Adrian Webber



Keiba Diary: Japanese contingent sets sights on Saudi Arabia

Christophe Lemaire's new record, some Joao Moreira magic and a concerted Saudi Cup meeting raid all feature in Adrian Webber's run-down of JRA news from home and abroad.

Tokyo is a busy place these days, and with long-standing mask rules scheduled to dramatically ease on March 13, there’s a hustle and bustle about everything; from trying to get seats on trains and planes to purchasing a box of pork cutlet sandwiches. 

The same urgency was seen from racegoers last Sunday when they were allowed back into Tokyo Racecourse in large numbers. Altogether the punting fraternity on the day numbered 46,121, the largest crowd on this Group 1 day since 2020.

Christophe Lemaire’s speedy rise to the top of the jockeys’ table has been achieved through his 24 winners over the four weeks of the first meeting of the year at Tokyo, setting a new record in the process. Seemingly unaware of the feat, he shrugged it all off with a modest ‘I’m in good form’ comment.

Magic of Moreira

Another man who struck form on a visit to Japan last weekend was Joao Moreira, showing a glimpse once more of what might have been had he ever undertaken the job full-time in Japan. 

Moreira had three winners over the two days, but he was ninth in the G1 February Stakes on Shirl’s Speight. Of the horse’s efforts, Moreira said, “Against the strong Japanese runners, it was tough, and despite his experience in North America, the deep sand surface this time didn’t help him. He ran well, but couldn’t really produce his best.”

Sights on Saudi Arabia

Joao Moreira keeps up his Japanese connection for a while yet, as he now heads to Saudi Arabia to ride Café Pharoah in the G1 Saudi Cup. 

The Noriyuki Hori-trained six-year-old gave up a chance of making it a hat trick of wins in Japan’s G1 February Stakes that went to Lemon Pop last Sunday. In his first trip abroad, Café Pharoah will be taking on a few more of Japan’s stars in the big race in the Middle East this week.

Jun Light Bolt looks like another strong Japanese contender in the race. Last year’s G1 Champions Cup winner has seemingly gone from strength to strength, and with Ryan Moore booked to ride, the new dirt star from the stable of Yasuo Tomomichi must have a great chance.


Jun Light Bolt is now a Group 1 winner. (Photo: JRA).

Not one to be left out of international raids, trainer Yoshito Yahagi has a three-pronged attack on the Saudi meeting. 

Panthalassa tackles the G1 Saudi Cup, Bathrat Leon runs in the G3 1351 Turf Sprint, and Continuar, a three-year-old colt by Drefong, goes for the G3 Saudi Derby.

On the domestic scene this coming Sunday, two more of the JRA’s top trainers send out a couple of their stable stars. Takayuki Yasuda’s Danon the Kid will be looking to break his jinx of going close but not hitting the bullseye when he takes on the G2 Nakayama Kinen over 1800 metres on Sunday. 

The ‘naughty Kid’ broke through the starting stalls in last year’s G2 Mainichi Okan but after some frolicking around managed to run well to finish third, and was last seen finishing an admirable second in the G1 Hong Kong Cup last December.

Trainer Mitsumasa Nakauchida sends out Grenadier Guards for his first run of the year at Hanshin in the G3 Hankyu Hai over 1400 metres and this race represents what, in theory, is an easy task. The five-year-old by Frankel will be ridden by Mirai Iwata for the first time, with Yuga Kawada away in Saudi Arabia. 

Given his success there, Nakauchida must look at the Hanshin track as if it were a jewelry store full of diamonds and his record at the course would give him every chance of scooping up another sparkling gem this time too.

Return of 'Iron Man'

As reported at the end of last year, jockey Shigefumi Kumazawa, 55, was declared fit to ride again after fracturing his second cervical vertebrae (C2) in a fall at Kokura early last year. 

Kumazawa has been working out at the gym every day and riding work, waiting for a race call-up. Now in his 38th year of riding, the ‘tetsujin’ – or iron man – had his first ride back in a flat race at Hanshin last Sunday. 

Riding in race seven, he finished ninth on the American-bred Hana Kiri over a distance of 1800 metres on dirt. “It was a bit hard on my first ride back, but I didn’t feel too tired and certainly didn’t give up. Mostly I felt happy to be back,” Kumazawa said after the experience.”

So with all the hubbub of things getting back to normal in Japan, here’s a man that might just want to be easing himself back into things a little slower.         




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