2023 JRA Award
HORSE OF THE YEARBEST OLDER COLT OR HORSE
BEST TWO-YEAR-OLD COLT
Jantar Mantar (JPN)
BEST TWO-YEAR-OLD FILLY
Ascoli Piceno (JPN)
BEST THREE-YEAR-OLD COLT
BEST THREE-YEAR-OLD FILLY
Liberty Island (JPN)
BEST OLDER FILLY OR MAREBEST MILER
Mama Cocha (JPN)
BEST DIRT HORSE
Lemon Pop (USA)
BEST STEEPLECHASE HORSE
Meiner Grand (JPN)
Ushba Tesoro (JPN)
TRAINERS & JOCKEYS
BEST TRAINER (RACES WON)
BEST TRAINER (WINNING AVERAGE) & (TRAINING TECHNIQUE)
BEST TRAINER (MONEY EARNED)
BEST JOCKEY (RACES WON) & (MONEY EARNED)
BEST JOCKEY (WINNING AVERAGE)
MOST VALUABLE JOCKEY
BEST STEEPLECHASE JOCKEY
BEST JOCKEY (NEWCOMER)
JRA EQUINE CULTURE AWARD
Winner: “Epitaph: The Light Trail of Yururi”
Recipient: Atsushi Okada
Equinox Defends Horse of the Year Title in Convincing Fashion
The Japan Racing Association announced that it will present its 2023 Horse of the Year award to Equinox, who received 293 of 295 votes to become the eighth horse to win the title in consecutive years—the last being his sire Kitasan Black in 2016 and 2017. The world’s top-rated colt capped a stellar career by winning the Japan Cup, the last of an incredible streak of six straight G1 victories. Equinox was also named Best Older Colt or Horse with 294 votes. The annual JRA Awards, which recognize horses, trainers, jockeys and other individuals and organizations for their outstanding performances or achievements during the thoroughbred racing season, were presented on January 29.
Best Two-Year-Old Colt Jantar Mantar, Best Three-Year-Old Filly Liberty Island, Best Older Filly or Mare and Best Miler Songline, and Best Steeplechase Horse Meiner Grand each won their respective titles by landslides, tallying more than 90% of the votes. Best Three-Year-Old Colt Tastiera, Best Sprinter Mama Cocha, Best Dirt Horse Lemon Pop and Best Two-Year-Old Filly Ascoli Piceno received 88%, 77%, 56% and 55% of the maximum votes, respectively. The Special Award went to Ushba Tesoro for his triumph in the Dubai World Cup. Beginning this year, the former “Best Sprinter or Miler” title has been split into two separate awards, Best Sprinter and Best Miler.
The Best Trainer Awards are based on accomplishments in JRA and designated NAR and overseas races. This year Tetsuya Kimura, trainer of Equinox, dominated two categories—Best Trainer for Winning Average and Best Trainer for Training Technique—his second and third, respectively. Haruki Sugiyama, who opened his yard in 2016, won the title for Races Won, his first JRA Award, while Yoshito Yahagi defended his title in the Money Earned category for the fifth straight year.
In the Best Jockey Awards, which are based solely on accomplishments in JRA races, Christophe Lemaire captured two of the flat-race titles—Races Won (sixth overall) and Money Earned (seventh)—while 2022 Grand Prize winner Yuga Kawada defended his Winning Average title (seventh). Shinichi Ishigami won his fourth overall and second straight Best Steeplechase Jockey title and Kanta Taguchi was named Best Jockey (Newcomer) with 35 JRA wins. Kohei Matsuyama won his first Most Valuable Jockey title based on combined points for wins, earnings, winning average and rides in JRA races and designated NAR or overseas races.
The Equine Culture Award was presented to Atsushi Okada for his photobook about horses living on an uninhabited island, "Epitaph: The Light Trail of Yururi."
All information, including ages and race performances, are as of December 31, 2023 unless indicated otherwise. Wins and earnings include JRA races, JRA-designated local public races operated under the National Association of Racing (NAR; local public racing) and overseas starts, except for jockeys. “Season Performances” charts show positions in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and final corners, from left to right. “L3F” indicates the time run over the last three furlongs (600m) and “[Horse]” shows the horse’s weight.
Takarazuka Kinen (G1 - English)
Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1 - English)
Japan Cup (G1 - English)
Equinox was voted Horse of the Year for the second year in a row, as well as Best Older Colt or Horse for four resounding G1 victories—the Dubai Sheema Classic, the Takarazuka Kinen, the Tenno Sho (Autumn), and the Japan Cup. The living legend, whose most recent victory made him the first horse to surpass two billion yen in career earnings, retired at the end of the 2023 season to stand at Shadai Stallion Station as of this year, commanding an inaugural breeding-season stud fee of 20 million yen, another unprecedented sum in Japanese horse racing.
