Kokubun finishes second in inaugural Qatar apprentice races
JRA's Yusaku Kokubun, representing Japan in the inaugural Qatar Apprentice Jockeys Invitation Races, finished the three-race series in second place. Kokubun's consistent riding brought his mounts over the line in two fourth-place finishes and one third.
Winner in the championship overall was Razali Zawari of Singapore. Zawari turned in an impressive two seconds and one win in dominating the event.
Kokubun, a 21-year-old Ibaraki Prefecture native, was competing amid 16 top apprentices from around the world at Qatar's Al Rayyan Racecourse from Feb. 28 to March 1.
Riding overseas for the first time, Kokubun carried the flag for Japan among the riders from 15 countries: Cara Angel from Australia, Adnan Jaffar for Bahrain, Tik Hung So of Hong Kong, Trevor Suresh Patel representing India, Japan, Chon Fong Wong for Macau, Kin Man Lai for Malaysia, Jeanout Bardottier for Mauritius, Rosemary Myers of New Zealand, Oman's Muanis Al Siyabi, Faleh Nasser Bughenaim and Saad Al Kaabi for Qatar, Yousef Al Hussaid for Saudi Arabia, Razali Zawari for Singapore, Keagan De Melo for South Africa and Saeed Saif Buti Humaid Al Mazrooei for UAE.
The series' first race, 1,200 meters over turf, was the fourth race on the Feb. 28 card. It went to reserve rider Yousef Al Hajri, with Zawari in second. Kokubun, aboard the American-bred, 6-year-old Lahoob, finished less than 1 length off the winner.
Kokubun (third from right)
The second race, the first on Feb. 29, was won by Hong Kong's So aboard Nashmi. Kokubun placed fourth in the 1,600-meter event paired with the Amer-sired 4-year-old Theeba.
Kokubun finished in the money in the series' final race, the third race on the March 1 card and run over 1,850 meters. Kokubun rode the 4-year-old Irish-bred Zakon to finish a length of the winner, Dajen, with Razali Zawari up.
Kokubun finished the series with a total of 13 points, a mere 6 points off winner Zawari. Commenting after the event, Kokubun said, "Being invited and able to ride in apprentice jockey races overseas, even though it was just for a very short time, was an invaluable experience. I wasn't able to win but I did meet a lot of people and was able to get to have contact with another culture, which I think is a big thing.
"The next time I go abroad I want to ride in a race that isn't just for apprentices. Back in Japan, I hope to be able to put this experience to good use and I ask for your continued support. All in all, it was a lot of fun."
Second leg: Kokubun (left)
The experience included quite a few firsts for Kokubun. In addition to him receiving his first passport, once in Qatar, Kokubun was given work aboard a purebred Arabian for the first time. Afterward he commented, "If you ride an Arabian like a Thoroughbred, you'll see that the horse just doesn't travel forward in the same way. Then, when I turned into the straight, he suddenly wanted to go. Of course, this may just have been my horse's personality but it's no good if you can't change your image of how things will unfold," he said.
Of the Al Rayyan racecourse, Kokubun said, "The turf is quite good and there is a nice cushion. The course is perfectly flat and the turns are not banked, so if you don't get a good position early, it will be rough. I watched videos on the Internet and can see that the battle for position is quite a heated one." For his first time at Al Rayyan course, his first time overseas, Kokubun's results were undoubtedly ones he could be proud of.
Kokubun, who rides at the Ritto Training Center in western Japan, has notched eight wins so far this year. He has accumulated a total of 60 wins since his debut in 2009, making an impressive jump in first-place finishes last year when he garnered a total 45 wins. Kokubun's twin brother, Kyosuke, who participated in the Macau Apprentice Jockeys Invitation Races in 2010 , is also based at Ritto. The Kokubun brothers are one of two pairs of twins currently riding for the JRA. The others are the Shibata brothers, Daichi and Misaki (currently assistant trainer).
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Racing and Equestrian Club (Qatar) website: http://qrec.gov.qa/