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Kosi Kawakami’s love of horses led him to Australia and a career in racing as a teenager – now he wants to bring the racing world closer together.
As Kosi Kawakami walks around Northern Horse Park during the 2022 Select Sale, and the syncopated rhythm of the auctioneer’s voice knocking down another record-breaking lot echoes from the sales ring auditorium, it is clear from the frequent nods of recognition he receives that he is right at home.
Of course, Kawakami is Japanese so it makes sense in that regard, but this is a horseman with genuine skills and a unique perspective.
More than half of Kawakami’s life has been spent in Australia and the former Lindsay Park trackwork rider, accomplished jumps jockey and interpreter for Japanese connections is just as at home among the racetracks and sales complexes Down Under.
Kosi Kawakami clears a hurdle at Casterton in 2019. (Photo by Pat Scala/Racing Photos via Getty Images)
One for Later ridden by Kosi Kawakami clears the last before winning a Maiden Hurdle at Coleraine in 2017. (Bronwyn Nicholson/Racing Photos via Getty Images)
Kosi Kawakami riding Stamus Pro Honneur clears a fence in the Grand Annual Steeplechase of 2010. (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)
Now he hopes that via Rising Sun Syndicate, that he can “build a bridge between two great racing worlds.”
“The quality of the Japanese thoroughbreds has proven to be the best in the world now and I want to provide an opportunity for Australians to get their hands on some Japanese horses,” he says.
“I want to get Japanese owners to know and experience great Australian racing. There are so many amazing aspects of Australian racing that Japanese owners can experience.”
In many ways, Kawakami has been building that bridge since he arrived arriving in Australia, looking for adventure and a chance to work with horses, at age 18.
As a kid growing up in Japan, he was captivated by horses but the closed shop of the Japan Racing Association (JRA) ranks forced him to look offshore.
“It’s hard to get into Japanese racing, unless your parents are racing people, but I had no racing background but I loved riding horses and I decided to go to Australia,” he says. “It wasn’t my intention to become a jockey. I came to Australia, started riding trackwork and I was a little bit too heavy for flat racing – actually, I just liked eating too much – so I became a jumps jockey.”
Kawakami ‘loved the jumps’ and soon found himself riding in iconic races like Oakbank’s Great Eastern Steeplechase and Warrnambool’s Grand Annual.
After four years working with Warrnambool trainer Aaron Purcell, Kawakami formalised his qualifications as a Japanese-English interpreter at RMIT University in Melbourne. The study gave him a chance to act as an interpreter for visiting Japanese connections, including those of 2014 Caulfield Cup winner Admire Rakti.
Kosi Kawakami rides Cups contender Voleuse De Coeurs during trackwork at Werribee in 2013. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
That role established a relationship with global powerhouse Northern Farm and gave Kawakami a unique window to what makes the Japanese horses so hard to beat.
“Basically, I think Japanese are really committed,” Kawakami says. “They just put so many hours into one horse. Northern Farm, in particular, has lifted the whole standard. They will do whatever it takes – they will do anything to get better, stronger and faster horses. They try new techniques, analyse data and do whatever they can do, but in the end it is the hours they put into the horse that matters.
“The racing is so well resourced here that they can do that. In Australia, in most stables, it is a real rush and it’s just a case of ‘getting through them’, but here there is one guy to two or three horses. They spend the time, whether that be hand walking, or looking at every small detail on a horse.”
The competitiveness of the JRA – where horses have to win by the completion of their three-year-old season to stay on the circuit – is the area of talent Kawakami wants to tap into.
Recent winner Meiner Legacy, imported last October after placing in three JRA three-year-old maidens, is an example of the type of horse Rising Sun are targeting.
Japanese galloper Meiner Legacy broke his maiden at Geelong at his sixth Australian start. (Photo by Reg Ryan/Racing Photos via Getty Images)
“With all of the connections I have built up over the years it allows me to connect with the people near the horses; through trainers, jockeys, owners and grooms,” he says. “I have built up that trust over many years and we hope that can result in buying some tried horses that have real upside in Australia.”
On the Australian front, Kawakami has teamed with the considerable experience of two other Japanese nationals that have established themselves there: Yusuke Ichikawa, a former jockey and team member at Chris Waller Racing, and Shinya Mori, a horse breaker based out of Ballarat.
“There are just so many Japanese owners that can’t afford to get involved here in Japan,” he says. “It’s hard to get a good horse unless you pay huge money, but in Australia you see horses worth 40 or 50 grand winning Group 1 races. I want Japanese owners to have access to that.”
For now Kawakami is hoping one of the four yearling purchases from the most recent Australian sales season will provide that, but in the future he hopes the auctioneer in the background will be calling out Rising Sun Syndicate’s name.
“We want to start building up to where we might be buying here,“ he says. “I just want to be a bridge between Australian and Japanese racing – because these are two great racing worlds – and they can be closer together. There are so many great things we can do.”
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