The son of Kitasan Black debuted in August of his two-year-old season and scored two wins in as many starts, including the Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai Stakes (G2, 1,800m). The following season, although Equinox was a close second in both of the classic titles—the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas, G1, 2,000m) and the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, G1, 2,400m—he won the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and the Arima Kinen (G1, 2,500m) against older opponents to be named Horse of the Year and Best Three-Year-Old Colt.
Equinox began the 2023 season in the Dubai Sheema Classic, where he set the pace for the first time in his career and ran wire-to-wire for a 3-1/2-length victory in track-record time, vaulting him to the top of the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings. In the ensuing Takarazuka Kinen, however, the brown colt was second to last for much of the race, but he edged forward on the outside on the final two turns, took the lead at the 200-meter pole with a powerful turn of foot, and held off a strong challenge to win by a neck.
In his fall kickoff start, the Tenno Sho (Autumn), he traveled just off the rail in third, took the lead 300 meters out and easily pulled away to defend his title with an uncontested 2-1/2-length victory in JRA’s record time. Equinox also displayed his dominant racing style in the Japan Cup, where he unleashed his signature stretch drive from third and kept charging just before the 200-meter mark to score an incredible four-length victory.
Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes (G1 - English)
Jantar Mantar was chosen Best Two-Year-Old Colt based on his perfect record of three wins in as many starts, including the G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes. The Palace Malice colt will begin his three-year-old campaign with the Kyodo News Hai (G3, 1,800m) on February 11 before the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas, G1, 2,000m), on April 14.
The dark bay colt promptly broke his maiden in his debut in October, sitting about fourth on the rail and launching the fastest late kick to take the lead at the 200-meter pole for a comfortable 2-1/2-length victory. Posted as favorite in the following G2 Daily Hai Nisai Stakes, he hugged the rail behind the pace around third and easily overtook the lead before the 200-meter marker for his first graded title.
In his final start as a two-year-old, the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes, Jantar Mantar broke smoothly from the third stall, settled in mid-division by the rail and continued to save ground rounding the turns to take command at the top of the stretch. Though challenged by rivals in the straight, the Palace Malice dark bay found another gear in the last 200 meters to pull away while holding off the fast-closing Ecoro Walz at the wire to win by 1-1/4 lengths.
Hanshin Juvenile Fillies(G1 - English)
Ascoli Piceno secured the title of 2023 Best Two-Year-Old Filly by winning the G1 Hanshin Juvenile Fillies in record time. The Daiwa Major filly, who concluded her two-year-old season by winning all three of her starts, has the first spring classic, the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas, 1,600m) on April 7, as her initial target for this year.
The daughter of Daiwa Major won her debut race in June over 1,400 meters at Tokyo Racecourse, rallying from 11th position with the fastest late charge to win by a convincing 2-1/2 lengths. In the following Niigata Nisai Stakes, Ascoli Piceno sat wide around sixth, was driven from the 400-meter pole to overtake the tenacious pacesetter 100 meters out and held off the rest of the field with the third-fastest late kick to win by a length.
Well rested thereafter, Ascoli Piceno was sent off as third favorite in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies. After running two-wide in mid-pack, she was behind a group of horses rounding the final turn before moving outside for a clear path. The dark-bay filly dueled tenaciously with graded-race winner Corazon Beat down the middle of the stretch, then pinned the tiring but stubborn pacesetter 100 meters out and finally shook him off, while also resisting the late-charging Stellenbosch to prevail by a neck in record time.
Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1 - English)Video
Tastiera was selected Best Three-Year-Old Colt of 2023 based on his victory in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) in addition to his runner-up efforts in the other two legs of the Triple Crown, the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) and the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger). The four-year-old colt is currently registered to run in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1, 2,410m) on March 30.
As a first-crop progeny of Satono Crown, the third-place finisher in the 2015 Tokyo Yushun, and trained by the same Noriyuki Hori, Tastiera notched his only start as a two-year-old and turned in a fourth in the Kyodo News Hai in his 2023 kick-off start. The bay colt then landed his first grade-race win in the Yayoi Sho Deep Impact Kinen in which he ran wide in around fourth near the pace and headed into the straight with good speed to take command before the 200-meter pole for a one-length victory.
