The 43rd running of the Japan Cup delivered exactly what horse racing fans wanted and expected to see: absolute brilliance from Equinox and Christophe Lemaire.
It was a classic showcase for the supreme skills of two partners doing their jobs to the best of their ability ― combined perfection, actually ― on Sunday, November 26 at Tokyo Racecourse.
The world's No 1-ranked horse, piloted by his superstar jockey, ran a sensible, yet sensational race, covering the 2,400 meters on turf in 2 minutes, 21.8 seconds.
Furthermore, they thrilled the crowd with a calculated rush to the wire.
"He is literally a superhorse ― he gave me so much confidence as a jockey," Lemaire declared later before adding, "He is so easy to ride and calm; it's almost like a pony. Anyone can ride him."
Equinox wasted zero energy. And with everything on the line, he zoomed ahead with speed to burn over the final 400 meters, outclassing the field in a four-length victory.
As the race reached its exhilarating crescendo, more than 85,000 spectators reacted with excitement and respect.
Moreover, Equinox, a Kitasan Black-sired, 4-year-old brown colt, added another chapter to his long list of accomplishments, one that's anchored by this jaw-dropping feat: six consecutive Grade 1 victories, starting with the Tenno Sho (Autumn) on October 29, 2022.
For broader context, remember this: In 10 career races, Equinox recorded eight wins and two runner-up finishes, all of which happened with Lemaire aboard.
They are perfect teammates.
Credit must also go to trainer Tetsuya Kimura for his guidance and wisdom.
Equinox and Lemaire: A Racing Dream Team
Let's step back for a minute from the incredibly festive atmosphere at Tokyo Racecourse to remember what made the Japan Cup triumph even more meaningful: Equinox's greatness melds with Lemaire's elite talent to form what I believe is one of the world's top-10 horse-jockey tandems of the 21st century.
During the Japan Cup, I watched Equinox in person at a race track for the first time. The location and the crowd didn't change what my eyes and brain were telling me: Simply put, Equinox is an amazing competitor.
The same is true of Lemaire, winner of 49 Japan Racing Association G1 races, including four Japan Cups.
That reality is also ratcheted up a notch by Lemaire's profound respect for his partner. Gentle taps on Equinox's mane after a race are a requisite occurrence during the Frenchman's workday before media obligations and other post-race duties.
Lemaire's enduring popularity in Japan is linked to the fact that he never conceals his love of competition. He also wears his heart on his sleeve with teary-eyed reactions to victories.
For instance, after steering Almond Eye to her Japan Racing Association record ninth G1 win in the 40th Japan Cup, the final race of her storied career, on November 29, 2020, Lemaire's comments underscored his deep respect for his thoroughbred partner.
"Almond Eye is a perfect mare and doesn't have any weak points," Lemaire told reporters that day. "Her career as a race horse ended today, but I look forward to riding her children."
Lemaire added, "This mare is a true professional. She never gave me a second of anxiety today. Whatever I asked her for, she delivered. She is Japan's strongest horse, and I'm filled with gratitude toward her."
Comparing Almond Eye and Equinox
Continuity can be a wonderful thing or a detriment to success in competitive sports.
Since Equinox made his debut on August 28, 2021, in the 2-Year-Old Newcomer race at Niigata Racecourse with a win, Lemaire was along for the ride.
We've seen again and again a masterful partnership at work, which confirms the collective and individual greatness of the horse and the jockey.
Although Almond Eye and Equinox have competed over the past decade in different races, their comparable extraordinary success piques interest in any legitimate comparisons made between the two.
And nobody is better qualified than Lemaire to offer analysis on this subject. (He rode Almond Eye in 14 of her 15 career starts between 2017 and 2020.)
"Today I felt very privileged to be on the back of a fantastic horse," Lemaire was quoted as saying about Equinox by Thoroughbred Racing Commentary on Sunday. "He's the number one horse in the world and today we just saw a beauty on the track. I hope everywhere, everybody enjoyed it and we remember this race for a very, very long time."
Lemaire continued, "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."
That poignant statement was made before speculation about Equinox's possible retirement became official on Thursday, November 30. Silk Horse Club, Equinox's ownership group, revealed the news on its website. What's next for Equinox? He'll go to stud at Shadai Stallion Station in Abira, Hokkaido Prefecture.
An Electric Buzz Permeates Tokyo Racecourse
On Sunday, when Equinox crossed the wire to extend his winning streak, the jubilant roar from the crowd was euphoric confirmation of Japan's admiration and love of elite-level horse racing.
The collective pride of Equinox fans throughout Tokyo Racecourse (and echoed on social media) was enthusiastic and contagious before, during, and after the race.
What's more, the anticipation for the start of the race at 3:40 PM carried an electric buzz that seemed to float above every inch of the vast racing complex.
There was no escaping that buzz. It was everywhere.
And even though it was an 18-horse event, Sunday's Japan Cup became a two-plot story: A) The great Equinox's competition against himself, and B) The mere formality of the final results for the other 17 entrants.
"As a professional jockey for many years, I work hard to ride to perfection, so today was very special," Lemaire, 44, said on Sunday. "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."
For racing fans, it was also a great privilege to see Equinox's brilliance in the Japan Cup.
- Equinox Overwhelms in a Riveting Finish in the 43rd Japan Cup
- [JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Equinox is the Japan Racing Association's 2022 Horse of the Year
- #17 Sports Talk ― Christophe Lemaire Relishes the Competition of Every Horse Race
Author: Ed Odeven