David Morgan

Chief Journalist


Lemaire the challenger wants the title back

The JRA’s champion jockey race is simmering along and could bubble into an epic duel between multiple champion Christophe Lemaire and the current ‘king’ Yuga Kawada.

Christophe Lemaire was in hot form at Tokyo last weekend with seven wins across the two-day meeting that took him right back on to the heels of the JRA (Japan Racing Association)’s defending champion jockey Yuga Kawada.

“It’s a good day, always, when you win four,” Lemaire told Asian Racing Report after Rouge Éclair wrapped up Sunday’s quartet, one of three wins he achieved across the weekend in the red and white-starred silks of the Tokyo Horse Racing Co Ltd, which names its horses on a theme of ‘red.’

Talk of title duels may seem premature with a long stretch of seven months still to go until the finish line, but to look at it another way, five months into the 2023 campaign, Lemaire and Kawada are still sticking tightly to each other in the long run to be this year’s top jockey.

Speaking as he left the jockeys’ room on Sunday, Lemaire revealed that the championship battle is always in the back of his mind.  

 “It is, of course,” he said. “I’m a challenger this year and every weekend I am lucky enough to ride good horses, so I have to fight to get back the jockey title.

“I’m happy because last week I missed one whole weekend when I went to America and this weekend I won seven races, so I’m back in business to compete for the championship.”


Christophe Lemaire ahead of piloting Japan's Derma Sotogake to a sixth-placed Kentucky Derby finish. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

When Lemaire left Japan for Churchill Downs to ride Derma Sotogake in the G1 Kentucky Derby on May 6, he had 50 wins to Kawada’s 56. The latter put on three wins at Kyoto in Lemaire’s absence, but was on the mark just once more this past weekend as the challenger posted a big tally, leaving Kawada on 60 wins and the Frenchman on 57 at close of play.

Lemaire won five titles consecutively until Kawada ended that run with his first title in December last year. The difference was 143 wins for Kawada to 109 for Lemaire down in fifth, after the Frenchman took an extended summer break in Europe to catch up with family following the Covid pandemic.

As intent on regaining his crown as Lemaire is, so too is Kawada determined to repeat last year’s championship success and the numbers suggest that 2023 could be an epic tussle between the pair, with the rest of their rivals now 11 wins and more behind them. 

Kawada, who often posts an impressive strike rate, rode at almost 26 percent through his maiden championship season, compared to Lemaire’s 2022 strike rate of 19 percent. This year, Kawada, who is known for being particularly selective about his mounts, is riding at a remarkable 31.9 percent win strike rate, to Lemaire’s non-too-shabby 25.8 percent.

“It’s still a long way to go but I cannot let Yuga get too many winners in front,” Lemaire added. “I’m chasing him and there’s going to be a nice competition.” 




    Subscribe now & get exclusive weekly content from Asian Racing Report direct to your inbox

      Expert ratings, tips & analysis for Hong Kong racing