Turkish riders sweep Istanbul challenge; Demuro finishes sixth overall
As international jockey championships start to light up summer racing around the world, Turkey hosted its gala event on the evening of July 15 at Veliefendi Racecourse. Representing Japan in the 7th International Jockeys’ Challenge in Istanbul was Italian Mirco Demuro, one of Japan’s two foreign riders who now ride in JRA races year-round.
Demuro participated in the four-race event alongside five local riders and four other top-class jockeys from other countries. John Velazquez represented the United States, Richard Hughes carried the flag for England, Kevin Manning for Ireland, and Frenchman Gerald Mosse represented Hong Kong. Riding for Turkey were Halis Karatas, Ozcan Yildirim, Ahmet Celik, last year’s winner Gokhan Kocakaya, and Selim Kaya.
Points were awarded according to finishing order – 15 points for first place, 10 for second, seven for third place, five for fourth and three points for fifth place. Two points were added for a scratch or if a rider had no mount in any given race. No points were awarded for finishing positions past fifth place.
Though Demuro was able to better last year’s zero-point tally for Japan, his total 13 points put him in sixth place overall and third on the visiting team. Demuro rode in all four legs and gained most of his points in the first race, when his mount Autumn Pearl ran second. A sixth next out on Royal Winner gave him no points, then Power Surprise in the third leg ran fifth for three. The last leg also reaped zero points when Bubona ran seventh.
“I rode wanting to win, as I always do no matter what racetrack I’m at,” Demuro said. “One of the races was real frustrating and it’s a shame I didn’t win it. But I had a really great time. It was my first time to ride in Turkey and the racecourse was fantastic,” the 36-year-old native of Rome said.
Once again it was the host country that claimed top prize, with the Turkish riders scoring 109 points total and sweeping the top three spots. The visiting team scored 57 points total. Top scorer in the championship was Ahmet Celik with 45 points from three wins and a sixth that put him far out in front of runnerup Halis Karatas with 28 points from one first, one second. Ozcan Yildirim was third with 20 points. Finishers after that in order from fourth place were: Velazquez (19 points), Hughes (14), Demuro (13), Kocakaya (11), Manning (6), Kaya (5), Mosse (5).
Though the Turkish riders ended strongly, the American representative Velazquez gave them a run for their money despite his participating in only three races. Celik jumped into the lead, winning the first two legs and giving him a 16-point lead going into the third leg ahead of Hughes, who had 14 points from two thirds. The third leg went to Karatas and Velazquez scored a third place. That coupled with a second from the second leg saw the U.S. rider move narrowly ahead of Karatas into second place overall and within 11 points of Celik, who was scoreless in the third race. Velazquez failed to score in the final leg, however, and Celik’s win aboard Babadoker shot him back to the top. Ten points for a second in the final leg gave Karatas second overall.
The challenge kicked off a clear-skied pleasant evening. The temperature was 27 C and the humidity a comfortable 51 percent. Both the turf and the artificial track were rated good. Three of the races had 10 runners, giving all jockeys a chance to ride. The first race, however, had only eight runners and Velazquez and Kocakaya had to settle for a best two points each. Kocakaya lost another chance to score big when his mount in the second leg was scratched.
The first leg was Race No. 3 on the nine-race Wednesday card. A 1,500-meter event on the artificial surface for 4-year-olds and up, post time was 6:30 p.m. local time. Celik scored aboard the 4-year-old colt Dekor by Dehere. He clocked 1 minute 31.73 seconds to win by 2 1/2 lengths over runnerup Demuro, who rode the 4-year-old Bosporus-sired filly Autumn Pearl. Hughes finished in third on the 6-year-old Torchy.
The second leg, a 1,400-meter race for 4-year-olds and up on turf, was won by Celik on the colt Heiwa Iwa by More Than Ready. He clocked 1 minute 23.46 seconds and finished a length ahead of Kemalhan, with Velazquez in the saddle. Hughes guided Campio to a third-place finish and Demuro finished in sixth aboard the 5-year-old Royal Winner, by Win River Win.
The third leg, a turf race for 3-year-olds over 1,900 meters, went to Karatas on the colt Playfellow, by Dilium. He clocked 1 minute 57.66 seconds and finished a half length ahead of Yildirim on the Powerscourt colt Western Power. Third was Velazquez on the Archipenko filly Alchiba. Demuro crossed the line in fifth on another Powerscourt colt, Power Surprise.
Wrapping up the challenge was Race No. 6, a race for 3-year-olds over 1,400 meters on the artificial surface. Celik’s mount Babadoker beat the field by 3 1/2 lengths, with Harputlunun Oglu in second under Karatas. The winner clocked 1 minute 24.54 seconds. Kocakaya was third on Master Windu and Demuro came home in seventh place aboard the filly Bubona.
In addition to prize money for each race, the top-scoring jockey won a bonus of 4,000 euros, the runnerup 2,000 euros and the third-place-finish took home 1,000 euros in challenge prize money.
The International Jockeys' Challenge is hosted by the Jockey Club of Turkey, which organizes racing and breeding in Turkey with nine racecourses and seven stud farms. The Turkish racing calendar consists of over 600 racedays and enjoys a total annual turnover of some 1 billion euros.
Veliefendi Racecourse (Veliefendi Hipodromu in Turkish) is located in the Zeytinburnu district on the shore of the Marmara Sea in the European side of Istanbul. It is the oldest and biggest racecourse in Turkey and was constructed in 1912. Races are run to the right over a turf track 2,020 meters in length and a 1,870-meter Polytrack course. There is also a sand course 1,720 meters long.
Mirco Demuro is currently Japan’s No. 8 rider and, this year, has piloted 43 horses to the winner’s circle and 40 over the line in second place from a total 274 rides. Those winners include Duramente, who has won both the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) and the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), the first two jewels in Japan’s Triple Crown.