Equinox Ready for Big Japan Gr1

Rounding out the JRA Grade 1 action for the first half of the year will be the Takarazuka Kinen on Sunday, June 25, to be run at Hanshin Racecourse on the inner turf course over 2,200 meters. It is one of two races on the calendar (the Grade 1 Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) is the other) where racing fans get to cast votes for the horses they want to see in the big race line up. The out and out winner of the ballot this time is the world’s highest-rated racehorse in Equinox, with a total of 216,379 votes.

First run in 1960, the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen was originally run over 1,800 meters, and just six years later the distance was extended to 2,200 meters. It became an international Grade 1 in 1997, and there have just been two runners from overseas, the latest being Werther from Hong Kong, who finished second in 2018. Panfield, a 7-year-old also racing in Hong Kong, was nominated for this year’s race, but will not be making the journey to Japan.

The Takarazuka Kinen is for 3-year-olds and up, and 4-year-olds and above carry 58kg, while weight for 3-year-olds is set at 53kg, and there is a 2kg allowance for fillies and mares. There are 20 nominations for a maximum 18 runner field, and this year sees JPY220 million going to the winner (approximately USD1.6 million). The winner also receives an automatic entry to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf in America and Australia’s Grade 1 Cox Plate (won by Lys Gracieux in 2019). 

First favorites have fared quite poorly in the Takarazuka Kinen in the last 10 years, with just two of them winning, and 5-year-olds have been particularly dominant in the past decade, with seven of them winning. Record time for the race was set just last year when Titleholder won in a time of 2 minutes, 9.7 seconds.

Quite a number of the nominated runners for Sunday’s race are coming off runs in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) in April, and the Grade 2 Naruo Kinen run at Hanshin early this month.

The 64th running of the Takarazuka Kinen will be Race 11 on the Sunday card at Hanshin, with a local post time of 15:40. Final declarations and the barrier draw will be available later in the week. Here is a look at some of the runners expected to take on the race:

Equinox: Winner of the Grade 1 Dubai Sheema Classic in March, when he completely dictated things and was never at any point challenged, the 4-year-old by Kitasan Black would seemingly have nothing to fear from a lot of the top horses starting in this next race. It will be his first race at Hanshin, and connections are taking no chances with the long transportation, getting him to the Ritto Training Center well ahead of time, Assistant trainer Tomohiro Kusunoki commented: “He handled being in a different environment very well last time when he went to Dubai. We’ve decided not to train him at Miho this time and have got him to Ritto to prepare him. He’s getting used to things and has just trained solo so far, before we do some more serious work with him ahead of the race.” The world’s highest rated horse will once more be ridden by Christophe Lemaire, and there is every chance again that Equinox can show just how good a horse he’s become.

Justin Palace: A strong win in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) over 3,200 meters in April at the newly reopened Kyoto track proved that the 4-year-old by Deep Impact is improving all the time. He’s equally at home at Hanshin, where he also won the Grade 2 Hanshin Daishoten in March. Trainer Haruki Sugiyama said: “He’s been working well on his return to the stable, and rather than worry about times with him, we’ve concentrated on his footwork and balance. There’s a good feeling about him.” Katsuma Sameshima will ride Justin Palace once again, as he did last year when the colt finished third in the Grade 1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger).

Deep Bond: One of the unluckiest horses around, this will be the 6-year-old’s 12th start in a Grade 1 race, and he’s even traveled to France a couple of times in his quest to win one. Connections could be forgiven for thinking they’d broken the jinx last time, but again it wasn’t to be as Deep Bond had to settle for second in the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) in April. Assistant trainer Taketoshi Yamaguchi said: “Things looked good at the top of the home straight last time, but he got caught by a strong horse on the run for home and it was almost unthinkable. He’s now finished second in the last three Tenno Sho (Spring) races, but hopefully a big title can eventually come his way.” Jockey Ryuji Wada keeps doing his best on Deep Bond, and will be looking to win the race again after successes with T M Opera O in 2000 and Mikki Rocket in 2018.

Geraldina: Winner of last year’s Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Japan, the 5-year-old mare has had two starts this year and has finished sixth in both of those races. Her latest race was Hong Kong’s Grade 1 QEII Cup in April, when things didn’t quite work out for her. Trainer Takashi Saito said: “She didn’t get a good early position in the race last time. With the slow pace it became difficult and things didn’t go her way. She’s recovered from that trip, and on returning to the stable she looks well and refreshed.” Yutaka Take will ride Geraldina (third in the fans’ poll) for the first time.

Ask Victor More: Last year’s Grade 1 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) winner is another that hasn’t found success this year in his two starts as a 4-year-old. Those two races were the Grade 2 Nikkei Sho in March and the Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) in April, and trainer Yasuhito Tamura hopes the son of Deep Impact can get a better result here. “He didn’t act on the ground in the Nikkei Sho, and in the Tenno Sho he was put off by the injured horse going back through the field, so things went against him in both of those races. I think the 2,200 meters at Hanshin will be good for him and I hope he’ll be able to show his best this time,” the trainer said.

Vela Azul: Last year’s Grade 1 Japan Cup winner is another looking to reproduce the sort of run that saw him win last autumn’s showpiece, and this will just be the 6-year-old’s second start this year after disappointing in the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup in March. Trainer Kunihiko Watanabe said: “He came back from Northern Farm Shigaraki about a month before this next race. In one of his first pieces of work on his return, he posted a good time running on the inside and wasn’t pushed too hard. He changes leads quite a bit, but his movement and breathing are good.”

Geoglyph: The 4-year-old colt by Drefong hasn’t raced in Japan since last autumn’s Tenno Sho (Autumn) at Tokyo last October, and despite drawing a blank in his three races overseas since last December, the 2022 Grade 1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) winner is still one to keep in mind now that he’s back home. A stablemate of Equinox, he has also been transferred to the Ritto Training Center ahead of the race. Assistant trainer Tomohiro Kusunoki commented: “As with Equinox, we’ve just been getting him to adjust to the new environment. He’s still a bit loose and has just been working solo, but from now on we’ll get him tuned up as the race approaches.”

Boccherini: He might now be a 7-year-old, but Boccherini still boasts a very good win and place percentage, and trainer Yasutoshi Ikee has shown a lot of aptitude when it comes to finding the right races for the horse. It will be his third Grade 1 race this time, and while the bar is set high, the son of King Kamehameha should not be overlooked. Assistant trainer Yuki Iwasaki said: “The jockey (Suguru Hamanaka) rode him with a lot of confidence last time in the Naruo Kinen, and the horse just kept finding more at the finish. The rider said he could still take on stronger horses. The horse has recovered well from that race and looks to be in good condition.”

Last year’s Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes winner, Dura Erede, will be the only 3-year-old in the lineup, and gets to run off a weight of 53kg. The horse was riderless from just after the start of the Grade 1 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), and jockey Hideaki Miyuki has the task of riding the Duramente colt this time. Lilac is another interesting runner, and the 4-year-old filly will again be ridden by Mirco Demuro in a bid to reproduce her best result in a while, which was her second place finish in last year’s Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup, when she was beaten by Geraldina.

Japan Racing 

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