The tagline promoting the Japan Cup is “Hero Is Coming.” After Equinox’s exhilarating triumph Nov. 26 at Tokyo Racecourse, the race could be best summed up with “Hero Has Come.”
If the sound of the 85,866 fans at the track was any indication, Equinox might just be a national treasure.
Trailing Panthalassa by 20 lengths through the first half of the 2,400-meter (about 12 furlongs) test Equinox showed why he is truly the world’s best racehorse in more than just name.
Closing the gap coming around the final turn, Equinox caught Panthalassa with about 250 meters (about 1 1/4 furlongs) remaining and pulled away in 2:21.8 much to the excitement of the fans on a cold, overcast day.
“Today I felt very privileged to be on the back of a fantastic horse. He’s the number one horse in the world and today we just saw a beauty on the track. I hope everywhere, everybody enjoyed it. And we remember this race for a very, very long time,” said jockey Christophe Lemaire, who has been aboard Equinox for each of the black colt’s 10 starts (with eight wins and two seconds).
Heavily favored entering Sunday’s race, the pressure was squarely on the shoulders of Equinox and his connections. Out of the gate, he appeared every bit up for the challenge dueling with Panthalassa and Titleholder in the opening strides.
“We made sure that the aggressiveness of Equinox would be well maintained from the start, and in any case, he stayed quite stable and that was the first step that was important,” said trainer Tetsuya Kimura through an interpreter.
But Panthalassa, who had not raced since March, ran as if he were well-rested, bolting out of the starting gate like a bullet train, surging so far ahead of the field that he appeared Secretariat-like. That is where the comparison ends.
“I got my blood pressure up because Panthalassa continued [to lead] the race. I was feeling a lot of pressure until the moment Equinox finished the race,” Kimura said.
Whether he tired after spending so much energy pulling away from the field early or the slight uphill climb in the final turn proved too taxing, Panthalassa had nothing left and was overtaken not just by Equinox but most of the field of 18, finishing 12th.
A pair of fillies finished second and third as Liberty Island and Stars on Earth immediately followed Equinox, who won by four lengths.
The win was the sixth straight Group 1 victory for Equinox, who had finished second in his first two starts on that level.
By 2016 Japan Cup winner Kitasan Black, Equinox is owned by Silk Racing, which also owns two-time Cup winner Almond Eye. Breeder Northern Farm has won 12 straight Group 1s.
Of the Japan Cup’s approximately $8,282,443 purse, $3,816,794 went to the victor. Additionally, as the winner of the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan Racecourse earlier this year, Equinox earned a $3 million bonus. This improves Equinox’s career earnings to $19,375,462.
While the sound of the crowd told what the outcome meant to them, Lemaire’s emotions told his tale. Returning to the front of the track, he leaned forward with tears streaming from his eyes.
“I had a straight kind of adrenaline shot and coming back to the start in front of that huge crowd, I felt people were very happy with what they witnessed. That’s why I was so emotional. And even as a professional jockey for so many years maybe I realized that I rode perfection and it comes after many years of hard work. That is something I can’t really explain,” Lemaire said.