It’s Arc weekend, but Luke Morris has Japan on his mind

Two days in Sapporo last month gave Luke Morris a taste of what Japan has to offer and he cannot wait to absorb a fuller experience in December.

Luke Morris returns to scale after claiming the 2022 Arc aboard Alpinista. (Photo by Anne-Christine Poujoulat)

David Morgan

Chief Journalist


Redcar races, on a grey Wednesday in late September, isn’t exactly a dream destination, especially if your only ride on the modest card picks up just £491 for finishing fourth in a nursery handicap worth eight grand. But give it a couple of months and the ‘Costa del Teesside’ will be far from the thoughts of Luke Morris.

Last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe-winning jockey has been granted a coveted short-term licence with the JRA (Japan Racing Association) and is looking forward to December when he will board a plane heading east for a month-long stint. It will be his second visit to Japan, following two days in late August when he competed in the World All Star Jockeys contest at Sapporo.

That was a notable invitation for Morris who, at 34, has trod a relatively low-key career path overall. Working day-to-day with his head down and without one iota of hype, meant he was unheralded outside of Britain.

But the JRA took note of his partnership with Alpinista: the six consecutive Group 1 wins, his work ethic, his level-headed and respectful tone when faced with a microphone, and, not least, his ability in the saddle. Sapporo was a nice vote of confidence, but being invited for a month in December is a golden opportunity.


“I’m delighted to be going out there again,” Morris told Asian Racing Report before making the 220-mile journey back home to Newmarket from the North East coast.

“Japan is such a tricky jurisdiction to get licensed in, there are so many good jockeys trying to go there, but when I applied, we were very hopeful it would come to fruition. To get a licence is incredibly exciting and I’m under no illusions about how difficult it will be, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Morris knows that without Alpinista’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe win this time last year, he could not have made the JRA’s short list. But she did, he has, and no one can begrudge Sir Mark Prescott’s stable jockey his opportunity to compete on Japan’s big stage, where prize money and attendances dwarf the British alternative.

Alpinista and Luke Morris fend off Vedeni and Christophe Soumillon to win the Arc. (Photo by Horsephotos/Getty Images)

His whirlwind trip to Sapporo – arrived late Friday afternoon, entered jockey lock down at 9pm that night and departed late Sunday – gave him valuable insights, as well as connections made, and it whetted his appetite for what is to come in his winter spell.

“I was quite blown away by the JRA, by how seamlessly well everything is done,” he said. “I arrived at the track early to have a good look around and everything was done with precision, it was almost perfection. It took a few races to get into the routine but once you’re into it it’s seamless.”

And the Sapporo crowd won him over with their evident passion for the sport. It is common in Japan, as it is in Hong Kong, for some fans to bring their own pictures – paintings and caricatures – of their heroes to the track and wave them during, before, and after the races, and if they’re in the right spot at the right time they’ll likely get an autograph.  

“In the context of Japanese racing it certainly wasn’t anywhere near a big Group 1 day, but the crowd was fantastic,” Morris said. “When we were going out to race, the fans were waving Joao Moreira pictures and Alpinista pictures, it was quite surreal to travel to the other side of the world and see that, but their racing fans are so engaged: they love their horses, they love their jockeys and they love their trainers, which is a bit different to England, really.”

Crowd favourite Joao Moreira interacts with fans at Sapporo in 2017. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

Morris found the tempo of racing in Japan to be different to Europe, too, and he said his preparation this time will see him continue to study replays of races at Nakayama, Tokyo and Hanshin before he arrives.

“It’s such a competitive environment, you need to gain as much of an edge as you can really,” he said. “The roster at that time of year is very strong and this time they’ve got Ryan Moore, Tom (Marquand) and William (Buick), as well as the local jockeys there like (Yutaka) Take, (Christophe) Lemaire and (Yuga) Kawada.

“Myself and my interpreter are conscious that we want to get off to a good start, so we’re conscious to choose the meetings we go to where we can hopefully get off to a good start. That will be vitally important, and Lemaire and Kawada are battling for the title, so it might be wise to sometimes go wherever they’re not riding.”

This weekend is the one-year anniversary of Morris’ sublime ride to Arc victory, but he will not be at Longchamp. He will be in Germany on Sunday instead, in Dusseldorf, riding the Archie Watson-trained Brave Emperor in a Group 3.

Luke Morris steers home Brave Emperor at Southwell in January. (Photo by Gareth Copley)

“It would have been nice to be at Longchamp on Sunday, but …,” he said, leaving the thought hanging. He is not complaining though: he points out that riding for the Prescott stable means he has the good fortune to partner well-bred fillies from the likes of Cheveley Park Stud, Elite Racing, and “Ms Rausing’s” Lanwades Stud.

“There is always a chance that a special one will come along every few years, but they are few and far between so you rely on getting lucky.”

That luck came through with Alpinista and he is hoping it will work for him in Japan, where a good start to a riding stint can build momentum quickly, and a slow start can make for a tough time thereafter.

“There’s going to be a good deal of luck involved in getting a good start in Japan,” he added. “But, hopefully, luck will come and I’ll be able to get on some nice horses and, most importantly, ride winners.”

If he does, the rewards could be huge, not only in monetary value, but also in raising his reputation on the international scene.




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