Perhaps the only doubt for Equinox, outside of some steep improvement from key rivals or a health issue, was that tempo could bring him undone.
Japan’s smallest Group 1 field since 2017 meant that a solid pace wasn’t guaranteed. Would jockey Christophe Lemaire take luck out of the equation and reprise his aggressive tactics from the Sheema Classic in Dubai? On that occasion he led, controlled the pace and cruised away with the race.
Lemaire needn’t have worried: Equinox was pushed into a prominent spot but soon settled third as Jack d’Or took the running and Yusuke Fujioka carved out unrelenting sectionals in front.
Lemaire always looks stylish but this was something else as Equinox loomed up to the leader under a hold. After unleashing just one flick of the whip with 200m to go, Lemaire sat quiet to the line.
Tenno Sho Autumn 2023 race replay
Where to now for Do Deuce? He got the better of Equinox in last year’s Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) but the two horses’ careers have taken divergent paths since: Equinox is five from five and Do Deuce is one from four, including two unplaced runs in France, as well as being scratched with lameness in Dubai.
It was the manner of Do Deuce’s defeat as 4.3 second favourite that was most worrying: jockey Keita Tosaki was tagging Equinox everywhere he went, but Do Deuce couldn’t handle the pressure when Equinox shifted gears.
Christophe Lemaire: “He’s not exactly what you call a horse with incredible speed but he was able to keep up with today’s rapid pace and get into another gear at the end—but I was actually surprised when I realised that we had won in a record.”
Christophe Lemaire bows before Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako following Equinox's Tenno Sho Autumn defence at Tokyo Racecourse. (Photo by Shuhei Okada)
“He is a versatile horse that can run from any position, stay calm during the race and make use of his speed at the finish. He can also run at longer distances such as when he won the Arima Kinen, so although there was much pressure coming into such a prestigious race as race favorite, I was confident knowing what he is capable of.”
It was Lemaire’s 47th JRA G1 victory and his fifth Tenno Sho (Autumn) win after Rey de Oro in 2018, Almond Eye in 2019 and 2020 and Equinox last year.
Horses to watch
Connections of the beaten runners will be checking the international race schedule for ways to avoid Japan’s reigning champ. If they couldn’t beat him at 2000m, what chance 2400m at Tokyo?
Runner-up Justin Palace performed way above market expectations and his best is over further; perhaps trainer Haruki Sugiyama will ponder the Hong Kong Vase?
Justin Palace caught the eye late running in to second. (Photo by Shuhei Okada)
Providing he pulls up well, third-placegetter Prognosis looks a lock for the Hong Kong Cup, having finished second to Romantic Warrior over the Sha Tin 2000m in the G1 QEII Cup earlier this year.
Trainer Noriyuki Hori (Maurice, Neorealism, Satono Crown) has been a regular visitor to Hong Kong and he could be back to HKIR on December 10 with Danon Beluga after his grinding fourth.
The clash the racing world wants is Equinox versus champion three-year-old filly Liberty Island in the Japan Cup on November 26.
Even by the standards of the JRA, a circuit where the best get tested against each other, this will be one of the most anticipated races of all time: the horse of the year versus the rising star, and top jockeys Lemaire and Yuga Kawada in what will be an absorbing tactical battle.