International spotlight: Equinox tackles Breeders' Cup WAYI Takarazuka Kinen

June 24th, 2023

Fans of international racing don’t have long to wait after the conclusion of Royal Ascot for more top-class action. Late Saturday night/early Sunday morning our time (2:40 a.m. ET), the world’s top-rated horse, #5 Equinox, returns in the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Takarazuka Kinen (G1) at Hanshin.

Connections have expressed an interest in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), so if Equinox takes care of business as expected, he could well put his free ticket to use at Santa Anita.

Equinox’s recent form boosts

Last seen demolishing a high-class field in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), Japan’s reigning Horse of the Year has had his World Cup night form upheld from Europe to Hong Kong.

Mostahdaf, fourth in Equinox’s course record-setting triumph at Meydan, just stunned the big guns in Wednesday’s Prince of Wales’s (G1) at Royal Ascot. Russian Emperor, a non-threatening eighth behind Equinox, subsequently floored Hong Kong star Romantic Warrior in the Champions and Chater Cup (G1) back home at Sha Tin. Also, the Sheema runner-up, Westover, has since finished a clear second in the Coronation Cup (G1) at Epsom.

Equinox is turning back slightly in distance to about 1 3/8 miles in the Takarazuka Kinen, but that should not be an obstacle. The champion began his winning skein in the about 1 1/4-mile Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) before stepping up in trip to take the prestigious Arima Kinen (G1) in his 2022 finale.

Trainer Tetsuya Kimura believes that Equinox is in shape similar to the Arima Kinen, according to his comments on

“It did take him some time to recover from his trip to Dubai,” Kimura said. “As he develops though, he’s showing a lot more power, and that should help him prove himself here.”

Jockey Christophe Lemaire struck a confident tone as well.

“He’s in good condition, and at Ritto he’s been relaxed when going onto the track,” Lemaire said. “Mentally he’s calm too. His reactions are good, and I hope to get a position somewhere in midfield during the race and take things from there. His footwork and balance are good, so even if it’s wet, I don’t think it’s a problem.”

The forecast is favorable, so at this writing, rain is not expected to impose a new variable into the equation. Drawn in post 5 in a 17-horse field, Equinox will be a white-hot favorite to extend his winning streak to four.

Main challengers

The opposition falls into two main categories: fellow alumni of last year’s Japanese classics, including #9 Justin Palace and #12 Ask Victor More, and older veterans, led by Grade 1 winners #11 Geraldina and #8 Vela Azul.

Geraldina boasts a signature score at Hanshin, coming in last fall’s Queen Elizabeth 2 Cup (G1) at this same about 1 3/8-mile distance. That was on yielding going, but she’s not hostage to the ground. On firm, Geraldina took the All Comers (G2) and finished third to Equinox in the Arima Kinen – best of all those re-opposing him from that feature.

The daughter of two all-time Japanese greats, Maurice and Gentildonna, Geraldina is eligible to move forward in this third start of her campaign, in keeping with her pattern. Yet she ran respectably in defeat in both of her 2023 appearances, over a furlong shorter than ideal. Geraldina rallied for sixth of 16 in the Osaka Hai (G1) here, but never factored from off the pace in the QEII Cup (G1) at Sha Tin. Back up in trip, she’ll be seen to better effect.

Justin Palace was beaten in all three jewels of Japan’s Triple Crown, but that’s no impediment. Indeed, Equinox himself lost the first two before putting it together in the second half of his sophomore season.

By the legendary Deep Impact, Justin Palace has improved markedly as a four-year-old. The half-brother to 2013 Belmont (G1) winner Palace Malice captured both starts this term, the Hanshin Daishoten (G2) here and the Tenno Sho Spring (G1). Although those came over much longer distances, Justin Palace sports a win at this trip in last fall’s Kobe Shimbun Hai (G2).

Another Deep Impact colt, Ask Victor More, could offer more value underneath. Fifth to #13 Geoglyph and Equinox in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) (G1), Ask Victor More was third to Do Deuce and Equinox in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1). Those rivals all passed on the third jewel, the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) (G1), and Ask Victor More broke through with a hard-fought victory in record time here at Hanshin. Unfortunately, he’s run well below form in both starts this season, but the cutback in trip – and returning to the scene of his biggest win – might spark a turnaround.

Vela Azul and Geoglyph return to turf after chasing dirt riches in the Mideast. Geoglyph was a commendable fourth in the Saudi Cup (G1), but regressed to ninth in the Dubai World Cup (G1). Vela Azul, the reigning Japan Cup (G1) winner, fared even worse as a no-show 13th at Meydan. Vela Azul’s 2-for-2 record over the Hanshin course is an encouraging stat. But he still has a substantial gap to bridge with Equinox, based on his subpar 10th in the Arima Kinen.

Geoglyph can claim to have beaten Equinox before, in the aforementioned Japanese Guineas. The concern is the longer distance, considering that he was seventh in last year’s about 1 1/2-mile Japanese Derby. Yet the son of U.S. champion sprinter Drefong does get help from his dam’s side. Geoglyph is out of Aromatico, the third-placer in the 2013 Queen Elizabeth 2 Cup. If he stays, Geoglyph is another logical type to make the frame.

A similar comment applies to #3 Danon the Kid, Japan’s champion two-year-old colt of 2020 after taking the about 1 1/4-mile Hopeful (G1). But his flop in the 2021 Guineas called for turning back in trip, and he responded by placing in two straight editions of the Mile Championship (G1). Danon the Kid has since handled stretching back out to about 1 1/4 miles when finishing second in the Hong Kong Cup (G1) and a near-miss third in the Osaka Hai. He was less successful in his latest visit to Sha Tin, winding up fifth (one spot ahead of Geraldina) in the QEII Cup. Pedigree doesn’t give the idea that he’s looking to go longer.

Stamina is the forte of #10 Deep Bond, who recently filled the runner-up spot in the about two-mile Tenno Sho Spring for the third straight year. Indeed, this is on the short side for the multiple Grade 2-winning globetrotter, but he was fourth in the 2022 edition of this race. Also exiting the Tenno Sho Spring is fourth-placer #14 Breakup. Having finished ahead of Deep Bond when they were third and fifth, respectively, in the Hanshin Daishoten, Breakup figures to appreciate taking this drop in trip.

For a giant price who could hit the board at his best, #4 Boccherini is worth a look. The full brother to champion Lovely Day, the 2015 Takarazuka Kinen winner, just scored in the June 3 Naruo Kinen (G3) over the course. He’s now won or placed in five of six at Hanshin, including a second to Vela Azul in last fall’s Kyoto Daishoten (G2).

Geraldina isn’t the only female in a race that has played kindly to distaffers. #1 Lilac, runner-up to Geraldina in the QE2 Cup, wants rain, while #6 Through Seven Seas takes a class hike after a Grade 3 breakthrough at Nakayama.

The lone sophomore venturing versus elders is #17 Dura Erede, who wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t lost the rider right out of the gate in the May 28 Japanese Derby. A narrow winner of last December’s Hopeful, he was second in the UAE Derby (G2) in his only intervening start.