Lady Luck failed to smile on Japan's young jockeys at this year's Asian Young Guns Challenge. The three-race series, won by JRA rider Kota Fujioka last year and held this year in Singapore, saw Hong Kong's Derek Leung emerge the winner.
Leung actually tied Singapore's Mark Ewe on points but was determined the victor on race placings. Leung won the first race, a 1,200-meter sprint over turf, aboard Fantastic Jaw and finished fifth and sixth in the subsequent two races, a 1,400-meter turf event and a 1,700-meter race over the artificial surface. Ewe, on the other hand, was forced to sit out the first race when his mount was scratched, was disappointed by a last-place in the second leg, but managed a win aboard Daad's The Way in the third leg. The two riders both finished with 33 points each. Coming in third place was Harmeet Singh Gill from Malaysia with 30 points.
NAR rider Gaku Banno finished the better of the two apprentices representing Japan. Banno, with 12 points total, finished seventh out of the 10 riders participating. JRA jockey Kohei Matsuyama was ninth with eight points. Banno's best was a third-place finish in the second leg aboard Happy Lido. The first leg saw Banno over the line second from last in 10th place and two from the rear in the final leg. Matsuyama, on the other hand, was only able to score a personal fifth-place best with French Irish in the third leg. His mounts in the first two legs finished in ninth and seventh place, respectively.
Leung, who had finished fifth to Fujioka last year at Flemington Racecourse, said, "This is one of the highlights of my career. I came here determined to do better than at my first participation in Melbourne last year, and I won." Leung, along with fellow Hong Kong rider Keith Yeung, were able to take a spin around the Polytrack prior to the event. The two, who arrived in Singapore late Thursday, went out for a canter on Friday morning, with Leung able to get a ride on his second leg mount, Troppo Bello. Perhaps the preparation, as well as helpful advice on the Singapore course provided by former Hong Kong jockey Robbie Fradd, proved helpful. Fradd relocated to Singapore after years riding in Hong Kong.
Challenge runnerup Ewe, a two-time Singapore champion apprentice, shook hands with Leung in a show of good sportsmanship following the announcement of the finishing order. He was, however unable to hide his disappointment at having come so close and wondered if things mightn't have swung his way had his second ride handled the soft track better. "Maybe it's the ground. All I needed was two points, a seventh would have done, but he ran a bad last," Ewe said of his mount Mr Bergamo. "Oh well, at least I won a race, just like in Melbourne. But this time I came so close."
Third-place Gill, who won the second leg paired with Innocent Star, commented, "I had a great time. I've taken part in a few apprentice series back home but this is the first time I've actually won one of its races."
Both Japanese riders maintained an upbeat attitude despite their low scores. The 22-year-old Banno, who is the current leading apprentice at the NAR Nagoya track, said, "The results were unfortunate but it was a great experience to have been chosen to ride among talented riders from around the world. I plan on doing my best again once I'm back in Japan."
Matsuyama, 20, also expressed his enjoyment at participating. "It was a lot of fun," he said. "Singapore Racecourse is an easy track to ride on and the cushion on the Polytrack also gave a good ride."
* Please visit the following websites for more information.
Asian Young Guns Challenge: http://www.turfclub.com.sg/portals/0/AYG/index.htm
Singapore Turf Club: http://www.turfclub.com.sg/
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