International26 November 2023

The best in the world - watch the full replay as Equinox dominates again in the Japan Cup

Brilliant Equinox crosses the line in the Japan Cup
Brilliant Equinox crosses the line in the Japan CupCredit: Masakazu Takahashi

Equinox cemented his place as the world’s highest-rated horse with a record-breaking, four-length win from the smart three-year-old filly Liberty Island in Sunday’s 18-runner Japan Cup in Tokyo. 

But in doing so he set a puzzle for the international handicappers who will meet in Hong Kong in a fortnight’s time to determine the 2023 rankings list.

Ranked 129 going into the race, based on his success in the Dubai Sheema Classic in March, Equinox had had support – not least from the official Japan Racing Association handicapper – to be given a mark of 130 or more. 

Watch the Japan Cup replay on YouTube

The move will now be hard to resist after he picked up the clear leader Panthalassa 300 metres out and was pushed out by Christophe Lemaire with hands and heels to trounce this year’s fillies’ Triple Crown heroine and five other Group 1 winners.

Stars On Earth, ridden by William Buick, ran a mighty race to be beaten a further length into third place, maintaining her record of never being out of the first three in 11 outings. French-trained Iresine, the only overseas challenger, hardly got out of mid-division and finished ninth. But this was all about Equinox.

Regular front-runner Panthalassa set a remarkable early pace, covering the first five furlongs in 57.6sec, and at the 600-metre mark he was still all of 25 lengths clear. However, inevitably on his first outing since the Dubai World Cup, his stride began to shorten and Equinox, who had never been further behind than third, swept by.

The performance earned Equinox a preliminary Racing Post Rating of 134, unchanged from his mark before the Japan Cup. 

Later, addressing the crowd in Japanese, and asked what his race plan had been, Frenchman Lemaire said: “You have just witnessed it!”

Equinox after winning 2023 Japan Cup
Equinox after winning 2023 Japan Cup

Expanding on the experience, as emotion threatened to run away with him for the third time after pulling up, he added: “It turned out the way that we imagined it would, because Panthalassa did something similar in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) last year [which Equinox won].

“He jumped well and I decided to stick behind the two leaders; it was the best position for him. He was travelling so smoothly turning into the straight that I could feel the adrenaline when he hit top speed. There aren’t any words to describe the feeling.”

Equinox clocked 2min 21.8sec for the mile and a half, compared with dual winner Almond Eye’s course record of 2min 20.6, set in the 2018 race, but his sixth-consecutive Group 1 success pushed him past that filly’s total of the equivalent of £13.1 million for record prize-money won by a Japanese-trained horse.

Equinox’s tally now stands at a little over £14m, not counting the US$3m bonus he picked up for winning the Sheema Classic.

Christophe Lemaire and Equinox: big in Japan
Christophe Lemaire and Equinox: big in JapanCredit: Masakazu Takahashi

Lemaire joined Yutaka Take at the top of the Japan Cup jockeys’ table with four winners, after Vodka in 2009 and Almond Eye in 2018 and 2020.

He said: “I thought it would be difficult to match Almond Eye when she retired, but Equinox is special. I’m not sure where he’s heading, but he keeps maturing and I just don’t know how good he could be.”

Whether Equinox, a four-year-old son of the 2016 race winner Kitasan Black, is asked to prove himself again on the racecourse is still nor certain, according to trainer Tetsuya Kimura, whose only previous Japan Cup runner finished second. “He is going for a short holiday and then we will make a decision,” he said.

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Published on 26 November 2023inInternational

Last updated 17:21, 26 November 2023