As fifth choice in the Satsuki Sho, Tastiera mustered a good late kick to assume command at the furlong pole after traveling in mid-division and held off the rest of the field, other than winner Sol Oriens, to finish second. Posted as fourth choice in the Tokyo Yushun, the colt was partnered with Damian Lane and was positioned well in fifth and two-wide. Hitting the straight in fourth, the bay responded well to steadily close in, took the lead from the pacesetter 200 meters out, fended off determined challenges from both sides, and turned the tables this time to win by a neck over Sol Oriens.
Well-rested from a five-month break, Tastiera headed directly to the last leg of the Triple Crown, the Kikuka Sho, where he settled around ninth before turning home and charging down the middle with the second fastest late kick. But he failed to threaten winner Durezza, who took command before the 200-meter pole, and finished second by 3-1/2 lengths, although still managed to beat rival Sol Oriens by 1-1/2 lengths. In his final race of the season, the Arima Kinen, Tastiera ran in ninth and then began driving from the third corner, but lost momentum when he hit traffic before the 200-meter pole and ended in sixth.
Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) (G1 - English)
Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) (G1 - English)
Shuka Sho (G1 - English)
Liberty Island, the seventh filly to sweep the fillies’ Triple Crown, was voted Best Three-Year-Old Filly for the 2023 season. After finishing second to Equinox in the Japan Cup against a quality field of mostly older males, she is seen as the next high-profile JRA runner now that Equinox has retired. All eyes will be on her when she commences her four-year-old season with her first overseas endeavor, the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1, 2,410m) on March 30.
The Duramente filly won two of three starts as a two-year-old, including the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (G1, 1,600m), which earned her the 2022 Best Two-Year-Old Filly title. In her first start of 2023, the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas), Liberty Island sat toward the rear but began to make her move along the outside and, despite having much ground to cover, responded with a powerful finish down the stretch to close the gap with each stride until finally pinning the leader just before the wire for a 3/4-length victory. Sent to post seventh favorite in the ensuing Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks), the bay filly ran quietly along the rail until moving out for a clear run after the last turn, then accelerated after being given the go signal to catch the leader at the furlong pole and steadily pull away for an overwhelming six-length victory.
Making her fall comeback in the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Shuka Sho, Liberty Island broke smoothly and was in good position behind the leaders, racing seventh down the backstretch, before finding another gear to take command near the 400-meter pole and then driving hard down the stretch to hold off the fast-closing runner-up by a length to secure the Triple Crown. Next, facing older rivals for the first time in the Japan Cup, the three-year-old took a ground-saving trip behind Equinox in fourth and, although unable to match the winner's legendary speed, pinned Titleholder 250 meters out and then Panthalassa 150 meters from the wire for a well-deserved second.
Victoria Mile (G1-English)
Yasuda Kinen (G1-English)
Songline was named Best Older Filly or Mare and Best Miler after winning the Victoria Mile and then scoring a back-to-back triumph in the Yasuda Kinen. The three-time G1 winner retired from racing at the end of the 2023 season and is now a broodmare at Northern Farm, where she was bred.
A daughter of Kizuna, she broke her maiden in her second start as a two-year-old and in the following season marked a runner-up in the NHK Mile Cup (G1, 1,600m) before registering her first graded victory in the Fuji Stakes (G2, 1,600m) that autumn. In her subsequent four-year-old campaign, Songline won the 1351 Turf Sprint in Saudi Arabia, her first overseas endeavor. She went on to score her first G1 title in the Yasuda Kinen, where she settled in mid-pack before making headway by shifting out prior to the last corner and unleashing a strong stretch drive to rally against proven G1 winners and win by a neck.
Although heavily beaten in her first start of 2023 in Saudi Arabia, Songline scored her second G1 title in the Victoria Mile. Sent off as fourth favorite, she entered the lane in sixth, having advanced from ninth, and ran strongly on the rain-soaked inside to record the second-fastest closing speed. She dueled mightily with Sodashi over the last 100 meters and dug in to cross the wire in front by a head for the title. In the ensuing Yasuda Kinen, the five-year-old mare lost ground to ninth after breaking from the widest stall, but she powered to the lead in the last half furlong with the second-fastest final three-furlong speed and pulled away for a 1-1/4-length win. She became the third horse in JRA history to score back-to-back Yasuda Kinen victories, joining Yamanin Zephyr and Vodka.
After a close second in the Mainichi Okan, Songline flew to the United States to run in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, a challenge she was forced to cancel in 2022 due to an epiglottic inflammation. Posted as favorite among the world's top milers, the Kizuna mare sat three-wide around sixth but lacked her signature late speed and finished fifth in her final career run.
Sprinters Stakes (G1-English)
Mama Cocha claimed the Sprinters Stakes to be voted Best Sprinter of 2023. The five-year-old bay, a full sister to star white mare Sodashi will aim for her second G1 title in the Takamatsunomiya Kinen (G1, 1,200m) on March 24.
