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Timeform Awards: Horse of The Year

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Equinox’s achievements during 2023 saw him top the vote among Timeform’s editorial staff and land the Horse of The Year title.

WINNER: EQUINOX (Timeform Rating: 136)

Pedigree Details

Sire: Kitasan Black

Dam: Chateau Blanche

Dam’s sire: King Halo

Breeder: Northern Farm

Foaled: March 23 2019

2023 Race Record & Fact file

Races: 4

Wins: 4

Major wins: Dubai Sheema Classic, Takarazuka Kinen, Tenno Sho (Autumn), Japan Cup

Owner: Silk Racing Co. Ltd

Trainer: Tetsuya Kimura

Sayonara Equinox. The Japanese champion’s legions of fans had the opportunity to say goodbye to him at a farewell ceremony at Nakayama before the next chapter in his life begins when he takes up stud duties at Shadai Stallion Farm next year. The striking dark son of Kitasan Black with the broad blaze retires as Timeform’s highest-rated horse in the world this year having become the first Japanese horse to earn more than 2 billion yen in prize money.

Domestically at least, Equinox had already established himself as a champion at three when, after finishing runner-up in the equivalents of the 2000 Guineas and Derby – looking unlucky to go down by a neck in the latter race – he beat older rivals later in the season in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and the Arima Kinen which were to be the first of his six consecutive Group 1 victories. Timeform made him Japan’s top-rated horse in 2022 (with a rating of 130) and he was almost unanimously voted Horse of The Year at the JRA Awards, earning 282 out of the 288 votes, a title he’s sure to retain after the exploits of his unbeaten campaign this season.

The race which raised Equinox’s profile on the world stage was the Dubai Sheema Classic in March which also turned out to be his only appearance outside Japan. His compatriot Ushba Tesoro won the more valuable Dubai World Cup on the same card but it was Equinox’s performance in the turf race which made much the bigger impact. That was largely down to a spectacular display of front running, with Christophe Lemaire, who partnered him in all ten of his races, sending him straight into the lead in a departure from the usual more patient tactics employed on him. Travelling strongly and still on the bridle when quickening clear two furlongs out, Equinox was eased through the final 100 yards yet still broke the Meydan track record by a second.

Dubai form is often maligned but the Sheema Classic result was franked time and again in the months that followed. Westover, three and a half lengths back in second, proved himself a top-class performer in his own right by going on to win the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and finished runner-up in the Coronation Cup, King George and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in his other starts. French colt Zagrey in third later won the Grosser Preis von Baden, while Mostahdaf in fourth subsequently won the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and Juddmonte International.

Also left trailing by Equinox in the Sheema Classic was Japan’s winner of the race the year before Shahryar, along with Win Marilyn and Rebel’s Romance, winners of the Hong Kong Vase and Breeders’ Cup Turf respectively in 2022.

Three months later and back on home turf, Equinox didn’t need to show the same form in the Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin but little went right for him before he showed an impressive turn of foot from well back in the field and wide on the track to get home in front by a neck in a bunched finish. Whilst Equinox was not entered in the Arc himself, runner-up Through Seven Seas represented the Japanese form at Longchamp and the mare went on to run a good fourth behind Timeform’s champion of Europe Ace Impact.

But at Tokyo in the autumn, Equinox turned in a couple of performances to close his career in a manner more befitting of the world’s best horse. His second win in the Tenno Sho was an astonishing performance on the clock as he took nearly a second off the existing Japanese record for a mile and a quarter that Almond Eye, racing in the same Silk Racing colours, had set when winning the Tenno Sho for the first time four years earlier. Never far off the scorching pace, Equinox ran out a comfortable two and a half length winner from Justin Palace who had won the two-mile Spring version of the Tenno Sho and had finished third behind Equinox at Hanshin.

Four weeks later, Equinox followed up with a performance at least as good as any of his other victories in the Japan Cup in front of a crowd of 85,000. In theory it was an opportunity for him to meet serious foreign opposition again but perhaps it wasn’t too surprising that only one overseas runner dared take up the challenge, French gelding Iresine failing to muster any sort of threat back in ninth.

Saudi Cup winner Panthalassa opened up a huge lead in a repeat of the tactics he’d tried to pulled off in the Tenno Sho the previous season and was still clear turning for home but Lemaire had the situation in hand and just had to nudge Equinox along to go in pursuit of the leader who was beginning to tire dramatically. The inevitable happened just over a furlong out when Equinox swept into the lead before being pushed out firmly until the closing stages when he was eased a length or so but still had four lengths to spare at the line over the fillies’ triple crown winner Liberty Island who was the only one seriously backed to beat him.

Equinox retires with a rating of 136, the joint-highest for a Japanese-trained horse in Timeform’s experience alongside the 1998 Japan Cup winner El Condor Pasa who recorded his career-best effort when beaten half a length by Montjeu in the following year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Japan’s highest-rated horse previously this century was Deep Impact (rated 134), winner of the Japan Cup in 2006 and he too the winner of all but two of his starts.

