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Equinox will face 17 rivals at Hanshin when he attempts to complete the rare feat of winning the Takarazuka Kinen as well as the Tenno Sho Autumn and the Arima Kinen.
Christophe Lemaire has no qualms about Equinox handling Hanshin’s tight turns and short straight on Sunday when Japan’s champion galloper will attempt to collect the fourth major of his career in the G1 Takarazuka Kinen.
“I think he can adapt himself to any kind of racecourse,” Lemaire told Asian Racing Report. “It’s the jockey who has to adapt his ride to the horse, and to the track, and to the other opponents.
“It will be the short track at Hanshin and the straight is only 300 metres long, and the turns are quite sharp, so you must be careful not to be stuck on the inside, not to go too wide in the last corner. You have to be on a good wave, and to be in a good position coming into the straight, so I’d say it’s more of a jockeys’ race than a horse race.”
Equinox’s ground-eating locomotion was last seen at left-handed Meydan in March when he made all and extended down the home straight to dismiss international rivals – including this week’s G1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes winner Mostahdaf – for an easy win in the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic over 2400m.
But down to 2200m at right-handed Hanshin this time, Japan’s five-time champion jockey intends to revert to the approach that brought wins last autumn in the G1 Tenno Sho (2000m) at Tokyo and G1 Arima Kinen (2500m) at Nakayama.
“When he went in front in Dubai it was because we knew nobody would take the lead and the pace might have been very slow, and I knew I was riding the best horse,” Lemaire said. “I knew he was an easy ride and could be comfortable in front, so I took that decision on that day for that race.
“It is going to be different this time, there are 18 runners and a few of them are used to going in front. Japanese jockeys like to start quick and take a good position. The trip also will be shorter, 2200 metres, the rhythm of the race will be different so I’m going to ride him like I used to ride him in Japan.”
That means Lemaire will aim to get out cleanly, get his mount relaxed and position “sixth or seventh” then improve into the race from the midpoint.
“Then use his beautiful stride at the end,” Lemaire added. “That’s the image I have right now, but of course it depends on the condition of the track, and whether he’s drawn inside or outside; I’ll have to adapt, but the image is have your horse relaxed the first part then let the class talk.”
Lemaire has only sat on the Tetsuya Kimura-trained Equinox once since Dubai and that came last week at the Ritto training centre. The son of Kitasan Black’s class was patently evident that morning.
“I haven’t seen him much, but what I could feel last week is that the horse is very confident,” Lemaire noted. “When he went to trackwork, he was very relaxed, not stressed at all. I would say he’s always been like this, he’s not a high temper horse, so I think not much change from Dubai.
“There was a big change of maturity from last spring to last autumn, but even then, in Dubai, it was a very good experience for him to travel and to see a different racecourse. He was already mature enough to be very competitive in these kinds of races; I am not sure he would have been like that last spring as a three-year-old.”
Equinox’s maturation has taken him to the pinnacle of the IFHA (International Federation of Horseracing Authorities)’s world’s best rankings, with the number 129 against his name as a measure of his ability. Lemaire is not concerned with that figure or what it might mean.
“It’s interesting to compare with the other horses, but I don’t really know what it means, 130 or 135, no, this is not my concern,” he said. “What I want is the horse to win each race he is in, even if he wins by a nose, beating Deep Bond, for example, who is rated 106, if he wins by a nose, I don’t care, he wins; we get the prize, we get the glory, we get everything. I don’t care about how much he will be rated.”
And Japan’s five-time champion jockey, the man who rode the great mare Almond Eye among a host of Group 1 stars he has guided in his career, does not expect to feel any pressure either when riding the world’s current best.
“Once I am on the horse on the track, I’m just thinking about how the horse is, focused on what I have to do, my plan for the race,” he explained. “I don’t think any more about everybody watching us, I just do my job and I trust my horse. We forget about Twitter and Instagram and horseracing media, who, of course, wait for the big show; the pressure comes a few days before, with all the eyes on you and on the horse.”
Those eyes were fixed on Lemaire last weekend when among his six wins in two days was Amante Bianco, the latest winner from the famous family of white horses that features the current peoples’ darling, Sodashi.
The son of Henny Hughes weighed in at 534kg for his debut on the Tokyo dirt and scored by a length and three quarters.
“I think he’s definitely a good horse, he has a very good pedigree: all the horses in his family won stakes races, the mother is by Kurofune so he’s a typical dirt pedigree,” Lemaire said. “I liked the way he reacted the last 150 metres. He took time to find his reserve, but at the end I liked his movement.
“It was seven furlongs and he was drawn outside so when you get some dirt in the face first time out they tend to stop a little bit so I was urging him a bit, but always following the pace quite well. He’s a big horse – big in size but not heavy – so he took time to pick up, but the last 200 metres when he was clear on the outside and finding his rhythm, then he had a very nice stride and everybody in Japan was happy.
“They are always very special, these white horses,” he added.
白毛のアイドル アマンテビアンコがデビュー勝ちでルメール1700勝 pic.twitter.com/IDswde1bQL
— せいちゃプロ競馬予想 (@JRA_JRA_JRA) June 17, 2023
So too is Equinox, and if he can win on Sunday, he will enter rare territory indeed. After all, you have to go back 23 years to T M Opera O to find the last horse that won all three of the Tenno Sho Autumn, Arima Kinen and Takarazuka Kinen.
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