Showing why he’s rated the world’s best horse, Silk Racing Co.’s Equinox imposed his authority despite an extremely wide trip in Sunday’s $3.6 million Takarazuka Kinen (G1). The 3-10 favorite was shuffled far back early on a rough-looking course at Hanshin, then circumnavigated the field to prevail in this “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
Equinox’s winning margin was only a neck, with the 55-1 Through Seven Seas spearing through to make it close. But the reigning Japanese Horse of the Year appeared to have the race comfortably in hand under an unflappable Christophe Lemaire.
“Though we were unable get a good position toward the front due to the fast pace at the beginning,” Lemaire said, “the horse was relaxed in the rear and I wasn’t worried at all. As the inner track condition was not so good, we made bid from the outside early and turned wide to the straight where he stretched really well.
“Hanshin’s inner course is tricky, and the Takarazuka Kinen is a difficult race to win even for champion horses, so I’m very happy that I was able to win the race with the No. 1 horse in the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings. I realized again how strong he is.”
Indeed, Equinox could have had ample excuse had he lost. Yet the Tetsuya Kimura trainee found a way to rack up his fourth straight win, regardless of the circumstances, in the manner of a very rare talent.
At the same time, the effort of Through Seven Seas shouldn’t be overlooked amid the Equinox euphoria. The daughter of two-time Japanese champion Dream Journey, who won the 2009 Takarazuka Kinen, had a checkered passage while speeding her final 600 meters (about three furlongs) in :34.6.
Equinox clocked a next-best :34.8, but obviously deserves an asterisk for covering an excessive amount of ground. Lemaire’s confidence in his partner was evident from the start, as he took a hold and let him find his own rhythm. Initially he appeared likely to secure a midfield spot, per the game plan, but the leaders went so furiously that Equinox ended up almost at the rear of the 17-horse field. Only one was behind him, eventual runner-up Through Seven Seas.
Front-running Unicorn Lion, who blasted from post 15 and angled over, managed to moderate the tempo down the backstretch. Dura Erede, the only three-year-old in the field, kept close tabs in second and remained in the hunt as others joined the fray swinging for home. The stalking Ask Victor More and wider-traveling Geraldina loomed up to challenge, but the favorite was only just beginning to play his hand.
Lemaire had given Equinox his first cue to advance entering the far turn. The response was so immediate that he had to hold onto him a bit longer, only nudging him again at the final bend into the stretch. Spinning well out into the center of the course, Equinox deployed his change of gear to pass those battling it out and ultimately Geraldina.
Meanwhile, Through Seven Seas was threading her way through traffic. Not quite as wide as Equinox on the far turn, she was briefly stuck behind a one-paced Geoglyph and had to dart around him in the lane. Once clear, Through Seven Seas did well to come up a neck shy, albeit of a winner who was taking a rather measured approach to the wire.
Through Seven Seas was delivering a career-best performance, validating her early entries in the Sept. 9 Irish Champion (G1) and Oct. 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). Although she’d only just scored her first graded win in the March 11 Nakayama Himba (G3), Through Seven Seas had been well regarded enough to compete in two Japanese fillies’ classics in 2021.
Justin Palace, the 7.50-1 second choice, rallied just about in tandem with Equinox but found himself outkicked by the champion. Staying on well for the duration, befitting his profile as a marathoner, Justin Palace headed Geraldina for third. The Deep Impact half-brother to Palace Malice remains in the form of his life as a four-year-old.
Geraldina, who started her move a long way out, couldn’t sustain her momentum in the final yards and checked in a respectable fourth. She continues to do her outstanding parents, Maurice and Gentildonna, proud.
Deep Bond, like Justin Palace a thorough-going stayer, boxed on for fifth. Next came Pradaria, Boccherini, Japan Cup (G1) winner Vela Azul, Geoglyph, Dura Erede, Ask Victor More, Breakup, Danon the Kid, Mozu Bello, Unicorn Lion, Karate, and Lilac.
Equinox negotiated about 1 3/8 miles on the good-to-firm ground in 2:11.20 to rack up his fourth Group 1 victory. Three of those wins have come at home, in the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) and Arima Kinen (G1), and he took his game on the road with a course record-setting coup in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) on World Cup night.
“I hope to win more big races with him in the autumn,” Lemaire said.
Whether Equinox will go international again this season remains to be seen. If he ventures abroad, Santa Anita would be the target; the Breeders’ Cup Turf had been mentioned as a possibility earlier. His chances of taking up the other free entry he earned on Sunday, to Australia’s Cox Plate (G1), are remote. But connections might prefer to pursue a purely domestic agenda.
From the first crop of two-time Japanese Horse of the Year Kitasan Black (himself a son of Black Tide, Deep Impact’s brother), Equinox has compiled an 8-6-2-0 record. His only losses came in the first two jewels of Japan’s Triple Crown in 2022, the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) (G1) and Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1). The striking dark bay matured by the second half of his sophomore season, and it’s a tantalizing prospect to think that he might have still more up his sleeve.
The Northern Farm-bred colt is out of the Grade 3-winning King Halo mare Chateau Blanche, who is also responsible for Grade 3 scorer Weiss Meteor.