Fukunaga to ride for Japan in Hong Kong International Jockeys' Championship
Yuichi Fukunaga, the current No. 2 rider in JRA, will take on the 14th edition of the Hong Kong International Jockeys' Championship at Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong on Dec. 7.
Fukunaga will represent Japan among the elite mix of 12 riders from nine countries: Luke Nolen from Australia, Maxime Guyon and Christophe Lemaire from France, Andrasch Starke from Germany, Ryan Moore from Great Britain, Japan's World Super Jockeys Series champion John Murtagh from Ireland, James McDonald from New Zealand, Lanfranco Dettori from Italy and three riders representing Hong Kong - Douglas Whyte, Brett Prebble and Matthew Chadwick.
Although he has been one of the top riders in Japan for a while, Fukunaga is participating in the Hong Kong event for the first time. With 122 wins this year, he is only three wins off of the leader Yasunari Iwata. Fukunaga, who will celebrate his 35th birthday two days after the Jockeys' Championship, has been one of the most successful jockeys in Japan since riding his first G1 winner on Primo Ordine in the 1999 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas). Yuichi is the son of Yoichi Fukunaga, who was himself a highly successful rider before a tragic racing accident in March 1979 ended his career and left him paralyzed with severe brain damage. Son Yuichi was just months past his second birthday.
Fukunaga is a name well-known in Hong Kong after capturing the Hong Kong Mile aboard Eishin Preston in 2001, then riding to back-to-back wins aboard the same in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup in both 2002 and 2003. In all, he has won more than 80 graded races, 10 of them this year, and has won 19 G1 races overall. One of his most notable achievements came in 2005 with Cesario, the first Japanese-bred horse to win a top-level race in the United States when she captured the American Oaks at Hollywood Park.
The International Jockeys' Championship is a four-race competition in which points are given to each jockey according to the placing of his mount - 12 points for first, 6 for second, and 4 for third. The ranking of each jockey will be determined by the total number of points earned in the four races.
Japan has yet to win the championship straight out. Yutaka Take has given Japan its best results in the event, a tie for first with Christophe Soumillon in 2004 and a third place in 2002. Last year, Ryan Moore won the event, with Douglas Whyte finishing second.
The Championship is comprised of four races - Race 3, 4, 6, and 7 - on the Wednesday card at Happy Valley.
Here is a look at the participating jockeys:
Riding for the first time in the Championship, Nolen, 31, has achieved fame as the regular partner of Australia's national heroine Black Caviar, unbeaten in 16 races and considered the world's top sprinter. Nolen, after reaching a career peak with a win of the G1 Cox Plate on El Segundo in 2007, suffered a serious accident that kept him out of the saddle for several months. Returning to racing, he shot back to the heights and has been champion jockey of Victoria for the last two seasons and the leading Group 1 winning jockey in Australia for the 2010/11 season.
Guyon, 22, of France, debuted as a jockey with leading French trainer Andre Fabre in 2005. He quickly established himself as one of his country's leading jockeys and, according to Fabre, has the talent to become one of the best jockeys of all time. Last season in Hong Kong, he was awarded second place as Most Popular Jockey of the Year after a stellar season and a win of the Hong Kong Derby aboard Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon. This year he has added another five G1s to his record in France. It is his first appearance in the Jockeys' Championship.
Lemaire, a name well-known in Japan, has distinguished himself in many countries. This year he captured the Melbourne Cup by the narrowest margin in the history of the race aboard the French-trained Dunaden. He will be riding the jockey event for the fourth time. He finished second in 2008 and was one of the three dead heaters for first place in 2009.
Starke, 37, has been champion jockey in Germany five times and has competed successfully in Canada, Dubai, France, Italy, Singapore, U.S. and Hong Kong, where he has twice won the International Jockeys' Championship (2000 and 2005). He has partnered some of Germany's best horses, including Caitano, Ungaro, and this year's Arc winner Danedream.
Moore, 28, first took the leading jockey title in the U.K. in 2006 and crowned the champion again in 2008 and 2009. Last year he not only notched the Oaks in the U.K. and the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup in Japan on Snow Fairy, but also won the Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe aboard Workforce as well. This year he claimed, among others, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and his second win of the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup in Japan. This will be his fifth time riding in the jockey event. Winner of last year's version, he also shared first in 2009.
Lanfranco "Frankie" Dettori needs little introduction but deserves a book. The son of 13-time champion jockey Gianfranco Dettori, Frankie became British champion apprentice in 1989. The following year he became the first teenager since the legendary Lester Piggott to ride over 100 winners in a British season. The younger Dettori won all seven races on the card at Ascot in September 1996. He was appointed as the retained rider for Godolphin in 1993 and won the U.K. championship in 1994, 1995 and 2004. In October, he marked his 500th graded race win. His G1 cache numbers over 200, and includes three wins of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and the Dubai World Cup, 10 Breeders' Cup race victories and six wins in the Hong Kong International Races. He has also won the Japan Cup three times - Singspiel in 1996, Falbrav in 2002, and Alkaased in 2005. In 2002, when the Japan Cup and Japan Cup Dirt were held at Nakayama Racecourse, Dettori bagged them both, one for Italy (Falbrav) and one for Japan (Eagle Cafe). The Milan native will turn 41 on Dec. 15 and will be appearing in the jockey event for his sixth time and the first time in eight years. He has won the competition twice, in 1999 and 2001.
Murtagh, 41, was crowned Champion Jockey of Ireland for the fifth time in November. This year he added to his list of G1 wins, the Cheveley Park Stakes, the Irish St. Leger and the Oaks at Epsom. This will be his third Jockeys' Championship and was one of the three who tied for the title in 2009.
New Zealand's newest racing sensation, James McDonald, has already taken the sport in his country by storm. This year, at the age of 19, he not only won the national jockeys' championship but broke the New Zealand record for wins in a season with his 198th victory.
Just past his 40th birthday, Whyte has been champion jockey in Hong Kong for the last 11 seasons. He holds the record for career wins in Hong Kong (1,337) and is the only jockey ever to reach 1,000 winners in Hong Kong. In May, he captured the Queen Elizabeth II Cup aboard Ambitious Dragon and, in October, found success with Entrapment in the Sha Tin Sprint Trophy. Whyte is the only jockey to have won the jockey series three times, in 2002, 2007 and 2008.
Prebble, 34, is a former champion apprentice and twice champion jockey in Melbourne. He is now one of the top jockeys based in Hong Kong, and has been partnered with such big names as Cape of Good Hope, Bullish Luck, and Sacred Kingdom. Last season he rode 78 winners, including the Centenary Sprint Cup and the Hong Kong Classic Mile. Prebble has been second in the HK championship for the past six years, and he was runnerup in 2000 and fourth last year in the International Jockeys' Championship.
Chadwick, 21, was champion apprentice in Hong Kong in 2008/09, and has already ridden 145 winners, including a win of the G1 Hong Kong Gold Cup this year on the Tony Cruz-trained California Memory. He also partnered California Memory to his win of the G2 Sha Tin Trophy in October. This will be Chadwick's second appearance in the Jockeys' Championship. He finished fourth in his series debut in 2009.
* Please visit the following websites for more information.
Hong Kong Jockey Club
Cathay Pacific International Jockeys' Championship