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Keiba Diary: Hard work brings awards for Kawada and Shibata

JRA broadcaster Adrian Webber returns with his weekly roundup and there is plenty to be positive about in the Year of the Rabbit.

A New Year brings a fresh outlook and renewal of hopes, and as we move into the year of the rabbit, the shrines and temples have been busy, particularly the Ebisu shrines. It is there that some people pay their respects to the god of successful business and overall prosperity. 

One such place is the Nishinomiya Shrine, not a million miles away from Hanshin racecourse, where young men run a distance of 230 metres to be the first to reach the entrance to the main hall from the shrine gates. The so-called ‘fuku otoko’, or lucky man, receives rice and sake, and presumably all the luck he needs in the year ahead.

Luck plays its part in racing, too, but the recently announced JRA awards winners come as a reminder that you can have all the luck in the world but you’ll never make it to the top without hard work and smart dedication, as well as talent. 

The JRA’s newest champion jockey Yuga Kawada epitomised this as he received not only the distinction of having ridden the most winners in the last year but also the best winning percentage and the top overall prize money of ¥3,157,091,000 (US$24.5 million) in the recently announced JRA awards of 2022, which also featured Equinox as horse of the year.

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Christophe Lemaire celebrates Equinox's dominant Arima Kinen win. (Photo by @kabosu7222)

But one name, slightly hidden perhaps among the star names on the awards list, was Yoshitomi Shibata, and no one has shown greater dedication and commitment than he has. Shibata received a special award from the JRA to mark his longevity as a jockey and it came after a medal he received last year from the government.

The reason for Shibata being so honoured is his long service to the sport combined with his notable achievement of becoming the oldest JRA jockey to ride a winner. That happened when he won a race at Fukushima last November at the grand old age of 56 years, three months and seven days, beating the previous record holder, Yukio Okabe.

“I’m very pleased to receive the award and I have to thank everyone around me for their co-operation,” Shibata said of his achievement.

Records tumbling

One man who could run his own awards club is Yutaka Take, and already this year he’s hit another milestone by making it 37 consecutive years of graded race wins after winning the G3 Shinzan Kinen earlier this month on Light Quantum.

He now has a total of 350 JRA graded race wins which stretch back to Shiyono Regal in 1987. Furthermore, he’s just two wins shy of reaching 4,400 victories in JRA races, so he would have every chance of hitting that mark this coming weekend.

At Kokura last Sunday, another record was broken when four female riders all took part in the same race and the 1200-metre turf event was won by last year’s leading apprentice Seina Imamura aboard the filly Hinokuni, carrying a light weight of 53kg.

 

All four riders competing could well have played a big part in doubling the attendance figure of last year’s meeting and pushing up the sales turnover by 14 per cent.

RIP Agnes Flight

The 2000 Derby winner Agnes Flight passed away on January 11 at the age of 26. He was often referred to as the ‘7cms Derby winner’ after just getting the better of a home-straight duel with Air Shakur, having been settled at the rear for much of the race. 

Agnes Flight became the first horse to put together a three-generation bloodline of Classic winners in Japan, after granddam Agnes Lady won the Oaks in 1979 and dam Agnes Flora won the Oka Sho in 1990. 

Jockey Hiroshi Kawachi, now a trainer, commented on his respect for the horse that gave him a Derby win at the age of 45. “I can only have good things to say about him and hope he rests in peace. It was life-changing for me to win the Derby with him. His brother, Agnes Tachyon, produced Classic winners and was another very good horse.”

May the Force be with you

This weekend sees a couple of Group 2 races on Sunday and Gaia Force reappears for the first time this year in the American Jockey Club Cup over 2200 metres at Nakayama. He will be ridden by Christophe Lemaire for the first time. 

The four-year-old colt by Kitasan Black was favourite for last year’s G1 Kikuka Sho but could only finish eighth. Epiphany, a son of Epiphaneia, looks an interesting entry, having won his last four races, the latest being the November Stakes at Tokyo, a three win class race. 

At Chukyo, the Tokai Stakes is considered a lead up race to the G1 February Stakes, and it will be interesting to see how things unfold in Sunday’s dirt race. Kurino Dragon won the 2000-metre Urawa Kinen quite comfortably at the end of last year, but Hagino Alegrias is unbeaten at Chukyo and the six-year-old looks set to be ridden by that man Yuga Kawada who is at the top of the jockeys’ leaderboard with 10 wins already. 

Promised Warrior won his last race easily at Hanshin last December and Germany’s champion Bauyrzhan Murzabayev, already a Group 1-winning jockey in Japan after his Hopeful Stakes success in December, will take the ride on the son of Majestic Warrior.

Positivity is one of the key attributes linked to the Year of the Rabbit and all the signs are that there is plenty to look forward to from Japan’s horses and horsemen throughout the year ahead. 

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