The late Deep Impact, whose brother Black Tide is Equinox’s grandsire, soon established himself as Japan’s dominant sire but his reputation as a stallion became such that his services were sought after by leading European breeders too, with Derby winner Auguste Rodin being the most notable result. It’s not hard to imagine Equinox achieving global appeal one day too in his new career. In winning the Arima Kinen, the Tenno Sho (Autumn) twice, and the Japan Cup, Equinox won three of the races also won by his sire Kitasan Black who was himself a dual Japanese Horse of The Year (2016/17) and a former record prize-money earner in Japan before first Almond Eye and now his first-crop son Equinox overtook him.

Equinox’s dam Chateau Blanche won four races, notably the Mermaid Stakes, a Group 3 contest over a mile and a quarter at Hansin. She is also the dam of Weiss Meteor, a Group 3 winner, and the promising two-year-old filly Garza Blanca who finished second for Equinox’s connections in a race earlier on the Japan Cup card after making a winning debut in August. The family has its origins in France, with Equinox’s fourth dam Blanche Reine being a half-sister to Prix Jacques Le Marois runner-up Bellypha and Prix Eugene Adam winner Bellman who both ended up in Japan as stallions themselves. Equinox’s stud fee of ¥20m (around £110,000 or €127,000) is the highest ever for a first-season stallion in Japan and well in advance of the ¥12m Deep Impact and Kitasan Black stood for in their first seasons. He’s reported to be fully booked.


RUNNER-UP: ACE IMPACT (133)

Pedigree Details

Sire: Cracksman

Dam: Absolutly Me

Dam’s sire: Anabaa Blue

Breeder: Mme Waltraut Spanner

Foaled: February 13 2020

2023 Race Record & Fact file

Races: 6

Wins: 6

Major wins: Prix du Jockey Club, Prix Guillaume d’Ornano, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

Owner: Ecuries Serge Stempniak/Gousserie Racing

Trainer: Jean-Claude Rouget

Principal Rider: Cristian Demuro

No horse that had been unraced as a juvenile had won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe since Rail Link struck in 2006. However, that changed in the latest season when Ace Impact capped a glorious campaign with victory at Longchamp, rubberstamping his status as the standout performer of his generation.

There’s nothing unusual nowadays about the all-weather being used as the launchpad for a subsequent top-notcher – Enable famously won at Newcastle on her debut – but starting out at Cagnes-Sur-Mer is certainly an unorthodox path to take to the top.

After winning on the French Riviera, Ace Impact landed a conditions event at Bordeaux and a listed race at Chantilly before facing his first big test in the Prix du Jockey Club – also known as the French Derby.

Ace Impact impressed with the turn of foot he found to sprint three and a half lengths in the Prix du Jockey Club and, after making the most of a straightforward opportunity in the Prix Guillaume d’Ornano, it was again his change of pace that marked him out as something special in the Arc.

Ace Impact, who was tackling a mile and a half for the first time in the Arc, still had most of the field in front of him two furlongs out, but he readily cut back his rivals with a surge striking enough to feature on any highlight reel of Arc winners through the ages.

Ace Impact achieved a Timeform rating of 133, which was comfortably the highest by a three-year-old around the globe or a horse of any age trained in Europe during the latest season. Given he raced only six times and retired with his career less than 10 months old, he surely would have been capable of even better had he been kept in training, too.


THIRD: AUGUSTE RODIN (129)

Pedigree Details

Sire: Deep Impact

Dam: Rhododendron

Dam’s sire: Galileo

Breeder: Coolmore

Foaled: January 26, 2020

2023 Race Record & Fact file

Races: 6

Wins: 4

Major wins: Derby, Irish Derby, Irish Champion Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Turf

Owner: M Tabor, D Smith, Mrs J Magnier & Westerburg

Trainer: Aidan O’Brien

Principal Rider: Ryan Moore

A Timeform rating is a dispassionate measurement of the form a horse is considered capable of showing under optimum conditions, but there are, of course, other factors to consider when weighing up a horse’s legacy.

Many Derby winners have matched or exceeded Auguste Rodin’s Timeform rating of 129, but very few have ended the campaign with four Group 1 wins to their name. In fact, since the European Pattern was established in 1971, the only Derby winners who have added three more Group 1s to their tally after Epsom are Mill Reef, Troy, Sea The Stars, Golden Horn and, now, Auguste Rodin.

Auguste Rodin certainly did it the hard way as well. His Derby success was achieved four weeks after trailing home twelfth of 14 in the 2000 Guineas, while his Irish Champion Stakes victory came six weeks after he was beaten more than 100 lengths in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.

Auguste Rodin also landed the Irish Derby and Breeders’ Cup Turf during a memorable campaign and, fortunately for racing fans, he will be back for more as a four-year-old in 2024.



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