Skip to main content

Christophe Lemaire rides Equinox to victory on Sunday in the Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse. Picture KYODO
By Alan Carasso (TDN)
For the third time in the last six years, the colours of Silk Racing Co. Ltd. were carried to victory in the G1 Japan Cup, this time by the world’s top-rated racehorse Equinox (Jpn) (Kitasan Black {Jpn}) following the dual success of Almond Eye (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}) as a 3-year-old in 2018 and again two years later.
It was a sixth Group 1 tally on the trot for the beautifully conformed son of the 2016 Japan Cup hero and Group 3 winner Chateau Blanche (Jpn) (King Halo {Jpn}), just the third horse in Japan racing history to accomplish that feat, joining T M Opera O (Jpn) and Lord Kanaloa (Jpn). Equinox becomes the first horse to crash the ¥2 billion mark in career earnings, a mind-boggling grab that defies conversion into local currencies given the wild fluctuation of the yen in recent times. Let’s just say, it’s no small sum.
For a horse that had won seven of his nine career trips to the races, including the G1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic–for which he was rated on 129 and the form of which proved iron-clad over the summer–and long odds-on favoritism, the heat was very much on before some 85,000 racegoers at Tokyo Racecourse Sunday afternoon. Neither trainer Tetsuya Kimura nor jockey Christophe Lemaire was able to contain their emotions, quite literally sobbing as they made their way down the ramp and underneath the grandstand to be unsaddled. And who could fault them, really?
“With Equinox extending his Group 1 winning streak for over a year, the pressure was so great before the Japan Cup that I felt relieved when he won the race,” said Kimura.
Added Lemaire, now the winner of 49 elite-level races on the JRA, including a record-equaling four Japan Cups: “As a professional jockey for many years, I work hard to ride for perfection, so today was special. Horse racing fans and lovers were able to see something very special.”
There seemed to be a heightened interest in this year’s Japan Cup on a worldwide level, not because there were major horses shipping in from overseas–G1 Prix Ganay winner Iresine (Fr) (Manduro {Ger}) was the lone raider–but because Equinox had amassed that sort of global following despite having raced only nine times. Sweetening the pot was the presence of Sunday Racing’s Triple Tiara heroine Liberty Island (Jpn) (Duramente {Jpn}), whose raw talent and nine-pound break in the weights made her the $3.70 (27-10) contrarian pick, while Do Deuce (Jpn) (Heart’s Cry {Jpn}), who beat Equinox by a neck in the 2022 G1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), also had some support as a distant 12-1 third choice.
Trainer Yoshito Yahagi added a fair bit of intrigue, opting to start 2023 G1 Saudi Cup winner Panthalassa (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}), an unlikely stayer over the 2400 metres, but a horse that was eligible to have a material impact on the way the Japan Cup was run. Having nearly made those bold front-running tactics pay off when just getting outrun by Equinox in last year’s G1 Tenno Sho (Autumn), it was always going to be a situation of catch me if you can. And though there was other speed in the race in the form of the classy Titleholder (Jpn) (Duramente {Jpn}), Panthlassa opened up by double digits to the back of the course, covering the opening 1000 metres in an unsustainable :57.6. Equinox came next just ahead of Liberty Island and the oft-luckless Stars on Earth (Jpn) (Duramente {Jpn}), returning from a six-month absence.
Still going freely up the hill passing the midway stage, Panthalassa was perhaps as many as 15 or 20 lengths ahead at the 800 metres, but the major players–still racing in another prefecture–were happy to bide their time, counting on Panthalassa to be found out over the trip. The front-runner retained the call with the long Tokyo straight looming, but he began to feel the pinch 400 metres out, and Equinox was first to make a real move. He whooshed past the longer-winded Titleholder–a Group 1 winner over 3200 metres–before inhaling Panthalassa at the 225m and sailing clear while covering his final 600 metres in a race-fastest :33.5. Liberty Island ran on to be a valiant second, while Stars on Earth held off Do Deuce for third. Hollie Doyle piloted defending champion Vela Azul (Jpn) (Eishin Flash {Jpn}) into seventh, a neck better than Studley (Jpn) (Harbinger {GB}), ridden by her husband Tom Marquand.