The Kurofune filly debuted in June 2021 and won her third start before marking a third in the Fantasy Stakes (G3, 1,400m). In her three-year-old campaign, Mama Cocha failed to earn a ticket to any of the spring classics, but reeled off three straight wins and ended the season with a fifth in the Turquoise Stakes (G3, 1,600m).
Mama Cocha began the 2023 season with a ninth in the Hanshin Himba Stakes, a graded mile event, but then stepped down in distance and finally found her true form. In the 1,400-meter Azuchijo Stakes, the bay filly sat wide around fourth and responded well to take the lead 300 meters out for a comfortable three-length victory. Then, in the Kitakyushu Kinen, she sat wide around sixth and stretched well to close on the pacesetter with each stride, but finished second by 1/2 length.
In the Sprinters Stakes, her first G1 attempt, Mama Cocha broke smoothly to secure a good position behind the leaders, advanced quickly along the outside in the second half to challenge the pacesetter on the final turn, took command at the 100-meter marker but was challenged by the runner-up up to the wire, where Mama Cocha was declared the winner by a nose. The bay filly capped her season with a fifth in the Hanshin Cup, where she rallied from third to take the lead but faded in last 100 meters.
February Stakes (G1 - English)
Champions Cup (G1-English)
Lemon Pop won the February Stakes and the Champions Cup in 2023 to become only the fourth horse in history to win both G1 dirt events in the same year and thereby earn the title of Best Dirt Horse. The six-year-old will fly to the Middle East to begin his 2024 season in the Saudi Cup (G1, dirt, 1,800m) on February 24.
The son of Lemon Drop Kid won both of his starts as a two-year-old, but then had a 12-month layoff due to a leg problem. Returning in December of the following year, he was runner-up in his only start as a three-year-old, but during his four-year-old season Lemon Pop won four of six starts and finished second in his first graded challenge, the Musashino Stakes (G3, dirt, 1,600m).
The five-year-old chestnut began his 2023 campaign in the Negishi Stakes, where he took command 300 meters out from fifth to win his first graded race. Posted as favorite in the following February Stakes, Lemon Pop traveled three-wide in fifth or sixth, gradually improving his position, then unleashed an incredible stretch drive to grab the lead 300 meters out and clear the wire 1-1/2 lengths ahead of the fast-closing runner-up. The following month, however, he was 10th in the Dubai Golden Shaheen, his first overseas endeavor.
After a lengthy break back home, the well-rested chestnut began his fall season in the Mile Championship Nambu Hai and scored a wire-to-wire victory by an overwhelming 2.0 seconds. Stepping up in distance for the first time at 1,800-meters, in the Champions Cup, Lemon Pop was quick out of the gate from the widest stall, accelerated strongly into the lead, made a determined effort to maintain his lead after entering the lane and held off a strong challenge from behind to clear the wire by 1-1/4 lengths.
Nakayama Daishogai (J-G1)
Meiner Grand was voted Best Steeplechase Horse for his perfect season record, undefeated in all four starts, including his first graded victory in the Tokyo High-Jump against top-class runners such as Nakayama Grand Jump champion Irogotoshi. Meiner Grand's emphatic ten-length victory in the Nakayama Daishogai also helped him to collect 279 of 295 votes for the award. The emerging jump-racing star will aim for a second J-G1 title in the Nakayama Grand Jump (4,250m) on April 13 after prepping in the Hanshin Spring Jump (J-G2, 3,900m) on March 9.
The son of Gold Ship, who debuted as a two-year-old in September, was winless in all 11 flat-race starts and was then switched to steeplechase racing at the end of his three-year-old campaign. His first win came in his third steeplechase start as a four-year-old and the colt concluded the season 1-2-1 from five starts, including a ninth in his first graded attempt in the Niigata Jump Stakes (J-G3, 3,250m).
Meiner Grand commenced his five-year-old season in March when he raced near the rear early, rapidly advanced to third on the backstretch of the first lap and hit the straight in second to pin the tenacious pacesetter just before the wire for a nose victory. He added another win the following month by a dominating five lengths after accelerating to the front 600 meters from the start and never surrendering the lead. Well rested for six months, he was lightly favored in the Tokyo High-Jump, but after sitting in around sixth early, he gradually moved up to the leaders and stretched well after taking the lead after the final fence to win by 2-1/2 lengths.
