Michael Cox



JRA G1 wrap: Equinox wows Tokyo with sixth straight G1 in thrilling Japan Cup

Will Equinox race on? If Sunday’s G1 Japan Cup was his last race it was a fitting swansong for a modern great

The story of the race 

Speculation will now surround the racing future of Equinox after his six straight G1: straight to stud or race on? 

Speaking to Asian Racing Report immediately after the race, Silk Racing president Masashi Yonemoto said “all options will be considered after the horse returns to the farm” 

Few Japanese horses, if any, have attracted such a worldwide following, and racing fans everywhere will be hoping Equinox does race on. It would seem unlikely though given how hard it would be to add to the four-year-old’s value.


Christophe Lemaire acknowledges the crowd after winning the 2023 G1 Japan Cup aboard Equinox. (Photo by Shuhei Okada)

The winning ride 

Before we talk tactics, let’s talk style: the fluency and stride length of Equinox and the classic style of Christophe Lemaire are a perfect match. 

Equinox, his head perfectly straight and never under pressure, and Lemaire, a jockey that must make horses feel like they haven’t got a rider on their back. 

Tactically this race loomed as a match race of sorts: Equinox in barrier two and Liberty Island in gate one. 

More on Kawada’s ride later: he was intent on following Equinox everywhere, he even followed him from the warm up area down to the starting barriers.

Equinox wins the G1 Japan Cup by four lengths with jockey Christophe Lemaire. (Photo by Shuhei Okada)

While Kawada wanted to be wherever Equinox was, Lemaire rode his own race, confident he had the best horse in the world underneath him. 

The most underrated attribute for Equinox is his early speed and ability to take luck out of the question. In a race in which half the field started 100-1 or longer and seven of them 500-1 or more, Lemaire was right to not want to be back too far from an inside gate on the 1.3 chance. 

Equinox has that rare ability for a long striding horse to be able to be bustled into a prominent position and again Lemaire ensured he had clear line of sight to the two tearaways Panthalassa and Titleholder. 

In what has become his trademark, Equinox took the field up to the two pacesetters and left Liberty Island gasping as he won by four.

Japan Cup 2023 race replay

The disappointment

Ok, we get it, Panthalassa is a tearaway, but leader but Yutaka Yoshida overcooked this one, running the first 1200m in 1.09.1. The relentless, and complete;y unrealistic, sectionals would have been enough to have Yoshida hauled in front of stewards in some jurisdictions but trainer Yoshita Yahagi said post race that he “had no regrets.”

Panthalassa was a $46 chance and daring tactics were expected but he was left with no chance.

The forgive file

Back to Kawada’s ride on Liberty Island. The obsession to be on the back of Equinox was understandable, but it may have backfired. Coming out of the straight the first time Kawada got into a bumping duel in an effort to stay two wide, only for Equinox to drop down to the fence anyway and for him to follow. 

The damage had been done though and Liberty Island raced strongly through early sections of the race when perhaps a slightly more conservative ride was required, especially given Liberty Island’s incredible sprint. 

Still, Liberty Island’s final 600m of 33.9s was exceptional given how close she had sat to the breakneck speed. There is no shame in finishing second to Equinox and Liberty Island proved what many, and the market, suspected: she is next in line as Japan’s premier horse. 

Christophe Lemaire returns to scale after winning the 2023 G1 Japan Cup on Equinox (Photo by Shuhei Okada)

The statistic 

Equinox joined T. M. Opera O and Lord Kanaola as the only horses in history to win six straight JRA G1s. 

The quote 

Tetsuya Kimura, trainer, Equinox: 

“He was aggressive from the start and was relaxed during the race despite the fast pace of the frontrunner. With Equinox extending his G1 winning streak for over a year, the pressure was so great before the Japan Cup that I felt relieved when he won the race. He is a very well-balanced horse—shape of his hooves, bone structure and firm muscle—everything is perfectly balanced. It’s a miraculous combination. So, we try to maintain this balance when we train him.”





    Subscribe now & get exclusive weekly content from Asian Racing Report direct to your inbox

      Expert ratings, tips & analysis for Hong Kong racing