All Eyes On Equinox In the Japan Cup

Equinox cruising home in the Tenno Sho | JRA photo


Having given the race a pass in 2022 after taking a thrilling renewal of the G1 Tenno Sho (Autumn), Silk Racing Co. Ltd.'s world's top-rated racehorse Equinox (Jpn) (Kitasan Black {Jpn}) looks to complete that particular double–most recently accomplished by the syndicate's two-time Horse of the Year Almond Eye (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}) in 2020–as the warm favourite in Sunday's G1 Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse.

It has been a meticulously managed preparation for the 4-year-old colt with the broad blaze, as his abilities were on display for all to see when thrashing some of the world's best 2400-metre gallopers in the G1 Longines Dubai Sheema Classic Mar. 29. How strong was the performance? The second, third and fourth home–Westover (GB) (Frankel {GB}), Zagrey (Fr) (Zarak {Fr}) and Mostahdaf (Ire) (Frankel {GB})–would all go on to plunder Group 1s in various parts of Europe, while the fifth-placed defending champion Shahryar (Jpn) returned to his best form with his recent third in the GI Longines Breeders' Cup Turf.

Rested until the G1 Takarazuka Kinen in June, Equinox–whose own sire took this in 2016–came from well back and held off future G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe fourth Through Seven Seas (Jpn) (Dream Journey {Jpn}), but sat handier to the pace in the Oct. 30 Tenno Sho to score by an easy 2 1/2 lengths in the time of 1:55.2 for the 2000 metres. He's been ticking over since and did his final piece of work on the bridle Nov. 22.




“It was a usual workout,” said trainer Tetsuya Kimura. “He left the gate eagerly and was well-balanced under way. He was patient and waited for the rider's signal, then picked up the pace and ran solidly to the end. It was a good workout, as usual. I'm not going to make any empty promises, but we'll do our best over these last few days to get him to the gate in top condition.”

Indeed, Horse of the Year honours for 2023 are at stake Sunday, as Triple Tiara heroine Liberty Island (Jpn) (Duramente {Jpn}) has claims with a victory. The Sunday Racing runner is also perfect in her three trips to the races this term, coming from a near-impossible position to win the G1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) in April before stamping her authority on the G1 Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks), scoring by six lengths over the Japan Cup course and trip May 21. Leaving nothing to chance in the Oct. 15 G1 Shuka Sho, Yuga Kawada kept her in the clear, went for her fairly early while wide and won by a comfortable length. Harper (Jpn) (Heart's Cry {Jpn}), second in the Oaks and third in the Shuka Sho, returned to be a close third in the G1 QE II Commemorative Cup against older females earlier this month. Liberty Island will get a 4kg pull under the weight-for-age conditions plus sex allowance.

“I think she's one level better than she was for the Shuka Sho,” opined trainer Mitsumasa Nakauchida. “Her muscle tone is better, her mood is good. The Shuka Sho draw was difficult, but the jockey did a great job of guiding her. After seeing that race, I decided to come here. She is familiar with the venue and the Tokyo 2400 metres from her Japanese Oaks run, but she'll be up against older horses for the first time.”




Titleholder (Jpn) (Duramente {Jpn}) was Japan's champion older horse of 2022, with scores in the G1 Tenno Sho (Spring) over two miles and in the Takarazuka Kinen ahead of an 11th to Alpinista (GB) (Frankel {GB}) in that rain-soaked Arc. Winner in Group 2 company this past March, he was pulled up and out of the Tenno Sho Spring, but bounced back with a runner-up effort in the G2 Sankei Sho All Comers Sept. 24, holding gamely after making the majority of the running. He's drawn low, but will surely have a fight on his hands up front with all-the-way G1 Saudi Cup hero Panthalassa (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}).

Stars on Earth (Jpn) (Duramente {Jpn}) could prove the each-way play in this year's race. Desperately unlucky not to secure a Triple Tiara of her own in 2022, the dark bay–who carries the Shadai black-and-yellow–missed by a nose to pacesetting Jack d'Or (Jpn) (Maurice {Jpn}) in the G1 Osaka Hai Apr. 2 and was last seen charging home into third behind Songline (Jpn) (Kizuna {Jpn}) and Sodashi (Jpn) (Kurofune {Jpn}) in the G1 Victoria Mile at this venue in May. She is clearly at home at Tokyo and the distance should be much more to her liking.

Vela Azul (Jpn) (Eishin Flash {Jpn}) won last year's Cup under an audacious Ryan Moore steer, but with Moore having cut short his Japanese stint due to an injury suffered last weekend, Hollie Doyle is at the controls Sunday.

Following the withdrawal of G1 St Leger hero Continuous (Jpn) (Heart's Cry {Jpn}), Iresine (Fr) (Manduro {Ger}) is the lone European raider this year. The 6-year-old won the G1 Prix Ganay in yielding ground at ParisLongchamp in May, received a break over the summer and exits a strong-finishing score in the G2 Prix du Conseil de Paris on a sounder surface Oct. 15. He likes to be ridden quietly, conserving his energy for the straight, and the long run home over the Fuchu course should suit his style nicely.


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