In the year-end Nakayama Daishogai, Meiner Grand saved ground in mid-pack and advanced to third on the rail after clearing the fifth fence (grand brush). The brown horse made headway in the backstretch and easily held off the leader and defending champion Nishino Daisy going into the last dip. Showing no signs of fatigue, Meiner Grand entered the straight three to four lengths ahead and easily stretched his lead to prevail by ten lengths.
Ushba Tesoro was given the Special Award of 2023 as the second Japanese horse to claim one of the world’s most coveted races, the Dubai World Cup, following Victoire Pisa in 2011. The son of Orfevre, who concluded the season with four wins from five starts, will begin the 2024 season with the Saudi Cup (G1, dirt, 1,800m) on February 24 and then aim for back-to-back wins in the 2024 Dubai World Cup, a feat accomplished only by Thunder Snow in 2018 and 2019.
Ushba Tesoro began his racing career on turf as a two-year-old, broke his maiden in his seventh start in April the following year and scored two more wins, registering 3-1-4 out of 22 starts on turf. He switched to dirt for his fourth start in 2022 and immediately claimed his first win on that surface, and then scored a third and two more wins before his first G1 attempt in the Tokyo Daishoten. In the race, the bay settled two-wide around ninth, shifted out along the backstretch to make headway after the third corner and launched the fastest late drive to grab the lead 200 meters out and pulled away for a 1-3/4-length victory.
He continued to thrive on dirt, winning his kickoff start of 2023, the Kawasaki Kinen, where he settled around sixth, gradually advanced to second and immediately took command with the fastest late speed for a 1/2-length victory. He then flew to UAE for the Dubai World Cup, where he trailed in the rear, made headway turning the last corner wide for the stretch run and unleashed an explosive burst of speed to overtake the leaders 100 meters out, then pulled away to win by a comfortable 2-3/4 lengths.
After a long break upon his return to Japan, the son of Orfevre won by 2-1/2 lengths in his comeback start, the Nippon TV Hai, and thereafter was sent to the United States for the Breeders’ Cup Classic coming off a six-race winning streak. Positioned near the rear after the break, the six-year-old advanced to midfield along the rail and attempted to close in on the leaders, but was unable to deliver his explosive charge and finished fifth. Back home in the year-end Tokyo Daishoten, Ushba Tesoro was unhurried in second to last, angled wide to launch his trademark late kick, picked off his rivals one by one and pinned the eventual runner-up just before the wire to successfully defend his title.
Haruki Sugiyama was named 2023 Best Trainer (Races Won) to claim his first JRA Award. A regular name on the trainer’s national leaderboard in recent years, he reached the milestone of 200 career wins (JRA races) in January last year and concluded the season with a career-high 55 wins, including four grade-race titles, to become the JRA’s leading trainer for the first time. He claimed his fifth JRA-G1 title in the Tenno Sho (Spring) with Justin Palace, who was second to Equinox in the Tenno Sho (Autumn), while his other top-level accomplishments in 2023 included fourth-place finishes in the Yasuda Kinen (Gaia Force) and the Mile Championship (Elton Barows).
Born in Kanagawa Prefecture with no racing background, Sugiyama worked at a farm in Ishikawa Prefecture for four years after graduating high school. He enrolled in JRA’s Horse Racing School in 2004 and began as a groom and then assistant trainer at Kohei Take’s yard. After moving to Yasuyuki Takahashi’s stable in 2014, he acquired his trainer’s license and opened his own yard in 2016 during which he saddled three winners.
In the following years, Sugiyama steadily accumulated more wins, including 18 in 2017, 19 in 2018, when he claimed his first graded title in the Meguro Kinen with Win Tenderness, and 30 wins in 2019. His big breakthrough came in 2020 when he won his first G1 and classic title with Daring Tact in the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas), who went on to sweep the fillies’ Triple Crown, and he finished the season with 42 wins, ranking seventh on the national leaderboard. He then was ranked 11th with 37 wins in 2021 and fourth with 47 wins in 2022.
Other notable runners trained by Sugiyama include K T Brave, winner of the 2017 Teio Sho, the 2018 Kawasaki Kinen and JBC Classic; Miss New York, winner of the 2021-22 Turquoise Stakes; and Arrivo, who won the Kokura Daishoten and finished a respectable third in the 2022 Osaka Hai.
Tetsuya Kimura took home the title of Best Trainer (Winning Average), which he also won in 2018, and he additionally earned a back-to-back Best Trainer (Training Technique) award, his third since 2018. Fourth with 45 wins, including nine graded titles, Kimura claimed five G1 victories worldwide—the Dubai Sheema Classic, Takarazuka Kinen, Tenno Sho (Autumn) and Japan Cup with Equinox, the world’s top-rated and two-time Horse of the Year, and the Hopeful Stakes with Regaleira.
