World’s Best Jockey, Bowman’s back to defend his LONGINES International Jockeys Championship crown

 

By William Hughes

 

At Happy Valley on Wednesday night (6 December), Hugh Bowman will not only be out to defend his title after his victory in last year’s LONGINES International Jockeys Championship, but also to show his Hong Kong fans why he is also about to be  crowned the 2017 LONGINES World’s Best Jockey.

 

However, Bowman – like many of the other 11 superstars whom he will be competing with for Wednesday’s HK$800,000 four-race series – is cautious about his chances, adding to the belief that 2017’s IJC appears an absolutely wide-open event, something that only adds to the certainty of a thrilling evening.

 

“Last year I looked to have two really good chances, but though a couple of mine are drawn well this time, they don’t look as strong. And in the first leg I ride what seems to be an average one,” Bowman mused.

 

Sounding a shade more positive, though, the Australian maestro, who recently won a third Cox Plate aboard the now increasingly iconic Winx, added: “But at least that one (Smart Baby) is trained by Caspar Fownes. He’s ‘King of the Valley’ so maybe he can work his magic.”

 

Regarding Happy Valley, Bowman added: “It’s a tight circuit and there is lots of early pressure which is not what I’m used to in Australia, where I mostly ride. It’s important to get a good position and of course it helps to be on the best horse.”

 

Reigning Hong Kong Champion Jockey Joao Moreira, the 2012 IJC winner, also suggests it’s going to be an all-to-play-for sort of night: “I’m happy with my horses but it looks really even and I don’t have the best barrier draws.”

 

Moreira, of course, has tasted a mass of Happy Valley success but French ace Pierre-Charles Boudot is being touted as a very possible winner of the series despite the fact that the Frankie Lor-trained Mr Kool – his mount in Leg 1 – will be his first ever ride around Hong Kong’s famous city track.

 

At this afternoon’s (Tuesday, 5 December) meeting with the media, Boudot – whose 300 winners last year broke all previous European records – was told more than once what a good chance he had, each time responding with a laugh as if to indicate that he couldn’t quite believe it.

 

“For a long time I’ve wanted to be a part of this event and I’m just thrilled to be here.

I’ve been told I’ve got a chance but I don’t know the form of the horses I’ve been given,” he said.

 

“I’ve spoken a little with Maxime (Guyon) and Mickael (Barzalona) and they have told me it’s a pretty unique track. But I’m used to riding all kinds of different layouts so I don’t think that being a first-timer will pose too much of a problem.”

 

It would be great to get a good start over here as I will be riding in Hong Kong in January and February. At least most of my horses seem to be quite well drawn. I hope I can take advantage.

 

French-born Flavien Prat, who rides in the United States and represents that nation on Wednesday, said: “It’s my first time in Hong Kong and I’m massively looking forward to it. I will do some handicapping tonight. I will go through each race. Although I’ve watched some race videos, it might not be too much help because the races tomorrow are full of jockeys who aren’t Happy Valley regulars. There will be a lot of different styles on show.

 

“I’m very proud to be French, and the USA’s representative in this challenge.”

 

Mauritius-born Karis Teetan – representing Hong Kong and currently third in the jockeys’ championship – said: “This is my first time riding in the IJC and I’m so happy to be taking part. I’ve learnt a lot since I’ve been here and this is a massive opportunity for me plus it helps, of course, that I know the track well. Mauritius is a small country and people over there are very proud of what I’m doing over here.”

 

Japan’s champion, Keita Tosaki, said: “The first time I participated in the Jockey Challenge it was a little intimidating. This being my third time though, I feel like I can relax and enjoy myself. It also looks like I will be riding some nice horses this year so I hope I can win it!”

 

Ryan Moore – a two-time winner of both the IJC and World’s Best Jockey Award –admitted: “I haven’t had time to check out on my rides yet. But I love being here and of all the events like this around the world, this one is the best.”

 

The five other riders aiming to take the title are Derek Leung (representing Hong Kong), Zac Purton (Hong Kong), Silvetsre de Sousa (Britain), Leandro Henrique (Brazil) and Cristian Demuro (Italy).

 

The scene is set, and whoever emerges victorious, Happy Valley racegoers are in for a treat on Wednesday night as the world’s best jockeys battle it out.

 

LONGINES HKIR week gives ambitious Leung a world platform

 

By David Morgan

 

Derek Leung’s smile is a common sight around Sha Tin. He wears it often – talking to trainers, speaking with press, joking with colleagues. He was wearing it when the final allocation for this year’s LONGINES International Jockeys Championship was confirmed on Monday (4 December) morning. But even Leung’s grin, with its boyish warmth, could not altogether mask his comedown.

