Japanese Horse of the Year Equinox fueled anticipation for Saturday’s $6 million Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), hopes that he might create one of those World Cup night moments that live long in the memory. Equinox came through with a wire job in course-record time, despite looking as if he were just coasting around the Meydan turf.
Regular rider Christophe Lemaire, who earlier steered Derma Sotogake in similar fashion in the UAE Derby (G2), kept it blissfully simple aboard the 3-5 favorite. As the highest-rated horse in the Sheema, and proven to stay further, Equinox took no chances in a race lacking an obvious pacesetter. The son of Kitasan Black dictated the tempo, on the bridle, and quickened down the lane to take a full second off the course mark.
Equinox polished off about 1 1/2 miles in 2:25.65 in splendid isolation, under a motionless Lemaire, while former record-holder Mishriff (2021) was in a dogfight to post 2:26.65. To be fair, the turf was renovated ahead of the current UAE season, and it was playing fast on Saturday. Even so, this was a tour de force both visually and on the clock, to put a high-class field to the sword.
Westover, last year’s Irish Derby (G1) conqueror and the troubled third at Epsom, could get no nearer than 3 1/2 lengths to the gearing-down Equinox. Zagrey rallied for an eye-catching third. Mostahdaf, who tracked Equinox early, was outpaced late in fourth. Defending champion Shahryar was a non-threatening fifth, followed by Win Marilyn, Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner Rebel’s Romance, Russian Emperor, Botanik, and Senor Toba.
Equinox’s resume reads 7-5-2-0 for Silk Racing Co. and trainer Tetsuya Kimura. Those losses came in the first two jewels of Japan’s Triple Crown, the 2022 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) (G1) and Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1), when he was babyish. Equinox has been a different proposition ever since. After running down the runaway Panthalassa in the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1), he dominated the Arima Kinen (G1) on Christmas Day, and made it three straight in this first international venture.
“I knew he was the best horse, and so I was happy to make the pace,” Lemaire said. “I’m really happy for all of the connections. It’s been a long time since I won the Sheema, the last time was with Heart’s Cry (2006), and he passed away two weeks ago. So I am very grateful for this horse and he has allowed me to pay tribute to Heart’s Cry.
“Race after race, he’s going up the rankings of the horses I have ridden. It was a great, great performance against these kind of horses at the top level. I couldn’t be happier.”
Kimura admitted that he was “a bit worried” to see Equinox in the lead, but he trusted Lemaire’s instincts.
“We didn’t have a plan really,” the trainer said, “and Christophe is just a very good jockey who knows how to ride these horses very well. He did a fantastic job in the saddle and Equinox is such a fine horse that knows how to get the job done.
“It was a tough field with some very strong horses but he’s a champion and he was just the best. He got the job done and made it all look so simple. I am very happy with this performance.”
The other connections could only marvel at a superstar in action.
“He’s been beaten by a very good horse; to finish second to him is fantastic,” Westover’s trainer, Ralph Beckett, said.
“He (Westover) ran a super race,” jockey Ryan Moore said, “and he was beaten by a very good horse, but he showed himself to be a high-quality colt. That horse (Equinox) will be a threat wherever he goes.”
“My guy ran well as he could,” Jim Crowley said of fourth-placer Mostahdaf, “but Equinox is something else. I think he’s the best Japanese horse we have seen over here in many years.”
Plans have called for Equinox to point for the Breeders’ Cup Turf, preferring the firm course at Santa Anita than possibly getting into a Parisian bog in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). Beckett had mentioned the same aim for Westover, so the Sheema could be a sneak preview of the Breeders’ Cup.
I am excited they are aiming for the Breeders Cup. Will be a real treat for me to see him run in person