Adrian Webber



Keiba Diary: gift-wrapped Equinox

Adrian Webber sees the Takarazuka Kinen as a perfect summer gift, Lemaire and leading sire Lord Kanaloa maintain their hot form, and Imamura returns with a win.

It’s that in Japan when ‘ochugen’ (summer gifts) will soon promptly be dispatched to people whose services have been appreciated so far this year for whatever reason gets them on the gift list. 

It might be a relative or a business client who receives them, and the exquisitely wrapped items such as jellies or fruit juices – things which have a cooling effect in these hotter days of early summer – are sent off all over the nation. They are not to be confused with ‘omiyage’ (souvenirs), things bought on a visit to another place which are constantly being exchanged until one party tires of returning the favour.

It’s to be wondered this coming Sunday just how much of a gift-wrapped victory will come Equinox’s way in the G1 Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin. Of course, the wish is very much the father to the thought, but it is difficult to see the world’s highest-rated racehorse not receiving another top-level prize to go into the trophy cabinet. Perhaps some doubt could be cast on him handling the track’s tight 2200 metres, which he’ll be seeing for the first time, or the weather if it comes up wet, but surely to a horse of his class neither of these things will be his undoing. 

Which of the other horses might try to rough him up the most? Will it be the impressive G1 Tenno Sho Spring winner Justin Palace, or the tough mare Geraldina, to be ridden by four-time winner of the race Yutaka Take?


Can Justin Palace upset the reigning JRA Horse of the Year Equinox? (Photo by JRA)

Or will it finally be Deep Bond’s day after putting in so many hard yards for a few years now without a Group 1 victory to show for it? Most probably Equinox will be able to shrug off all these niggling doubts, but it’s only on Sunday that we’ll know for sure.

Lemaire keeps up the heat

As if just warming up for his big ride this Sunday, Christophe Lemaire pitched in with a six-winner weekend at Tokyo, which included a comfortable victory on Perriere in the G3 Unicorn Stakes. His big haul took him to within just one win of the rider at the top of the jockeys’ standings, Yuga Kawada. It also brought up 1,700 JRA winners for Lemaire, a tally that includes 44 Group 1s.

Perriere and Christophe Lemaire win the G3 Unicorn Stakes. (Photo by JRA)

There was a return to action last weekend for the six jockeys recently suspended for inappropriate smartphone usage during weekend jockey ‘lockdown’, and female riders Seina Imamura, Naho Furukawa and Manami Nagashima all got back on the board with a winner each. 

Meanwhile, up in Hakodate, Katsuma Sameshima hit his 400th JRA win, and young jockey Daisuke Sasaki has been in demand with 35 rides in the first two weekends of the Hokkaido fixture. 

“I wanted to get off to a good start in Hakodate so that I could eat some nice fish,” Sasaki said just before losing 1kg from his allowance. With four wins, six seconds and five thirds from his four-day stint so far, the rider, just in his second year with a licence, sits in 19th place in the jockeys’ table and certainly seems to know the price of fish. 

Leading Lord

A quick glance at the leading sire table for JRA races this year sees Lord Kanaloa in first place with a comfortable margin of 24 wins over second-placed Duramente, as of last weekend. He’s now had over 900 JRA wins since becoming a stallion in 2017 and Kimiwa Queen’s recent win in the Hakodate Sprint Stakes gave him his 60th graded race victory and put him at 14th in the all-time JRA graded stakes table, which is headed by none other than Sunday Silence. 

Lord Kanaloa at Shadai Stallion Station in Hokkaido in 2018. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

Lord Kanaloa has sired more than 100 JRA winners every year since 2018 and he’s on target to become the leading stallion of 2023, having finished second in the leading sire table the past three years. Currently on the 84-winner mark for this year, the superstar of the track in 2013 will hopefully take full honours as a stallion ten years on from his four Group 1 wins that included the Yasuda Kinen, the Sprinters Stakes and the Hong Kong Sprint.

Force to be reckoned with

This year’s G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen winner First Force made it six consecutive years of Group 1 wins for Lord Kanaloa as a stallion, and although he started at a big price that day, the seven-year-old got the job done well on the heavy ground. He’s now retired, and on the morning of June 16 he arrived at Arrow Stud in Hokkaido, where he’ll take up stud duties in 2024. He’ll be among stars such as California Chrome and Big Arthur, and further news is awaited of stud fees and mares to be covered. 

Safe to say that all those mentioned in this week’s Diary, human or equine, are deserving of any summer gifts heading their way.  




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