Judging by how Equinox demolished Sunday’s Arima Kinen (G1), you wouldn’t guess that he’s the least experienced winner in the 67-year history of Japan’s season-ending highlight. The Tetsuya Kimura sophomore was making only his sixth career start, but stamped his authority on a top-caliber field – and likely stamped his passport for 2023.
The Arima Kinen has an all-star quality, as the field is partly determined by fans’ votes. Although Equinox was third in the balloting to the popular Titleholder and defending champion Efforia, he ended up being the favorite on raceday. The Silk Racing Co. colorbearer ranked as the 1.30-1 choice against Titleholder (2.60-1), Geraldina (6.40-1), Vela Azul (9-1), and Efforia (9.10-1).
Equinox brought an alluring profile as a raw talent who just put it all together in his latest. Second in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) (G1) and Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1), Equinox returned from his summer holiday to capture the Oct. 30 Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) over elders. That victory at Tokyo was especially dramatic, since had to catch the bold front runner Panthalassa.
Yet Equinox’s own sire, Kitasan Black, was a high-class sophomore who ultimately reached his peak as an older horse. The two-time Japanese Horse of the Year placed twice in the Arima Kinen (2015-16) before prevailing in his 2017 grand finale. Would Equinox follow that pattern, or break through in his first try in the Nakayama prize?
Titleholder had a different sort of question to answer coming off his Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) disappointment. Could the multiple Grade 1 star turn in a characteristically tough performance on the front end, or had the Paris bog left its mark? The latter proved to be the case, as Titleholder went forward, only to succumb swinging into the stretch.
Equinox was answering his question in style. Well handled by regular rider Christophe Lemaire, the dark bay was settled just about midpack in the 16-horse field before a smooth advance. He drafted in the slipstream of Efforia, who began to improve on the far turn. But Equinox was traveling even better, shifting around Efforia for clear sailing. No sooner had he crept into contention than he put the race away with a potent move. Equinox crossed the wire a handy 2 1/2-length winner while completing about 1 9/16 miles in 2:32.40 on the good-to-firm course.
Fellow sophomore Boldog Hos also delivered a ferocious kick to take second. Rallying from near the back, he fired a field-best final three furlongs in :35.2 (compared to Equinox’s :35.4). Slow-starting Geraldina closed for third, followed by Izu Jo no Kiseki, Efforia, Win Mighty, Justin Palace, Deep Bond, Titleholder, Vela Azul, Boccherini, Potager, Last Draft, Aristoteles, Akai Ito, and Breakup.
Lemaire was winning the Arima Kinen for the third time on Christmas Day. After famously engineering Heart’s Cry’s upset of Deep Impact in 2005, he guided Satono Diamond to beat Kitasan Black in 2016.
“What happens twice will happen thrice,” Lemaire said, according to japanracing.jp. “I won the Arima Kinen with Heart’s Cry and Satono Diamond both on Christmas Day, and I’m really happy to be able to win the race on Christmas Day again.
“We were able to make a good start and the horse was keen to go so I held him and responded strongly when I brought him to the outside. Though he was not mature yet during his spring campaign, he became really strong from this fall and I look forward to his performance next year.”
Kimura is eager to take Equinox abroad, as early as the Feb. 25 Saudi Cup Day card.
“This is just my personal opinion, but I want to go to Saudi Arabia in February and make him a world-standard horse and face the world,” he told Racing Post. “I think Equinox is a horse worth going overseas with and showing to horsemen around the world.”
Equinox will enter 2023 with a mark of 6-4-2-0. He won both starts as a juvenile in 2021, a newcomers’ event at Niigata and the Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai (G2), but wasn’t quite savvy enough for the first two jewels of the Triple Crown. His runner-up efforts, from post 18 in both classics, were nevertheless brimming with potential. Equinox is now just beginning to shine, his ceiling still to be determined.
Bred by Northern Farm in Japan, Equinox is a half-brother to Grade 3 scorer Weiss Meteor. Their dam, the Grade 3-winning King Halo mare Chateau Blanche, hails from the family of Bellypha. This is the same female line responsible for Arima Kinen runner-up Boldog Hos.