Marche Lorraine and Oisin Murphy win the Breeders’ Cup Distaff Del Mar Racecourse, Del Mar, California 11-6-21, Photo Mathea Kelley /

Monday Musings: The Rising Star of the Rising Sun

Back in the spring, the racing world, both in Europe and the United States, was in a state of panic, writes Tony Stafford. The cause? The belief that horses raised and trained in Japan were becoming impossible to beat when they travel over to Dubai or indeed the United States for the Breeders’ Cup in the late autumn.

This fear was exemplified by the remarkable four-year-old colt Equinox, easy winner of the Dubai Sheema Classic over a mile and a half on Dubai World Cup night at Meydan last March. Soon in the lead he wasn’t remotely bothered to see off Ralph Beckett’s smart colt Westover, winner of last year’s Irish Derby and, more recently, runner-up to Ace Impact in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe three weeks ago.

Equinox was given an official rating as the world’s best racehorse after that performance. Yesterday at Tokyo racecourse, he made his record six wins and two second places in just eight runs, taking his earnings above £10 million. Then again, prizemoney over there is pretty good.

Before Dubai, Equinox’s last win had been in the Japan Cup and that remains his immediate target even though he had been eligible both for the Breeders’ Cup meeting and the Arc. In between Dubai and yesterday, he raced only once, picking up a handy £1.4 million when a narrow winner at Hanshin.

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Yesterday’s prize was similarly remunerative and while he had only a narrow margin to spare back in June, there was never a doubt in regular jockey Christophe Lemaire’s mind that he wouldn’t win. He was slowly away, which needed the jockey to alter planned tactics. Coming wide, he took the lead inside the last furlong, then comfortably held off the five-year-old mare Through Seven Seas.

Lemaire has a great relationship with many leading Japanese trainers, so it was no surprise, given his status as one of the top jockeys in France, that when she was aimed at this month’s Arc, he was booked for the ride. Through Seven Seas finished fourth, three lengths behind the winner and barely a length adrift of Westover.

Although that was an excellent run, it didn’t alter the fact that no Japanese-trained horse has ever won Europe’s autumn all-aged middle-distance championship.

The form lines suggest Equinox probably would have broken the duck for Japan had he not been reserved to clean up millions of Yen at home. The Japan Cup is expected to be at his mercy once more in a month’s time.

Equinox’s name on yesterday’s results jolted me into having a look at the Japanese representation in this week’s Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita and the Melbourne Cup at Flemington on Saturday week. That left me with the strong conclusion that a fair degree of consultation goes on behind the scenes before overseas plans are confirmed, or should I say permitted?.

I made it that there are nine Japanese horses entered at this stage on Saturday’s card with only one on Friday. There is never more than two in one race. In the Melbourne Cup tomorrow week, there’s just a single Japanese entry,

I’ve noticed several mares are scheduled to take part while all the male horses are entires, with six-year-old Ushba Tesoro a prime contender for Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Winner of his last five, that includes a comfortable success, coming from far back, over the Crisfords’ fellow six-year-old Algiers last March in the Dubai World Cup, a race normally a cinch for the American raiders.

He had a soft warm-up, collecting a puny 250 grand for a little exercising of his ageing limbs in a race in the summer, his one run since Dubai. With £7 million already in the bank, another £2.6 million wouldn’t come amiss before he goes off to stud. He’s Japanese-bred on both sides of his pedigree and as such will be in big demand when he does retire.

Last year’s Breeders’ Cup meeting in Keeneland didn’t seem to interest Japanese stables, with just one token unplaced runner on the entire two days of action. The previous year in Del Mar, though, two females were successful, Loves Only You in the Filly and Mare Turf and Marche Lorraine in the Distaff on dirt.

Both were five-year-olds and, interestingly, 50/1 shot Marche Lorraine was ridden by Oisin Murphy, who might not have had such a long-term association with Japan as Lemaire, but he has spent plenty of time there in recent years. Marche Lorraine, incidentally, is by Ushba Tesoro’s sire, Orfevre.

The Japanese horse whose chance I like best is Songline in the Mile on Saturday. Normally this five-year-old mare – yet another one – would be facing a formidable European contingent, but after Paddington’s defection, there’s just two Godolphin UK runners, one each from Charlie Appleby and Saeed bin Suroor, and the French filly Kelina. Clearly the Americans are reacting to the criticism of and danger of injury too on the dirt tracks that have been the foundation of the US sport for more than a century, targeting the increased number of turf opportunities.

The 2021 2000 Guineas runner-up Master Of The Seas has been in decent form this year but I have greater regard for this year’s 1000 heroine Mawj, trained by bin Suroor. She didn’t run between Newmarket in the spring and two weeks ago at Keeneland. Ridden there by Oisin, continuing the association cemented in the season’s first classic, he partnered the filly for a comfortable success in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

Songline, though, another multi-million earner, has had an excellent season at home, winning two late spring Grade 1’s in Tokyo before returning from her break with an unlucky nose second also at Tokyo three weeks ago. This is one race where there are two Japanese entries; the other, Win Carnation, was fifth in that Tokyo race, starting 18/1 compared with Songline’s SP of even money.

Charlie Appleby does well at the Breeders’ Cup, especially with his juveniles, and he was delighted when front-running Ancient Wisdom stayed on well to win the Kameko Futurity at Doncaster on Saturday. The significance for Charlie was that it was a first Group 1 winner for the stable since May, and at least it will send him across the water with renewed optimism.

Ancient Wisdom’s previous run had resulted in a stylish, also front-running, win in a Group 3 at Newmarket on Dewhurst Stakes Day. The brave course for next spring would be to tackle City Of Troy, the unquestioned juvenile champion of 2023. As they say, someone needs to do it.

The runner-up on Saturday at Doncaster was the David Menuisier colt Devil’s Point, a wonderful result for always-enthusiastic owner Clive Washbourn. The French-born trainer could hardly have gone into the race in better form, having won two stakes races the day before at Chantilly and another double five days earlier at Saint-Cloud, including the Group 1 Criterium International with Sunday. Three of the four winners were two-year-olds.

The main Aidan O’Brien hope on the Santa Anita card has to be dual Derby winner Auguste Rodin who erased the memory of a sub-standard run at Ascot in the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes with a smart win in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown. Fourth that day was King Of Steel, the Epsom runner-up who won for Frankie Dettori in the Champion Stakes at Ascot a couple of weeks ago.

Roger Varian also has the Amo Racing three-year-old entered for the Classic on dirt on Saturday, but I assume he takes on his two-time nemesis, although he did finish third when Auguste was tailed off in the King George behind Hukum. There’s a lot at stake for both these smart horses, their owners and trainers this weekend.

- TS

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