 

“It looks a tough book of rides,” he said.

 

Sight Seeing, his mount in leg one went off at 74/1 for a twelfth of 12 finish at Sha Tin last time; Sparkling Talent has not recaptured the form of a Class 5 win four runs back; Excellence was an outsider when down the field last time out; his ride in the fourth leg, High Spirit, has had only one local start but was Group 3-placed at its final outing in Australia pre-import – a flicker of hope, perhaps.

 

“I’m looking forward to it, I can’t wait until Wednesday,” Leung said – his statement part brave face, part unabashed enthusiasm. “This is my third time representing Hong Kong and it’s an honour.”

 

The taxi driver’s kid from Kowloon knows that nights like Wednesday are important checkpoints in his career progression, in terms of expanding his experience as well as boosting his profile.

 

“Being in this position shows me that I’m doing some things right, but I’m still developing and improving my skills all the time,” he said. “A night like Wednesday is always a great challenge for any jockey and I can’t wait – I’ll enjoy it.”

 

Leung, 29, earned his place among the acclaimed 12 who will contest Wednesday’s (6 December) annual glitz gig at Happy Valley Racecourse by virtue of being the local freelance rider – the Apprentice Jockeys’ School graduate – with the most wins on the board this season.

 

He has 16 in all and ranks inside the premiership’s top-five; behind his LONGINES International Jockeys Championship rivals Joao Moreira, Zac Purton and Karis Teetan. With Nash Rawiller one place and two wins ahead, he has behind him such achievers as Hong Kong’s 13-time champion Douglas Whyte, Brett Prebble, Neil Callan, Tommy Berry, Olivier Doleuze, Matthew Chadwick, Umberto Rispoli, and the young gun expats, Chad Schofield and Sam Clipperton.

 

This will be the local lad’s third consecutive appearance in the HK$800,000 IJC, an indication that Leung is establishing a position as the senior rider among his immediate peers – those that have passed through the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s apprentice programme. He ended last term with the Tony Cruz Award, given to the season’s winning-most from that group.

 

Fifth at his IJC debut in 2015, he is eager to better the dead-heat last place he shared with Gavin Lerena 12 months ago – hence the disappointment at Monday’s allocation. More than that, though, Leung’s unwavering belief in his ability means he is committed to proving he can be every bit as good as the next rider, be that Hugh Bowman, Ryan Moore, Keita Tosaki, Purton or Moreira.

 

“We all know that every rider I’ll face is a very good jockey with much success, but I’ve ridden against most of them before; some of them I ride against every week, we know each other well and we are very competitive,” he said.

 

Leung has maintained solid progress through his career so far, without much fanfare. After gaining mandatory overseas experience in New Zealand with Lance O’Sullivan, he was posted back at Sha Tin under the tutelage of that Kiwi former champion jockey’s brother, Paul O’Sullivan. The youngster missed out on the apprentice jockey title in 2009/10, falling five short of Keith Yeung. Before this season, he had only two Group race wins on his resume, the first aboard Inspiration in the 2009 Premier Bowl Handicap, the second more than six years later thanks to Flame Hero in the 2016 January Cup Handicap.

 

But Leung heads into the business end of LONGINES Hong Kong International Races week with his profile buoyant thanks to his association with the emerging grey hulk, Pingwu Spark, and two recent feature wins on the John Moore-trained Beauty Generation. After the razzmatazz cauldron of Wednesday, Leung will partner the high-class bay in the crucible of Sunday’s HK$23 million G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile.

 

“This season I have been very lucky,” Leung said. “Things have gone very smoothly and I have to thank the trainers and owners for that. If they didn’t support me with rides on good horses I could not have success.”

 

Moore gave Leung his breakthrough Group race victory on Inspiration and he has stuck by him this term with the ride on the Patrick Kwok-owned Beauty Generation. The jockey made all to win the G3 Celebration Cup Handicap on 1 October from leading Hong Kong Mile candidate Seasons Bloom. He made it two from two on the five-year-old in the G2 Sha Tin Trophy Handicap three weeks later.

 

Last time out, in the G2 Jockey Club Mile, Leung and Beauty Generation finished a length third behind Seasons Bloom and runner-up Helene Paragon after again attempting to make all. That was a career peak effort by the gelding.

 

“He’s in good form for Sunday,” Leung said. “Mr. Moore has kept him a bit fresh because he has raced three times already this season. That means his fitness is very good though and he goes in with a good chance.”

