‘No plan B’: Christophe Lemaire’s incredible journey

Introducing the Asian Racing Report Podcast. In Episode One, champion rider Christophe Lemaire opens up to Michael Cox about the emotional roller coaster he rode on his way to becoming a full-time jockey in the Japan Racing Association.

French superstar Christophe Lemaire features on Episode 1 of the Asian Racing Report Podcast with Michael Cox. (Photo supplied)


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Christophe Lemaire’s trailblazing path to becoming one of the first full-time jockeys in Japan was far from straight forward. 

In the first Asian Racing Report podcast, the  Frenchman recounts his extraordinary journey from losing the prestigious job as retained rider to the Aga Khan in his homeland in 2014, to becoming a five-time champion in Japan. 

“When I had this opportunity to go to Japan, the timing was perfect,” he told Asian Racing Report’s Editor Michael Cox in a conversation that goes into detail about the rigorous process he and Italian jockey Mirco Demuro faced to be licensed in 2014. 

“I needed a new challenge,” Lemaire said. “I needed a new environment, I needed to work with different people.”  

To do that Lemaire needed to pass a two-part exam. The first was a written quiz, in English – one of four languages Lemaire speaks  – and then a spoken exam in Japanese with JRA officials. 

“I think they really wanted to judge whether I really wanted to live in Japan,” he said. “Whether I knew about the Japanese philosophy or Japanese daily life, and whether or not I would be able to speak Japanese, even under pressure.”

The ability to follow the famously strict JRA protocols was also put to the test. Not only would Lemaire’s language skills be scrutinised, but if he got something as simple as entering the room incorrectly, he could have been failed. 

“We were taught that before entering the interview room, we had to knock the door twice, wait for the answer to enter the room, then open the door, close the door, introduce yourself,” he said. “So even the procedure before the interview was very stressful, because you think ‘Oh, if I knock only once and open the door maybe they won’t answer or it, or it will be a negative point.’ It was quite an experience.” 


Christophe Lemaire celebrates Almond Eye's 2018 Japan Cup win. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)

When Lemaire finally found out he had passed and would be granted a full-time JRA licence it was an emotional moment. Receiving the news, alone in his apartment near Ritto Training Centre, outside of Kyoto, Lemaire broke down. 

“When I realise that I succeeded … that I will become a Japanese jockey I just cried, because I had such a hard time in my he months before,” he said. 

“I could restart a new life and a new career and that was very important for me because I had no plan B and I had to succeed.”

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