Takakura set for showdown in Asian Young Guns Challenge
Staged in Singapore in 2010, the Asian Young Guns Challenge returns to Flemington this year primed to showcase some of the world's best young riding talent.
Invited to represent Japan's new rider is JRA apprentice Ryo Takakura. Other leading international apprentices competing are Vincent Ho from Hong Kong, Cash Wong of Macau and Rizuan Shafiq from Singapore. Representing Australia are Adam McCabe and Jordan Mallyon, the grandson of three-time Caulfield Cup-winning jockey Mick Mallyon. Now in its third year, the Asian Young Guns Challenge has extended the invitational to New Zealand and South Africa. Kiwi James McDonald, who has ridden over 200 winners this season, and Juan Paul van der Merwe will represent their respective countries.
The 19-year-old Takakura, a native of Kyushu's city of Kumamoto, debuted last year as stable jockey for the Ritto-based trainer Hiroki Sakiyama and captured the JRA newcomers' award with a year win tally of 37. Takakura remains in fine form in 2011 and looks to be well on his way to matching and likely surpassing last year's stats. His win ratio and win-place ratios have already topped last year's and his number of total wins thus far at 27 holds promise. Takakura also has brought in 26 second-place finishers and 23 thirds.
The Asian Young Guns Challenge concept was conceived in January 2009 by Australia's Victoria Racing Club to strengthen international relationships with Asian-based racing clubs and to provide a cultural exchange between racing's leaders of tomorrow. The challenge is to be hosted every other year by the Victoria Racing Club, with other participating nations serving as host on the alternate years.
The talented group will compete for a trophy and receive the standard riding fee plus five percent of the prize money won in a total of three races. Stewards will allocate mounts to riders on a rotational basis from the top eight weighted horses in each leg, while remaining horses in the field will be ridden by other available local apprentices (who will not compete for points).
Riders will accumulate points on the following basis: 1st 25 points; 2nd 15; 3rd 10; 4th 7; 5th 5; 6th 3; 7th 2 and 8th 1. If a horse is scratched after acceptance time and an emergency replacement horse is not available, the affected rider is allotted six points.
In the inaugural challenge at Flemington in 2009, Japanese rider Kota Fujioka won with 35 points, edging out Victoria's Nicholas Hall by just two points. Last year at Kranji, Hong Kong's Derek Leung narrowly secured victory ahead of Singapore's Mark Ewe. Of Japan's two riders last year, NAR jockey Gaku Banno finished seventh, with JRA rider Kohei Matsuyama ending in ninth.
Leg 1 of the challenge this year is the first race on the Saturday card at Flemington, a 2,000 meter race with a current lineup of five and a 12:05 post time. Japan's Takakura may have his best chance here, paired with the current favorite in early betting, the 5-year-old Al Maher-sired mare Dance With Her. Dance With Her is now 7-for-26 with three seconds and five thirds. She is coming off a third-place finish in an 1,800-meter race July 30 at Caulfield and won at the same venue over 2,000 meters on July 16.
In the challenge second leg, the day's third race, Takakura will be riding Court Ya, a 6-year-old mare by Court of Jewels. She is currently third pick at the windows in a field of eight. Court Ya has four wins, four seconds and nine thirds in 36 starts and notched a win three races back on July 6 at Sandown Lakeside. Leg 2 is over 1,800 meters with a 1:15 p.m. post time. Court Ya's recent wins have been at sprint distances.Takakura is scheduled to ride expected longshot Lucky Thunder in the third and final leg of the challenge, Lucky Thunder, by Lucky Owners, is a 6-year-old with two wins, four seconds and four thirds in 25 starts. The race is the fifth race of the day, with a 2:30 post time. A 1,000-meter sprint, the race currently has a lineup of 11.
Victoria Racing Club CEO Dale Monteith commented on the challenge at the announcement earlier this week of this year's riders. "The Asian Young Guns Challenge has been a major success since its inception, providing young talented riders the opportunity to compete outside of their country and to further develop their skills, relationships, and experience on the world stage," Monteith said.
"With the exceptional depth of riding talent in the list of international and Victorian contenders, there is no doubt that the 2011 Asian Young Guns Challenge promises to be the most exciting edition yet."
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