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Adrian Webber looks at the latest crop of jockeys to pass the JRA exam, while the February Stakes picture starts to look clearer, stallions parade and Deirdre’s trainer retires.
Six new jockeys will begin their careers in March after passing the JRA jockey’s exam, and among them are two more female riders, boosting the total number of women riding on Japan’s top circuit to six.
Of those riding at present, Nanako Fujita started out in 2016 and she was joined by Naho Furukawa and Manami Nagashima in 2021. Then came the sensational Seina Imamura who stepped in last year to ride an incredible 51 winners in her first year, becoming the first ever female jockey to win the JRA Best Jockey (Newcomer) award.
This year marks the third year in a row that female jockeys have hit the JRA scene, and now it’s the turn of 17-year-old Miku Kobayashi and 18-year-old Nana Kawaharada. After Imamura started this year in similar fashion to her debut season, the new riders have a tough act to follow, but both go into their new careers with confidence.
Miku Kobayashi is from Niigata and will become the first female rider to be based at the Miho Training Centre since Nanako Fujita in 2016. “In my first year at the jockeys’ school I got a lot of good advice from Seina, which I hope I can put to good use,” the young rider said.
Osaka native Nana Kawaharada is also looking forward to the challenge: “I want to do my best and will aim to be the leading jockey among the newcomers this year,” she said.
A clearer picture has finally emerged of this week’s G1 February Stakes after the shock injury and subsequent retirement of Gilded Mirror, together with the arrival of the overseas runner, Shirl’s Speight. The latter bravely undertook a taxing 58-hour journey to Japan (let’s hope it was business class) and has reportedly settled in well in the new international stables at Tokyo Racecourse.
One of the keys will be how Shirl’s Speight handles the dirt surface in Japan, which is very different to dirt tracks in North America, being deeper and of a finer, sharper make-up. Of the domestic runners, Lemon Pop will be ridden by Ryusei Sakai and the horse’s record at Tokyo speaks for itself, while Keita Tosaki is committed to Dry Stout, the lightly-raced four-year-old by Sinister Minister who is unbeaten in two starts at Tokyo.
With some of Japan’s big guns missing the race due to their Saudi assignments, the race becomes an open affair and thus quite difficult to predict.
Meanwhile, last Sunday’s facile win for Do Deuce in the G2 Kyoto Kinen threw any other predictions for that race out of the window, and the well-executed plan by trainer Yasuo Tomomichi and jockey Yutaka Take now leads them to the road to Dubai.
— Team Iwata (@JayRAye02) February 12, 2023
On a more down note, former Horse of the Year Efforia being dismounted in the home straight by Takeshi Yokoyama before the finish took some of the shine off things. Efforia was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation after the race and his retirement was announced on Tuesday.
Efforia retires a three-time Group 1 winner who raced against, and beat, the best during his three-year-old campaign; he bettered Titleholder in the Satsuki Sho, finished second to Shahryar in the Tokyo Yushun, but it was his wins against older horses in the Tenno Sho (autumn) and Arima Kinen that has secured him a place in fans’ hearts – not to mention a spot on the star-studded roster at Shadai Stallion Station.
Shadai Stallion Station presented their stallion line-up for the year on February 7, and around 30 stallions were on display, including a couple of new ones in Hot Rod Charlie and Salios.
Hot Rod Charlie recently arrived in Japan and his second-place finish in both the G1 Kentucky Derby and G1 Belmont Stakes, as well as the same placing in the 2022 G1 Dubai World Cup, give him an attractive CV. Connections are hoping his progeny will be suited to both dirt and turf, and the covering fee of 2 million yen (about US$15,000) looks reasonable.
Salios, the G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes winner in 2019, has a busy year ahead and has a full book already for 2023.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Big Red Farm held a smaller stallion presentation on February 8, where none other than Gold Ship made a cameo appearance. Looking whiter than white, he might just have calmed down a bit with age, but given his reputation as a ‘a thinker’ is probably well aware of his offspring producing 104 wins in 2022.
He would be particularly proud of Meiner Laulea, an unbeaten three-year-old colt with an interesting year ahead, and that must be worth a rearing-up on the hind legs from the former star of the track.
Of the five JRA trainers retiring this spring, Katsumi Minai and Mitsuru Hashida are certainly two names that leap off the page with a ‘where did that time go’ sentiment about it. Minai was the former jockey associated with Narita Brian, a horse that has been well-documented recently in Asian Racing Report.
Hashida achieved a grand total of 63 JRA graded wins, including 1999 Derby winner Admire Vega, and possibly had his greatest success with Deirdre, winner of the 2017 G1 Shuka Sho.
More was to come for the mare when given a great ride by Oisin Murphy to win the G1 Nassau Stakes at Goodwood in 2019. Summing up the man was his unassuming and demure manner at Goodwood that day, while Deirdre’s other connections and the Japanese media made sure the moment was played out to the full.
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