Born in Kanagawa Prefecture and raised in an environment alien to racing, Kimura went to Hokkaido to work on a farm after graduating from college and then traveled to Ireland to further his knowledge of the trade. Returning to Japan and graduating from JRA’s Horse Racing School, Kimura became an assistant trainer, first to Yutaka Takahashi (2001-04) and then to Kazuhiro Seishi (2004-07) and Tadashige Nakagawa (2007-11). He finally opened his own yard in 2011, notching his first win that August and then adding another five victories by the end of the season.
After collecting 9, 16 and 14 wins respectively in the next three years, he nearly doubled his personal best to 31 in 2015, including his first graded victory in the Flower Cup (G3) with Albiano. He ranked ninth with 37 wins in 2016 but dropped to 17th with 33 the following year. In 2018, however, Kimura bounced back to seventh with 48 wins, adding his first G1 title in the Mile Championship with Stelvio, and earning his first two JRA awards for Best Trainer (Winning Average) and (Training Technique). He then finished 15th (36 wins) in 2019, 16th (34 wins) in 2020 and 34th (28 wins) in 2021.
In 2022, he was ranked 19th with 34 wins, including his first classics victory in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) with Geoglyph, and two G1 titles—the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and Arima Kinen—both with Equinox, to earn his second Best Trainer (Training Technique) title. For his career, Kimura has 28 JRA-graded titles as of the end of the 2023 season.
Yoshito Yahagi turned in yet another successful season to win his fifth straight title for Money Earned. While his success at the JRA graded level in 2023 was limited to a victory in the G3 Kyoto Nisai Stakes with Shin Emperor, Yahagi continued to enjoy success overseas with two group-race victories—the Saudi Cup with Panthalassa and the 1351 Turf Sprint with Bathrat Leon—and he also won the JBC Nisai Yushun and Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun with Forever Young. He became the sixth active trainer to reach 800 JRA wins on March 12, 2023.
The son of Kazuto Yahagi, a former trainer at NAR’s Oi Racecourse, Yoshito Yahagi has always been around horses. His father initially did not approve of him becoming a horse trainer, but finally agreed on the condition that he strive to become a JRA trainer and first learn the art of training outside Japan. As a result, he learned the basics of training in Australia, working at Randwick in New South Wales, Flemington in Victoria, and Toowoomba in Queensland, after which he trained in Britain. Upon returning to Japan, he introduced interval training to help his father’s yard and then enrolled in the stable employee course at the JRA Horse Racing School.
Yahagi became an assistant trainer to a number of JRA trainers, including Sadataka Sugaya, from whom he learned the business side of running a successful training yard. Although it took him more than 10 years to obtain his license, it was not long before his unique training philosophy and personnel management proved effective. He reached the top 10 in the national rankings in his fourth season as a trainer, rose to second place in the following year and has remained in the top 10 since 2012. His titles include JRA Awards for Best Trainer (Races Won) in 2014, 2016, 2020, 2021 and 2022, Best Trainer (Money Earned) from 2019 to 2023, and Best Trainer (Training Technique) in 2020 and 2021.
Christophe Lemaire dominated the JRA racing scene again in 2023, claiming his sixth Best Jockey title for Races Won with 165 victories and his seventh title for Money Earned. He landed 18 grade races, including seven G1 wins—the Tenno Sho (Spring) with Justin Palace, the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) with Durezza, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup with Brede Weg, the Takarazuka Kinen, the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and the Japan Cup with Equinox, and Hopeful Stakes with Regaleira. Lemaire also won two overseas graded titles—the UAE Derby (Derma Sotogake) and the Dubai Sheema Classic (Equinox).
Since debuting as a regular JRA jockey in 2015, the French native has led all jockeys in Japan six times and has 129 grade-race titles including 45 G1 victories. He has partnered with several G1 winners, including Major Emblem, Satono Diamond, Soul Stirring, Rey de Oro, Almond Eye, Fierement, Gran Alegria and his most recent star mount, Equinox. In 2018 he renewed a number of JRA records, including surpassing several long-standing records of the legendary Yutaka Take’s with 215 annual wins, eight annual G1 titles and annual earnings of 4.66 billion yen. His JRA Award Best Jockey titles include six for Races Won (2017-21 and 2023), three for Winning Average (2015, 2016 and 2018), seven for Money Earned (2016-21 and 2023), five for Most Valuable Jockey (2017-21) and one Grand Prize (2018).
