whose owners Coolmore Stud are the bitter rivals of his retainers Godolphin.
Soumillon, who has ridden 139 winners in France this season but has enjoyed little success at Group One level, will be the first non-Japanese rider to mount an Arc challenger from Japan.
Soumillon is Belgian-born but, like Italian Dettori, has been adopted by the country (England) where he is based and picked up the mount after riding for Orfevre's trainer, Yasutoshi Ikee, in Japan.
"Christophe said to me that one day he would like to ride for me in the Arc," recounted Ikee, 37. "I thought he was joking but here we are and he is indeed riding for me in the Arc!".
Soumillon, whose two previous Arc wins came for owner the Aga Khan and trainer Alain de Royer Dupre on Dalakhani in 2003 and the brilliant filly Zarkava in 2008, will have to be at the top of his game to guide Orfevre to Japan's first victory in the race. He got drawn wide in barrier 18 from where only the great Irish horse Alleged has won.
However, Soumillon, his angelic features hiding a burning competitive side, said Orfevre possessed all the qualities required to overcome that obstacle.
"You need a real champion to win the Arc, who is efficient over a mile as well as over a mile and a half as you need speed and stamina, and he must be easy to handle," he said. "All the Japanese fans would like to see a Japanese horse win the Arc. I hope I can deliver what all the fans expect."
Despite the enormous pressure on him, Soumillon said he didn't feel it. "I'm not afraid of anyone. I'm a sportsman and it's not good to be afraid."
Dettori for his part is just grateful to have a chance of showing he is still the boss in terms of big races, something which he has found increasingly difficult to display for Godolphin.
A mixture of several under-par seasons by Godolphin's best horses and being sidelined by young French star Mickael Barzalona have led some to question whether the Italian would even consider retiring.
However, it appears that in a week where another great 40-something champion, Michael Schumacher, has called it a day in Formula One, the exuberant Dettori is re-energised by being asked to ride such a star.
"It's an honour for me to ride the horse," said Dettori, whose third and last Arc win came on the shock 2002 winner Marienbard. "Let's hope he's in tip-top shape, he's had a pretty long season now, but if the Camelot we know turns up he should have a very good chance."