Is the Tenno Sho Autumn a two-horse race?

Equinox is the clear favourite to win Sunday’s big race at Tokyo, but can Do Deuce prove his Derby superiority to be right? JRA expert David Morgan takes a look at some of the key questions around the Group 1 clash.

Tokyo Yushun winner Do Deuce, the last horse to defeat Equinox. (Photo by JRA)

David Morgan

Chief Journalist


A relatively small field of 11 – the smallest for a JRA Group 1 since 2017 – will contest the Tenno Sho Autumn at Tokyo on Sunday, but it promises to be a cracker as the world’s top-rated horse, Equinox, faces his Derby conqueror Do Deuce for the first time since a neck separated them in May last year.

The two horses have travelled contrasting routes since: Equinox, as anyone with a world view of the sport will know, has won four Group 1 races on the bounce, starting with an epic in this contest last year, followed by the Arima Kinen in December, Dubai Sheema Classic in March and Takarazuka Kinen in June.

Do Deuce went to France to round out his three-year-old season with a G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe assault, but found the travel and the sopping wet turf too much to handle. He looked to be back on track in February with an impressive win in the G2 Kyoto Kinen over 2200m, but was scratched ahead of his intended run in the G1 Dubai Turf at Meydan in March and has not raced since, leaving Equinox to hog the spotlight so dazzlingly ever since.

Both horses have caught the eye in their recent trackwork: Do Deuce has looked sharp and strong; Equinox has been built up steadily and was unleashed for a humming final piece of work.  

Equinox stands as an imposing champion and a warm favourite; Do Deuce opposes with a big point to prove. But is it a two-horse race?


What do the ratings say?

If we’re looking at the numbers alone, Equinox is home and hosed. His rating of 129, achieved in Dubai, is well-documented as being the best figure posted anywhere in the world this year according to the IFHA (International Federation of Horseracing Authorities), and the likelihood is that the official handicappers erred a point or two on the conservative side in designating that number.

Equinox set a new Meydan 2400m course record in the G1 Sheema Classic. (Photo by Shuhei Okada)

Equinox’s figure has him nine points superior to the next best Do Deuce’s 120 rating, which is the same number the latter ran to in the Derby last year when Equinox posted a 119. But it is pretty unlikely that Do Deuce’s rating represents his peak: as mentioned above, forget his runs in France and that leaves his easy Group 2 win, a tune-up for his planned Dubai test, in which he was not asked to run full tilt yet earned a 120 rating again. Natural maturity would surely bring about improvement. Whether he can lift to Equinox’s level, time will tell, but the sense is he’s better than his official mark.

The rest are rated 119 down to 112, for an overall average rating for the field of almost 118. But ratings, fixed to a specific performance, are a narrow measurement and do not quantify improvement that is still to come.

Any others with 120+ potential?

In a word, Prognosis. The Sapporo Kinen winner is a late bloomer, a five-year-old with six wins on the board from just 10 starts and he shapes as a danger to the big two. He has evolved into a high-class racehorse and in only three runs this term he has won two from three, all at the Tenno Sho Autumn’s 2000m distance.

His G2 Kinko Sho victory in March signalled a horse on the up, and he confirmed that when second behind this weekend’s G1 Cox Plate favourite Romantic Warrior in the G1 QEII Cup at Sha Tin in April.

The latter effort saw him turning for home almost four lengths behind Romantic Warrior and trapped in a pocket, but he closed in a race-fastest 11.26s for the final 200m, to finish two lengths second.

His Sapporo Kinen win suggested another step forward as he powered clear down the home straight to earn a peak rating of 118.

Danon Beluga and the Tenno Sho Spring winner Justin Palace have each earned 119 ratings and could nudge over the 120 mark, but both have been found to be below Equinox’s level enough times to know that a win for either here would be a turn up.

What about the return to 2000m for Equinox?

Equinox has a one from two record at the trip and in reeling in the tearaway Panthalassa in last year’s Tenno Sho Autumn he showed that he had a big heart and a lethal turn-of-pace.

Since then, his races have been at 2200m and beyond, and when he won the Arima Kinen over 2500m he was totally dominant and seemed to relish the extra ground. It was the same at 2410m in Dubai when a sublime blend of strength, stamina and acceleration demolished world class opposition.

The champ has such an impressively high cruising speed that most things he does look easy, but still, there has to be a smidgen of a concern that perhaps the shorter trip might reveal a chink in his armour against a specialist 2000m runner with a turn-of-foot like Prognosis.

Will Christophe Lemaire lead, like in Dubai?  

When Lemaire took Equinox to the lead early in the Dubai Sheema Classic it revealed the colt’s tactical versatility. That option will always be there, but the Frenchman will only resort to that option if the circumstances of the race require it.

JRA Group 1 races usually have the pace on, and it is unlikely that Equinox would be comfortable racing along on the lead over this trip, unless it was an unusually slow tempo. Besides, the field includes Jack d’Or, a proven front-runner, as he showed again when winning the G1 Osaka Hai in April. 

Will Jack d'Or set the Tenno Sho tempo? (Photo by JRA)

It’s far more likely that Lemaire will let Equinox find his rhythm, settle back mid-pack and then creep into contention – perhaps stalked throughout by Do Deuce and Prognosis – ready to wind into that silky acceleration down the home straight.    

What would an Equinox win mean?

For starters he would be only the third horse to win the Tenno Sho Autumn back-to-back, joining Symboli Kris S and Almond Eye, and that’s pretty smart company to be keeping. It would also give him five straight Group 1 wins and further enhance his status as Japan’s current champion.

But it would also set him up for the possibility of proving himself as an all-time great. He would head into the Japan Cup with that beautiful line of ones next to his name for a head-to-head with the exceptional three-year-old filly Liberty Island. And, if he wins that, he’d have such an array of major wins that his legend would be assured: add a second Arima Kinen to cap it all and it’s the stuff of dreams.

And defeat?

Well, that depends on the manner of the failure. If he’s in the shake-up at the line, he loses little. His air of superiority would take a hit, of course, but he has the opportunity to bounce back in the Japan Cup. If he runs too badly to be true, then it’s likely the stable would find something amiss and that would be that, off to stud and thanks for the memories.

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    But champions do get beaten; it’s ok for a horse to lose and that should not diminish what he has already achieved. He’s proven himself to be a brilliant racehorse; he just might not ascend to the pantheon of all-time greats he would otherwise gain acceptance to if he does win this and then adds a Japan Cup.  

    Do Deuce and Prognosis loom as mighty challengers, but all things being equal, if Equinox arrives in peak condition, it’s difficult to envisage anything other than a continuation of his march toward greatness. He’s the one horse in the world right now with any grounds to even be considered for such high standing, and it would be great for the sport if he could deliver a performance on Sunday that would justify such a thought.




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