Born in Chantilly and the son of Patrice Lemaire, a leading jump jockey in the 1980s, Lemaire began as an amateur rider in 1996 at the age of 16 and turned professional after acquiring his license in 1999. He won his first G1 title in France in the 2003 Prix Jean Prat and was soon one of the top jockeys at home and a rising star internationally with G1 titles in France, England, the UAE, Australia, Hong Kong and the United States. Lemaire began racing in Japan from 2002 under short-term licenses, during which he scored five G1 victories: the Arima Kinen (2005 Heart’s Cry), the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup (2008 Little Amapola), the Japan Cup Dirt (2008 Kane Hekili, 2013 Belshazzar) and the Japan Cup (2009 Vodka).
Yuga Kawada earned his fifth consecutive and seventh overall Best Jockey for Winning Average award with 30.5%, the highest win rate since the JRA award was established in 1987. His 151 victories in the 2023 season included his 1,900th career victory (JRA only) on July 1 and 14 grade-race titles, 5 at the G1 level—the three fillies’ Triple Crown races with Liberty Island, the Sprinters Stakes with Mama Cocha and the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes with Jantar Mantar. He also had graded victories overseas—the Dubai World Cup (Ushba Tesoro), the Korea Sprint (Remake) and the Korea Cup (Crown Pride)—as well as 11 major wins in NAR races.
Born into a racing family—his father is a jockey-turned-trainer and his grandfather was a trainer at Saga Racecourse (NAR)—Kawada learned to ride at an early age and made his debut in March 2004. He registered his first win two weeks later at Hanshin Racecourse and concluded his first year with 16 wins. He continued to rack up wins over the next few years, winning his first graded title in the 2006 Kokura Daishoten (G3).
His big break came in 2008, when he won his first G1 and classic title with Captain Thule in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas), among a total of 73 wins, including six grade-race victories. Kawada rose to ninth on the leaderboard with 83 wins in 2010 and the following year he reached triple figures for the first time, placing third with 109 victories. Thereafter he consistently ranked in the top seven, reaching second four times—2013, 2019, 2020 and 2021—before reaching the top spot with 143 wins in 2022 to become the fourth Grand Prize winner by sweeping the JRA Award Best Jockey titles for Races Won, Winning Average and Money Earned.
Kawada's other classic titles include the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) with Big Week in 2010, the Yushun Himba with Gentildonna in 2012, the Oka Sho with Harp Star in 2014 and Stars on Earth in 2022, and the Tokyo Yushun with Makahiki in 2016, making him only the eighth jockey in history to claim all five classic races for three-year-old colts and fillies. He has also won the Yasuda Kinen and the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes three times and the Takamatsunomiya Kinen twice, among his 26 JRA-G1 career titles. In 2021, Kawada won two G1 races overseas with Loves Only You, in Hong Kong and the U.S., the latter making him the first Japanese jockey to win a Breeders’ Cup title (Filly & Mare Turf).
Kohei Matsuyama was the leader in combined points for wins, earnings, winning average and rides in JRA and selected NAR and overseas races, earning him the title of Most Valuable Jockey in 2023. During the year he recorded his milestone 1,100th career win (JRA races) on October 14, ranked fourth on the national leaderboard with 113 wins (six graded), marking his fourth straight year of triple-digit wins, and won two major titles in NAR racing—the JBC Ladies’ Classic (Icon Tailor) and the Hyogo Junior Grand Prix (Aigle Noir).
Born in Hyogo Prefecture, Matsuyama was a member of the junior equestrian team at Hanshin Racecourse before enrolling at the JRA Horse Racing School. He won his debut race on his 19th birthday on March 1, 2009, and also scored a second victory, becoming only the second JRA jockey-school graduate to mark two wins on his debut day, after Yuichi Fukunaga in 1996. He finished his debut year with 36 wins and was named Best Jockey (Newcomer).
Matsuyama raised his annual wins to 74 in 2012, including his first graded title in the G3 Chunichi Shimbun Hai with Smart Gear. Since then, he has ranked consistently among the top 17 jockeys, with at least 56 wins every year except 2016 (47 wins for 23rd place). He won NAR’s top sprint title, the JBC Sprint, with Corin Berry in 2015 and registered his first JRA-G1 victory with ninth-pick Al Ain in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) in 2017.
Never lower than eighth in wins since 2018, Matsuyama rose to fourth in 2020 with 127 wins, his first time to reach triple digits. That same year he swept the fillies’ Triple Crown—the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas), the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) and the Shuka Sho—with Daring Tact, who became the first undefeated filly to do so. He added his name to the JRA record book as the fastest and youngest jockey to achieve 10,000 career rides on September 19, 2021, and he rose to third that season with a personal-best 130 wins, including his fifth G1 title, which came in the Champions Cup with T O Keynes. In 2022, Matsuyama ranked fourth with 118 wins, including nine graded titles, and scored his 1,000th JRA-career win in December.
