Adrian Webber



Keiba Diary: Lemaire’s big six, February attractions and the circle of life

Adrian Webber on the week in Japanese racing and what to look forward to in the month ahead, including a North American raider and the return of a fan favourite.

Christophe Lemaire seemed to awaken from a winter slumber with his stunning six-timer at Tokyo on Saturday that rocketed him up to tenth in the standings, but he was not the only rider to kick start their year with a haul: Ryusei Sakai rode five winners over the weekend’s two days, and down south at Kokura, relative newcomer Atsuya Nishimura also booted home five winners.

It might seem mad to be talking about the jockey premiership at the end of January, but there is a bit of fascination already in the standings after Yuga Kawada earned a first title last year, ending a five-season sequence of championships for Lemaire. 

The Frenchman had made a slow start to the year while Kawada kicked on to 16 wins, but Lemaire is finding his feet and no doubt rhythm will follow. Yet while the two champions are well-placed to make a battle of the 12-month champion jockey race, it might not be just a two-way fight this year: Takeshi Yokoyama’s profile has risen in recent seasons and he is currently the rider on top, with 17 wins; another past champion Keita Tosaki will be thereabouts as usual and perhaps Sakai might mix things up a bit, too.   

Meanwhile, a blank weekend for Yutaka Take means that Japan’s greatest jockey remains one short of rounding up to 4,400 JRA winners, but surely that’ll come sooner rather than later.

Popping the question

Dirt track runner Lemon Pop continued his progression to win his first graded race last Sunday in the G3 Negishi Stakes, turning the tables on Gilded Mirror who had stopped his winning sequence at four the time before. The win earned the five-year-old entire a crack at the G1 February Stakes on the 19th of the month. 

When asked if the Godolphin five-year-old could see out the extra furlong in the upcoming Group 1, jockey Tosaki thought it was ‘giri giri’ (touch and go) but added that the horse has plenty of power and speed in his favour.


Lemon Pop was far too good in the G3 Negishi Stakes. (Photo by JRA)

The big race in February could have its first ever overseas runner in Shirl’s Speight. Owned and bred by Charles Fipke, the six-year-old by Speightstown finished second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland and was the winner of the G1 Maker’s Mark Mile in April of last year. Giving a boost to the Canadian-trained runner is the booking of Joao Moreira, a fan favourite in Japan, who will be returning for the first time since before the Covid pandemic struck.

In other news on the race, Promised Warrior, recent winner of the G2 Tokai stakes, will not play a part as periostitis has been diagnosed in his right foreleg.

Meanwhile this coming weekend there are a couple of Group 3 races to look out for. The Tokyo Shimbun Hai looks to be an open affair and a crystal ball might be the only way to find the winner of the all-age race. The Kisaragi Sho at Chukyo, a gentle start to the year for three-year-olds, will feature Open Fire, a colt from the final crop of Deep Impact, and another interesting runner in Hrimfaxi, a half-brother to the globe-trotting mare Deirdre, and already looking for a hat-trick of wins.

Return of Do Deuce

Last year’s Derby winner has finally returned to trainer Yasuo Tomomichi’s stable and is considered to be back in the condition he was in before his world fell apart in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe last autumn. His first target this year is the G2 Kyoto Kinen on February 12. 

“I was pleased with his first piece of work since coming back and he looked sharp enough. One week before the race, I intend to have Yutaka Take ride him in work,” Tomomichi said recently. Do Deuce posted a final furlong time of 11.4 seconds in his first workout, showing he means business.

Narita Brian's trainer dies

Masaaki Okubo, trainer of the 1994 Triple Crown winner Narita Brian, passed away in January at the age of 87. His son Ryuji Okubo is currently a JRA trainer and commented on the respect his father had received from those around him: “People were well aware of his achievements in racing and he was a great teacher for me when I set out on my path to become a trainer.”


Narita Brian became just the fifth Triple Crown winner in Japanese racing history, and despite being quite a nervous horse, trainer Okubo always managed to get the very best out of him. The horse’s trademark shadow roll helped him to concentrate more, and when doubters thought he might not manage the heavy ground in the G1 Kikuka Sho, he came through it all with flying colours. 

Narita Brian’s jockey, Katsumi Minai, now a trainer, also praised the former handler: “I hadn’t met him recently because of the pandemic, but he was a great trainer and I’ll always be very grateful to him,” Minai commented.

First foals for former stars

The brilliant champion mare Gran Alegria, now a seven-year-old, gave birth to her first foal on the evening of January 24, a colt by Epiphaneia. Gran Alegria’s last race was the G1 Mile Championship of 2021, which she won well, and that will be something the new boy will be able to talk about with his paddock pals, perhaps.

2020 Triple Crown winner and 2021 G1 Japan Cup winner Contrail, now a stallion at Shadai Stallion Farm, also produced his first foal around the same time as Gran Alegria’s. Contrail’s filly is out of the Argentine Group 1 winner Sweetie Girl and his former trainer Yoshito Yahagi couldn’t be more pleased that the first offspring of the Triple Crown-winning son of Deep Impact is here.

“I’m happy and relieved at the same time. The foal looks like Contrail and it’s great that the bloodline is now continuing,” Yahagi said.  

And so the cycle rolls on. Perhaps those two foals will one day meet in a Group 1 at Tokyo. You just never know.  




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