 

Leung has no fears about competing with the best riders in the world. He knows, though, that the high quality of in-vogue expatriate riders in Hong Kong at any given time means that he has to work hard for the breaks.

 

“I have to keep proving that my skills are good enough to keep getting these nice rides,” he said. “The only thing I can do is just do my best on every horse, ride well and that will give trainers more confidence in me.

 

“You have to take the first step. We all know I’m good enough to ride against these guys. I just need the opportunities to prove myself,” he said.

 

By now, his brow was creased, his gaze firm. The smile was gone.

 

LONGINES IJC gives a world window to Japan’s son who keeps on rising

 

By Kate Hunter

 

It is not uncommon for horseracing’s greats to come from humble beginnings and Japan is no exception. Keita Tosaki has risen from his origins in a predominantly agricultural community, via the National Association of Racing’s blue collar circuit, to become a three-time champion jockey in the elite JRA (Japan Racing Association).

 

Yutaka Take might be the most well-known Japanese jockey in the world, but for the third consecutive year, it is Tosaki, 37, who will represent Japan at the HK$800,000 LONGINES International Jockeys Championship, which takes place at Happy Valley Racecourse on Wednesday, 6 December.

 

Growing up in the rural town of Mibu in Tochigi Prefecture, 90km north of Tokyo, a young Tosaki joined his junior high school’s baseball team and enjoyed playing sports.

 

“I didn’t know anything about racing until my neighbours started telling me that I should become a jockey because of my size. So I started watching it on TV and liked it. I have always liked to be active, so I thought being a jockey could be a great job,” he said.

 

Starting out, Tosaki didn’t know anything about the JRA, so he enrolled in the National Association of Racing’s (NAR) Education Centre, conveniently located an hour from his hometown, to train to be a jockey. He received his jockey’s license in 1998 and joined Ohi Racecourse’s very competitive jockey colony.

 

On 12 April, 1998, his first ride was also chalked up as his first win, a sign of things to come. Over the next 10 years, he steadily rose through the ranks of the NAR’s most robust racing circuit, ending 2009 as the NAR’s leading jockey in Japan with well over a billion yen in earnings.

 

“It felt amazing to have realised my dream of becoming a top jockey, but I couldn’t have done it without the support of friends, family, and many great trainers and kind owners,” Tosaki said.

 

From 2009 to 2012 he was the NAR’s leading jockey by number of wins and earnings, also receiving the NAR’s Most Valuable Jockey award in 2011.

 

After reaching the top of the NAR, Tosaki moved his sights to the more esteemed JRA. He had ridden his first race in the JRA in 2005 and clocked his first win in 2007. He rode his first JRA Graded winner in 2010 and won his first JRA G1 aboard Hori Stable’s Real Impact (JPN) in the 2011 Yasuda Kinen. With those triumphs on his record, he was ready to make the jump full-time, but like his mentor Hiroyuki Uchida before him, he had to pass the notoriously difficult JRA Jockey Exam first.

 

“Life in the NAR was very busy, riding every day. I really like riding so I did enjoy it but it left little time for anything else,” he said.

 

Tosaki had first taken the test in 2005 and failed the written portion of the examination, the hardest part of the process. “I didn’t expect the test to be as hard as it was so I didn’t study as much as I should have,” he admitted. But that Yasuda Kinen victory spurred him to try again.

 

“Winning the Yasuda Kinen with Real Impact changed my opinion on trying the test again. I had felt like I didn’t have time to study while riding in the NAR. But afterwards, I really wanted to try again. So I studied every day. I rode every day, and I studied every day,” he said.

 

Tosaki failed again. But this time he didn’t let it get him down. In 2012, the third time proved the charm. He passed the first part (written) and the second part (practical).

 

“The test had changed a lot in five years, but I was able to walk away from it knowing exactly what I needed to study for the next year,” he said. “The 2012 test was very similar to the 2011 test, so I was fully prepared that time.”

 

He became a fully licensed JRA Jockey on 1 March, 2013, closing his career in the NAR with 1,920 wins from 13,460 rides.

 

“I have no words to describe how amazing it felt to pass the test. I am not sure I’ve ever been that happy,” Tosaki said.

 

His first season as a JRA jockey had him break the 100-win barrier, a feat accomplished by only the best jockeys and one he has managed every year since.

 

“I felt, with my experience in the NAR, I should be able to win 100 races a year. So I tried my best and with the support of those around me I was able to do it,” he said.

 

By the end of his second season, he was the JRA’s leading jockey with 146 JRA wins.

 

“A jockey’s goal is to be the best, and that is what I wanted to be. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my friends in the NAR who still root for me to this day, and the many supportive trainers and owners. I was very happy to be able to perform so well for them,” Tosaki said.

