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With Japan Cup win, Equinox shows why he's world's No. 1-rated horse

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Equinox wins the Japan Cup on Sunday. Photo by and courtesy of Katsumi Saito
Equinox wins the Japan Cup on Sunday. Photo by and courtesy of Katsumi Saito

TOKYO, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Jockey Christophe Lemarie called it "perfection," and there were few arguments after Equinox romped to a 4-length victory in Sunday's Group 1 Japan Cup, highlighting the weekend's international horse racing.

There were other developments in Hong Kong and Dubai but Equinox, the world's top-rated horse even before Sunday, was the be-all and end-all of the weekend.

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Japan

A massive cheer rose from the huge crowd pacing the Tokyo Racecourse grandstand Sunday as Equinox stormed to the lead, drew off and won the Group 1 Japan Cup by a confident 4 lengths, trailed by super filly Liberty Island.

Already the world's top-rated horse, the 4-year-old son of Kitasan Black did nothing to tarnish that reputation.

Jockey Christophe Lemaire returned with tears in his eyes and explained, "After so many years as a professional jockey, maybe I realized that I rode perfection. After so many years of hard work, that is something I cannot really explain. Today was something special.

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"I hope everybody enjoyed it and will remember this race for a very, very long time."

As the field rounded the sweeping stretch turn, Equinox found himself still chasing breakaway leader Panthalassa, winner of the $20 million Group 1 Saudi Cup in February. Panthalassa had led by 20 lengths or more, but ran out of gas when he hit the uphill climb toward the finish. Equinox blew by with ease.

"Top horses can adapt to any kind of race or pace or ground," Lemaire said.

Equinox improved to seven wins and two seconds from nine starts. He has won six straight Group 1 races including the Dubai Sheema Classic in March. With Sunday's win, his career earnings surpassed the old Japanese record held by Almond Eye, herself a two-time Japan Cup winner.

The colt's connections have not announced whether Equinox will stay in training for 2024 or be retired to stud. There will be pressure to give him a chance to finally end Japan's long and futile quest to win the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe next autumn in Paris.

Four races earlier on the same program at Tokyo, Equinox' 2-year-old half-sister, Garza Blanca, just failed to rally to victory in the Begonia Sho, also with Lemaire in the irons. The filly closed willingly to finish second, but was not catching the winner, Awesome Rocket.

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Hong Kong

The tentative lineups for the Dec. 10 Longines Hong Kong International Races include 25 horses from Japan, France, Ireland, England, Singapore and the United States -- all facing an intimidating local cast of 24 led by Golden Sixty, Romantic Warrior and Lucky Sweynesse.

The prospective fields include 16 individual Group 1 winners spread through the four Group 1 events at Sha Tin Racecourse. Japan is well represented with what appears to be the best chance to threaten in those races with an Irish contingent from the Coolmore lads also showing strength.

The Longines Hong Kong Vase at 2,400 meters, a seldom-run distance in Hong Kong, has been the best opportunity for invaders and finds the Christophe Clement-trained U.S. invader Soldier Rising among the entries.

"The Longines Hong Kong International Races stand as one of the most important racing events on the global calendar," said Andrew Harding, executive director of Racing for the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

"The presence of so many global stars is in keeping with our long-held commitment to deliver sporting excellence."

Dubai

In Friday evening's featured Dubai Creek Mile at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, Al Nefud returned to action for the first time since March of 2022 and showed he still has what it takes, pleasing trainer Bhupat Seemar and his new owners, Michael and Negar Burke no end.

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With Tadhg O'Shea in the irons, the 5-year-old saw off a field that included several group race winners, scoring by 6 3/4 lengths.

"I said to Michael and the [other] owners that he hadn't run for 600 days, but I don't think there's anything his equal over the mile in this country," O'Shea.

"He is fragile. His form shows that, But he's a high-class horse and I'm delighted for the Burke family. You see a performance like that and you think it's scary if he improves for it, but he has to."

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