Equinox brings tears to Tokyo as he puffs through Japan Cup

Christophe Lemaire

 French-born jockey Christophe Lemaire (centre) celebrates after riding horse Equinox to victory in the 2,400-metre (1.5 mile) Japan Cup horse race at the Tokyo Racecourse in Tokyo on November 26, 2023.

Photo credit: AFP

There wasn't a dry eye in the Tokyo racecourse as Equinox (Christophe Lemaire 2-5), booked his place as the world’s highest-rated horse, breaking all records with a 4-length win from Liberty Island, in Sunday’s 18-runner Japan Cup,

Equinox is a horse that everyone loves, spoken in the same vein as Njinsky, Secretariat, Phar Lap, Wynx, Black Caviar, and Red Rum. He set a puzzle for international handicappers who will meet in Hong Kong to determine the 2023 rankings list.

Slated as 129 based on his success in the Dubai Sheema Classic, Equinox had to be given a mark of 134 or more. The move will now be hard to resist after he picked up the clear leader Panthalassa 300 metres out, and was pushed out by only hands and heels to trounce this year’s fillies’ Triple Crown heroine, plus five other listed greats..

Stars On Earth (William Buick 5-1), ran an almighty 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.

Blistering early pace

Regular front-runner Panthalassa set a blistering early pace, covering the first five furlongs in 57:00:6/10 secs, and at the 600-metre mark 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 in inimitable fashion.

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

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].

 Christophe Lemaire

 Equinox, ridden by French-born jockey Christophe Lemaire, goes on the win the 2,400-metre (1.5 mile) Japan Cup horse race at the Tokyo Racecourse in Tokyo on November 26, 2023.

Photo credit: JIJI Press | AFP

“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, I could feel the adrenaline when he hit top speed. There aren’t any words to describe the feeling.”

Equinox clocked 2:21:8/10 secs for the 2,400m, compared with dual winner Almond Eye’s course record of 2:20.6/10 secs, set in the 2018 race. But his sixth-consecutive success pushed him past that filly’s total of the equivalent of £13.1 million for 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. Credit: Masakazu Takahashi

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

Almond Eye

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 not 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."

Liberty Island took a ground-saving trip behind the eventual winner in fourth early. Although unable to match the speed of the winner, the second pick did not disappoint, displaying her good turn of foot and pinned Titleholder 250 meters out then Panthalassa 150 meters to the wire for the runner-up spot.

Fifth choice and 2022 Best Three-Year-Old Filly Stars on Earth was settled behind Equinox and right next to Liberty Island most of the way. After entering the stretch side by side, the two fillies rallied briefly in the early stretch, but while unable to keep up with the eventual runner-up, Stars on Earth closed tenaciously for third while holding off a late charge by Do Deuce.

French raider Iresine was a touch late out of the gate, travelled on the rails in midpack and showed effort in the stretch but lacked the needed kick, unable to reach contention, to finish ninth

“Equinox was able to come into the race in good condition,” trainer Tetsuya Kimura said of the winner, who is campaigned by Silk Racing Co. Ltd. “He was aggressive from the start and was relaxed during the race despite the fast pace of the front-runner. With Equinox extending his Grade 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.

“He is a very well-balanced horse—the shape of his hooves, bone structure, and firm muscle—everything is perfectly balanced. It's a miraculous combination. So, we try to maintain this balance when we train him.”


Lemaire said he, too, was relieved as well as happy with the victory.

“Many emotions came to my mind because it was an unbelievable race,” Lemaire said. “Horseracing fans and lovers were able to see something very special. He is a top horse and can adapt to any kind of race or surface. When we came back in front of the huge happy crowd who witnessed the race, I became very emotional. As a professional jockey for many years, I worked hard to ride to perfection, so today was very special. 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 and I felt very privileged to be in the saddle of such a fantastic horse.”

Lemaire is now tied with Yutaka Take in landing four Japan Cup victories, including with Vodka in 2009 and Almond Eye in 2018 and 2020), more than any other jockey so far.

Bred by Northern Farm, Equinox is out of the King Halo mare Chateau Blanche.