 

He would repeat his leading rider feat in 2015 with 130 JRA wins and in 2016 with 187 JRA wins. He also became the first leading jockey in JRA history to never have been suspended or penalised in any way during a full season of riding. These factors have led to him being named the JRA’s Most Valuable Jockey for the past three years running, and he picked up two other special awards in 2016 for his model behaviour and skill on and off the track.

 

This week will mark Tosaki’s third trip to Hong Kong for the LONGINES International Jockeys Championship, an event he finished third in last year after capturing his first win outside of Japan, having filled the same final position in 2015.

 

“After a few trips here I’ve got to know Happy Valley better and can relax a bit more, so I look forward to using what I have learned in this year’s challenge. I was lucky to get some good horses as well, so I hope I can win! I really enjoy international events like this and the Japan Cup. Getting to meet and talk to so many great jockeys from around the world, I want to learn from them so I can become a better jockey.”

 

After accomplishing so much in his nearly 20-year career, the sky still seems to be the limit for the talented jockey. And he has plenty of ambitions still to fulfil.

 

“There are so many races I still want to win, like the Japanese Derby and many other international G1 races,” he said.

 

Prebble finds Contentment in Size’s patient approach to the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile

 

By David Morgan

 

Brett Prebble is optimistic that his old ally Contentment is peaking just in time to shake up Sunday’s (10 December) G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile.

 

The Australian ace has ridden John Size’s stable stalwart in 15 of his last 16 starts for two wins, both Group 1 scores. The pair teamed for the gelding’s well-deserved first elite win in the February, 2016 Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (1400m), and again last May when they edged Sunday’s rival Beauty Only in the Champions Mile (1600m).

 

A dismal effort in Japan’s G1 Yasuda Kinen (1600m) in June, with Joao Moreira in the plate, seemed to knock the edge off the usually consistent chestnut. Contentment’s first-up run this term resulted in a disappointing ninth-place finish behind Beauty Generation in the G3 Celebration Cup Handicap (1400m).

 

“I knew he was jaded after coming back from Japan,” Prebble said of the seven-year-old. “He definitely wasn’t the same horse for a while there. He’s normally very fast and tows you into a trial or race and he just didn’t have that zest. I thought maybe he was just more relaxed going into his races, but then he actually took that into his race. That proved the edge was off him and he wasn’t as happy to do it.”

 

But Size is not a nine-time Hong Kong champion trainer for nothing. The handler utilised his simplest yet most effective tool – patience. Since that 1 October return, Contentment has been kept to the training track, with two barrier trials to sharpen him into his G1 assignment.

 

“His first trial told me he was coming back, he felt like he was a happy horse again,” Prebble said. “He’s come out and he’s trialled well again a week or so ago. He didn’t trial with horses that were high in the ratings, but as is normal for John, we used it as an exercise and he’s gone on all the way up the straight outside of runners with a partner, it was like a working gallop.”

 

Contentment cast a shadow on the 67-rated Silverfield’s flank to cross the wire an easy second in that 1200m all-weather track trial.

 

“His action’s good, he’s very happy in himself and he seems very alert, so that’s what John was looking for, I think,” Prebble said.

 

And the two-time Melbourne champion jockey has no fear that Contentment can turn up in peak condition despite a long break between races. Four years ago, Size sent Glorious Days into the LONGINES Hong Kong Mile without a single run that term and the gelding prevailed.

 

“John’s a freak, he’s a genius,” Prebble enthused. “He’s won this race in the past on a first-up preparation. Not many trainers would have the nerve to do that. He knows his horses and he knows his own ability.

 

“If Contentment turns up on the day, he’ll be a win factor. If he doesn’t, he’ll run his length and a half behind them and win some money. He just always runs his race, or he has a peak performance. I’ve said before, he hits that peak once or twice a year and hopefully it’s this Sunday.”

 

Prebble respects the international opposition he will face at the weekend – a line-up that will feature his Yasuda Kinen conqueror Satono Aladdin, last year’s one-two Beauty Only and Helene Paragon, as well as Irish raiders Roly Poly and Lancaster Bomber – but he knows Contentment has form in the book as good as any.

 

“He ran second to Maurice in the Champions Mile a couple of seasons back and that was one of his best races,” Prebble said. “He gave him a real good race for a long stretch that day and then his ability at the last just wasn’t as good as his rival, but Maurice was a champion.

 

“There’s no Maurice this year,” he added. “He doesn’t have to go to that level. He’s ultra-consistent and if he turns up he’ll run his race and he’ll take some beating.”

 

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