Shinichi Ishigami led all jump-race jockeys with 14 wins in 2023 to defend his title as Best Steeplechase Jockey, which he also won in 2016 and 2017. He added two graded jump titles in 2023, the Nakayama Daishogai and the Tokyo High-Jump, both with Meiner Grand, which boosted his JRA record for career graded wins (jump) to 25.
Ishigami began his career as a flat-race jockey in 2001 and scored his first win aboard Raidenno Hana on March 31. He progressed steadily with more than ten wins in each of his first four seasons, including an impressive runner-up effort in the 2004 Copa Republica Argentina (G2) aboard Tenjin Musashi. But then his career took a downturn in 2005 and 2006 due to a prolonged suspension and injuries sustained in a fall.
Seeking to broaden his riding opportunities, Ishigami started riding jumpers from 2007 and scored his first win the following year, but had to wait until 2013 for his first graded win aboard Assatis Boy in the Niigata Jump Stakes (J-G3). Eventually, he began to ride more over jumps than on the flat. Though his win totals remained in single digits, his riding skill over jumps became well recognized due to his sound rate of finishing within the money, making him one of the most prominent jump jockeys in JRA racing.
Ishigami's big break came in 2016 when he shot to the top of the national leaderboard (jump races) with 15 wins, including five grade-race victories, tying the JRA record set by Tadashi Kosaka in 2006. He rose to stardom that year by dominating both J-G1 titles with Oju Chosan to win the season’s JRA Award for Best Steeplechase Jockey. He then repeated the feat in 2017, also with Oju Chosan, with whom Ishigami registered six Nakayama Grand Jump and three Nakayama Daishogai victories. He also won the Nakayama Daishogai with Nihonpiro Baron in 2018.
In 2022 Ishigami won his 22nd jump grade race in the Kyoto High-Jump, renewing the JRA record for most graded titles in steeplechase history, and then won the Kokura Summer Jump, becoming the first jockey to win all 10 graded titles over jumps held by the JRA. He also became the 29th jockey to reach 100 career wins over jumps in August of that year.
Kanta Taguchi achieved a personal goal by winning 35 races in his first season as a JRA jockey, which secured him the JRA Award for Best Jockey (Newcomer).
Born to parents heavily involved in racing—his father a jockey-turned-trainer and mother a former jockey, both based at NAR’s Kasamatsu Racecourse—Taguchi grew up in Gifu Prefecture with hopes of becoming a professional baseball player. After being impressed by Suave Richard’s runner-up performance in the 2017 Japanese Derby, it was no surprise that he shifted his interest to racing and decided to enroll in the JRA Horse Racing School in 2020.
After graduating three years later and riding under trainer Yuki Ohashi, Taguchi scored his first career win on March 8 at NAR Kasamatsu Racecourse and then his first JRA win in his 38th start on March 26 at Hanshin Racecourse. He steadily accumulated wins in the JRA, earning his tenth victory on June 25, 20th on September 30 and 30th on December 3. He rode his first graded race aboard Kurino Majin (12th favorite, 12th place) in the Kitakyushu Kinen in August and first G1 event with New General (16th favorite, 17th place) in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies in December.
Meanwhile, he notched 14 wins on the NAR circuit, including a victory at Kasamatsu in June partnered with a horse trained by his father. He also represented JRA in the Young Jockey Series, a competition for JRA and NAR apprentice jockeys, finishing second after the final round.
The JRA Equine Culture Award recognizes noteworthy achievements and contributions to Japanese equine culture. Nominations for the 2023 award included horse-related cultural events and publications held or published between November 2022 and October 2023.
Yururi Island is an uninhabited island off the coast of the Nemuro Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido, where descendants of the first horses brought to the island still roam wild. While human access to Yururi is strictly limited in order to protect the natural environment, the author, attracted by the island's charm, obtained permission to go ashore and eventually spent many years photographing the island’s scenery and horses as well as tracing the history of the island and its horses through conversations with former islanders.
Through dialogue with locals and photographs that resemble visual poetry, the book evokes scenes from the past when Yururi's people and horses existed together. The book was highly praised for the author’s enthusiasm and sincere, honest approach to preserving memories of Yururi.
Hokkaido native Atsushi Okada, a photographer and doctor of arts, graduated from Osaka University of Arts and received his doctorate from the Graduate School of Arts, Tokyo Polytechnic University. He is the author of numerous publications and exhibitions and has received many awards, including the 2008 Kimura Ihei Award.
2023 JRA Trainers Ranking
2023 JRA Jockeys Ranking