Ikezoe picks up first overseas win, Japan best third place in Meydan Masters
Ikezoe wins the 2nd leg of the Meydan Masters
JRA jockey Kenichi Ikezoe, riding in the Meydan Masters International Jockeys' Challenge in Dubai, turned in the best results yet for Japan with a total 88 points and a third-place finish behind overall winner Craig Williams and runnerup Colm O'Donoghue. The 32-year-old Ikezoe, who clinched Japan's Triple Crown last year aboard 2011Horse of the Year Orfevre, pulled off a win aboard Street Act in the series' second leg that helped land him only 22 points off the top tally.
Ikezoe rode alongside 11 other of the world's top jockeys in the points-based competition consisting of four races run Jan. 5-6 at Meydan Racecourse. Points were awarded according to finishing position, with 75 for a win, 20 for second place, 15 for third, 10 for fourth and on down to one for 12th place.
The first leg, a 1,600-meter on the all-weather surface Jan. 5, was scooped by O'Donoghue aboard Furnace, with Ikezoe earning 3 points for a 10th on Slew De Beaune. The following day, Ikezoe moved within one point of the top after taking the 1,900-meter second leg on the artificial surface partnered with the American-bred Street Cry-sired Street Act, a 5-year-old trained by A Al Raihe.
The race unfolded with Ikezoe taking up a position aboard Street Act just rear of midfield. Halfway down the backstretch he moved forward to take the lead going into the turn and hold on for the win. Over the line, Ikezoe pumped his right fist in the air in celebration of his first win outside of Japan. “I'm very happy!" he said in English during the postrace interview.
Soon after, however, Williams stepped into the series' lead following a fifth and sixth, when he won aboard Graymalkin in the third leg, a 1,600-meter race also on the all-weather surface. Ikezoe added only 3 more points with a 10th-place finish on Taxonomist. The final race, a 1,400-meter over turf, saw Williams pick up another 20 points with a second-place finish on Angel's Pursuit. The race was won by Christophe Lemaire on Firestreak, but Lemaire, with two earlier 12th-place runs and a fourth had insufficient points to bump him above Ikezoe in the total tally. Ikezoe earned 7 points in the final race with a sixth aboard Laa Rayb.
Craig Williams, like Ikezoe, was riding for the first time in the competition. "It's been amazing to come here and win the championship the first time I have competed," Williams said. "I rode here when it was still Nad Al Sheba and I can't believe the change. It's like being hit by a steamroller. This racecourse is something else. To be honest, I would have been happy staying in the jockeys room. It's the best I've ever seen."
Williams, whose wife is about to give birth to their fourth child, had been hesitant about making the trip to Dubai at such a delicate time. "We discussed it and she said that as I had been invited it was too big an honor to turn down. And now I think she's very glad she let me come," Williams said. "I was on Skype with my wife just before we came out to ride the last race. I told her I had a chance if I was placed in the final race, luckily I was second although it was a close-run thing."
Ikezoe, though slightly disappointed in the results, saw the bright side of what had been nonetheless a success. “It's too bad I couldn't win the overall championship, but I had hoped I could win one race and I managed to do that." It was a particularly welcome win in Dubai as Ikezoe looks forward to a run in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe this year aboard Orfevre. “If I had gone to the Arc without having won a race overseas it would have meant an awful lot of pressure. So, I really wanted to get a win behind me for that reason. To have done that in Dubai among such fine riders in such an event has just been really great."
Ikezoe was the third representative from Japan to be invited to the Meydan Masters. Norihiro Yokoyama took part in the inaugural event in 2010 and Hiroyuki Uchida competed in the 2011 version. The first two years went to Britain's Richard Hills in 2010 and Calvin Borel of the United States in 2011.
This year, in order of finish followed by total points were: Australia's Craig Williams, 110; Colm O'Donoghue of the U.K.. 96; Kenichi Ikezoe, 88; France's Christophe Lemaire, 87; Italian Frankie Dettori, 54, riding for the UAE; Tom Queally representing Ireland, 42; French compatriots Mickael Barzalona, 37, and Maxime Guyon, 28, who tied for eighth place with Italy's Mirco Demuro; William Buick of Great Britain, 22; Germany's Andrasch Starke, 21; Ryan Moore of the U.K., 19.
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