“Equinox is easy to ride–he knows his job very well and he doesn’t use too much energy–so riding a horse like him is a pleasure,” said Lemaire, who was aboard Almond Eye in her two Japan Cup scores and was aboard Vodka (Jpn) in 2009. “I felt very privileged to be in the saddle of such a fantastic horse.”
Iresine was a touch slow from the stalls, sat a midfield trip while saving ground and finished ninth of the 18 runners, beaten 10 3/4 lengths.
“I think Iresine ran a good race,” said trainer Jean-Pierre Gauvin. “The gate was different from France, so he couldn’t get a good start, and he was unable to run in his usual style because the pace was too fast. I have no regrets about racing him in the Japan Cup and I’m happy that he was able to finish the race without any problem.”
Though many believe Equinox has run his last race, connections were not willing to completely rule out a start in the G1 Arima Kinen (2500 metres at Nakayama) Dec. 24. The legendary Deep Impact (Jpn) swansonged in that event four weeks after winning the Japan Cup back in 2006. Some Christmas gift that would be.
Pedigree Notes:
On behalf of Shadai Farm, bloodstock agent Patrick Barbe went to $410,000 to acquire Equinox’s fourth dam, Blanche Reine (Fr) (Nureyev), in foal to Alleged at the 1988 Keeneland November Sale and the resulting produce was Maison Blanche, a stakes-placed earner of better than $931,000 for Kazuko Yoshida, whose half-brother Balleroy (Kaldoun {Fr}) won the G3 Prix de Guiche and was second in the G1 Prix Jean Prat in 1991. The family remained fairly quiet until Maison Blanche’s foal of 2010, Chateau Blanche, did her part to enhance the page, carrying these same Silk Racing colours when defeating the top-class Marialite (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) in Group 3 company in 2015.
Chateau Blanche is the dam of four winners from four to the races, a number that also includes Group 3 winner Weiss Meteor (Jpn) (King Kamehameha {Jpn}). Coincidentally, Chateau Blanche is a half-sister to Win Floraison (Jpn) (Fuji Kiseki {Jpn}), the dam of the aforementioned Studley. The mare is also responsible for the 2-year-old filly Garza Blanca (Jpn) (Kizuna {Jpn}), a debut winner at Niigata Aug. 12 and runner-up in a 1600-metre allowance earlier on Sunday’s card, and she produced a full-sister to Equinox this past Feb. 26.
Sunday, Tokyo, Japan
JAPAN CUP-G1, ¥960,520,000, Tokyo, 11-26, 3yo/up, 2400mT, 2:21.80, gd/fm.
1–EQUINOX (JPN), 128, c, 4, by Kitasan Black (Jpn)
1st Dam: Chateau Blanche (Jpn), by King Halo (Jpn)
2nd Dam: Blancherie (Jpn), by Tony Bin (Ire)
3rd Dam: Maison Blanche (Jpn), by Alleged
O-Silk Racing Co Ltd; B-Northern Farm; T-Tetsuya Kimura; J-Christophe Lemaire; ¥503,864,000. Lifetime Record: Horse of the Year & Ch. 3yo Colt-Jpn, G1SW-UAE, 10-8-2-0, $15,930,022. *1/2 to Weiss Meteor (Jpn) (King Kamehameha {Jpn}), GSW-Jpn, $820,531. Werk Nick Rating: A+++ *Triple Plus*. Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree. Click for the free catalogue-style pedigree.
2–Liberty Island (Jpn), 119, f, 3, Duramente (Jpn)–Yankee Rose(Aus), by All American (Aus). O-Sunday Racing Co Ltd; B-Northern Farm; ¥201,104,000.
3–Stars on Earth (Jpn), 123, f, 4, Duramente (Jpn)–Southern Stars (GB), by Smart Strike. O-Shadai Race Horse; B-Shadai Farm; ¥130,552,000.
Margins: 4, 1, 3/4. Odds: 0.30, 2.70, 25.60.
Also Ran: Do Deuce (Jpn), Titleholder (Jpn), Danon Beluga (Jpn), Vela Azul (Jpn), Studley (Jpn), Iresine (Fr), Deep Bond (Jpn), Shonan Bashitto (Jpn), Panthalassa (Jpn), Impress (Jpn), Forward Again (Jpn), Win Erfolg (Jpn), Trust Kenshin (Jpn), Chestnut Coat (Jpn), Kurino Megami Ace (Jpn). Click for the JRA chart.