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True to the humble nature that has endeared Damian Lane to Japanese racing’s biggest stables, the Derby winning jockey deflected praise to the rising star that carried him to glory, Tastiera, and the colt’s master trainer Noriyuki Hori.
Plenty has been said and written about Damian Lane’s race-winning ride aboard Tastiera in Sunday’s Tokyo Yushun, and so it should be.
The daring tactics – surging forward from barrier 12 to sit just close to the lead, then starting his sprint for home early, peeling wide before the testing Tokyo straight and then asking for full effort 400m from home – won Lane his first Japanese Derby and caused a famous upset.
Lane’s elite race planning, decision-making and inch-perfect execution meant he finished a neck ahead of the odds-on favourite Sol Oriens but the jockey is quick to point out that the tactics employed required a serious horse to perform them on.
“He may not have had the flashy star look about him like Sol Oriens did coming into the race, but the ability to do what he did takes you a long way,” Lane told Asian Racing Report.
‘Explosive’, ‘raw ability’ and the perhaps premature ‘superstar’ were the labels attached to Sol Oriens after the son of in-vogue sire Kitasan Black blew rivals away at his third race start in the Satsuki Sho (2000 Guineas). Although Tastiera was little more than a length behind at the finish, in terms of hype it might as well have been the length of the Nakayama straight.
Adjectives like ‘attentive’ and ‘versatile’ may not be as sexy compared to the hyperbole around the pin-up boy Sol Oriens, but 2400m at Tokyo isn’t a popularity contest and Tastiera’s attributes were what was required to turn this classic into a drag ‘em out street fight.
“That is what makes so many top horses great, their versatility, to be able to do what he did,” Lane said. “So many races are won and lost due to field position and tactics, and to have a horse that can leave the horses sharply – which he has done every time he has raced – is vital.
“I had to give him a little bit of support early to get him into the firing line, and for a horse having his fifth start it was a big ask. I told him to go from the gates, at his first time up to 2400m, and then I had to ask him to relax, right after giving him the signal to go, and he just spat the bit out and travelled so well. Then to have that ability to be able to conserve energy in the run is so important in staying races.”
Lane’s drive to sit close to the early speed was the most obvious tactical move, but not entirely unexpected for a horse that had raced handily in his previous starts, but the boldest decision came when the ice-cool rider peeled clear before the turn and asked for the ultimate effort a long way from home.
“The way he relaxed gave me that confidence; so when I came down past the 400m, I probably moved a little earlier than you would normally at Tokyo. It is such a stiff uphill run there but I had such a restful run in transit that I was able to put the foot to the gas earlier and make the other horses chase him. If he didn’t have all of those great attributes – that ability to take up a spot, but then relax – he wouldn’t be able to do that.”
The other risk Lane took by exposing Tastiera to the lead so early was that the colt would lose his way and ‘wander’, especially in front of a raucous crowd on the wide straight at Fuchu. That is where the famed preparedness of Tastiera’s trainer Hori paid off.
“It’s all about attention to detail with Mr Hori,” Lane said, revealing that the pre-race gallops had been shaped to address the colt’s concentration issues between the Satsuki Sho and Sunday’s ‘grand final.’
“We talked about how he was losing concentration when in front, so we did some simulations when I would gallop past a horse and get a feel for what that was like,” Lane explained.
“I think Japanese trainers are more open to doing those simulations to prepare horses. If they have a problem, they work through it at trackwork. In Australia if you said to a trainer a horse needed some work in the barriers they might just send it to the races and assume it would be better next time, I think it is a trait that I see more often here in Japan than in Australia.”
Hori also walked the track on race morning with Lane and discussed the rail placement and previous Derbies, which made being on-pace the optimum position in running. Despite the obsessive attention to detail, Lane said the refreshing part of riding for Hori was that his perfectionism only extended to the horse and track conditions, and that when it came to tactics, the trainer didn’t take an overbearing attitude to pre-race instructions.
“There were actually no formal discussions on how I would actually ride him,” Lane said. “I had it in my mind how I wanted to ride the race but I was never actually really asked … I never shared with Mr Hori, all of our discussions were more around how the track would play and the horse.
“There is nothing that gives a jockey more confidence than the trainer allowing us to do our job, and just saying ‘you know the horse, you’re the jockey, you have a plan, now go and execute it’, and just leaving the options open.
“It is such a big advantage, because when the barriers open very rarely things go exactly how you have pictured them in your mind. If you have other people’s ideas in your mind. If you are second guessing, it can cost you at a crucial time in a race when you need to make a decision fast.”
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