Sporting a jockey cam, the world was able to get a good impression of what it means to cover the 2000m Grade 1 Tenno Sho in 1m55.20s, but was it just an illusion or was it really that fast?
“Oh yes,” Lemaire smiles. “That was truly awesome.”
The French jockey who is going for his sixth Japanese Championship title this year, has been riding the now four-year-old Equinox from the very beginning. Yet, even though he knew straight away that he was sitting on an exceptional horse, he could have never imagined that he would one day become a world record breaker.
“I always thought that he would be a proper Group 1 horse,” he recalls.
“From the start, he found everything very easy. He would travel easily in a race and he quickened just as easily. And he was incredibly easy to handle in a race, he could adapt to everything from the start.
“He has always been a very easy ride. However, I couldn’t have guessed that he would become such a flamboyant Group 1 winner. What he did in the Tenno Sho last year and then this year again and also his performance in Dubai, it’s just incredible.” Equinox is already revered the world over as one of the best horses of the century, even though the son of Kitasan Black and Chateau Blanche currently has “only” five Group 1 victories under his belt, which is still a fair cry from Almond Eye who won nine Group 1 races under Christophe Lemaire.
“I think he will be as famous as Almond Eye in the future. They actually have enjoyed a similar career as Almond Eye also won in Dubai, which certainly strengthened her reputation. Both dominated their generations, but obviously, Equinox is a colt and is the highest rated horse in the world, which makes him famous. But Almond Eye won nine Group 1 races, which is a record for a horse in Japan. She won the Triple Crown, two Tenno Sho and two Japan Cups, so Equinox still has a way to go but he has definitely made a big impact on the international scene.”
JAPAN CUP NEXT
Following his record breaking run in this year’s Tenno Sho in October, the Tetsuya Kimura trained four-year-old is now preparing himself for his first Japan Cup that takes place on 26 November at Tokyo. It goes without saying that he is the big favourite for this 2400m race and while his jockey is not feeling any particular pressure, he says: “This is test, as he is going to run against the three-year-old Liberty Island for the first time. Liberty Island is the Japanese champion filly who has won four Group 1 races this season and has dominated her generation.
“She will carry 53 kilos while he will carry 58 kilos. That’s five kilos difference, which is quite a lot. She has a lot of speed and we know she stays, so this is a new challenge, as we don’t know her limitations.”
No, but then do we know Equinox’s limitations? Christophe Lemaire starts laughing: “You are right, we don’t know his limitations either. He is reaching his peak in terms of maturity there is no doubt. He is more relaxed in his races, more experienced. In the past, he needed more time between his races and this is the first time that he runs so quickly after his last start.
“So we shall see. Last time out, it was probably his best performance but he wasn’t even challenged. Hopefully, he won’t be
challenged this time either.” Christophe Lemaire might respect the opposition but he doesn’t seem too worried.
He is confident that his mount will give his best and after finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic with Japanese raider Derma Sotogake, who will be aimed at the Dubai World Cup next March, he knows he is in great form when he concludes: “I’d rather be on the favourite than not. He gave me an unbelievable ride in the Tenno Sho and I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t do that again.”
Almond Eye holds the record for running the 2018 Japan Cup in 2m20.60s. It will be interesting to see if that record still stands after this year’s Japan Cup.