Kazushi Kimura left his native Japan with the hope of making an impression on the Canadian Thoroughbred racing scene. On Thursday night at Gulfstream Park in Florida, he managed to eclipse that goal.
Hearing his name called as the recipient of the 2019 Eclipse Award as North America’s champion apprentice jockey was nowhere near the longshot surprise the Woodbine-based Kimura delivered in his first career riding win.
But it didn’t make the moment any less memorable for the native of Hokkaido, Japan.
“I feel amazing,” said Kimura, who received 74 votes, to finish ahead of fellow finalists Julio Correa (60 votes) and Angel I. Diaz (53). “When they called my name, I was so happy. I had so many messages from people back in Japan and people in Canada, texting me, and saying congratulations. I was contacted by a lot of Japanese media… that’s why I’m feeling a little bit dizzy and tired. But I’m just feeling so happy. I want to say thank you to the trainers, owners and so many people. My family said, ‘We are so proud of you,’ and that makes me so happy. I just feel so lucky.”
Kimura, whose father runs a Thoroughbred training centre in Hokkaido, wasted little time in turning heads after he arrived at Woodbine in 2018.
His first victory came in his 11th career start, on June 9, 2018, aboard 70-1 Tornado Cat, and his first added-money score came aboard Speedy Soul in the OLG Muskoka Stakes. He completed his first campaign at the Toronto oval placing fifth in the standings with 89 wins.
Kimura, who left home in his early teens to attend the Japan Racing School in Shiroi City, Chiba Prefecture, where he remained for two and a half years, also had 15 wins at Fort Erie, to finish his first season in Canada with 104 total victories.
Those efforts earned him the 2018 Sovereign Award as Outstanding Apprentice Jockey.
Despite the difficulties of learning a new language and coming to a new country, nothing was lost in translation when it came to the affable youngster’s race-riding prowess.
By the end of 2018, Kimura looked right at home, both in the saddle and in his new life in Canada.
But he was only getting started.
Last year, Kimura won 148 races, including 146 at Woodbine. The latter number placed him third behind accomplished journeymen Eurico Rosa Da Silva (182 wins) and Rafael Hernandez (164 wins).
A career highlight came when he partnered Magnetic Charm, a British-bred filly trained by William Haggas and owned by Her Majesty, The Queen, in the Grade 2 Canadian Stakes Presented by the Japan Racing Association at Woodbine.
Kimura and the daughter of Exceed and Excel rallied to finish second to Starship Jubilee in the ‘about’ 1 1/8-mile turf event on September 14, one of several graded events on the Ricoh Woodbine Mile undercard.
“I rode for the Queen, which is something that stands out in my memory. Every time I look at the pictures, it brings a smile to my face. I had a great opportunity and it will always stay with me.”
Another high point came just over two months later when Kimura piloted Roger Attfield trainee Gun Society to victory in the South Ocean Stakes.
Now, Kimura can add an Eclipse trophy to his ever-growing list of accomplishments.
But the soft-spoken rider won’t be resting on his laurels.
Not by a longshot.
When the 2020 Woodbine Thoroughbred season commences on April 18, Kimura will be ready for a new set of challenges, armed with a new set of goals.
“Eurico (leading rider, Rosa Da Silva) has retired, so I will try to be champion rider,” he offered. “I want to try to win the big races, like the Queen’s Plate and Woodbine Mile, and I want to have more stakes wins. If I could, I’d like to try and ride in big races in the United States, too.”
Jordan Miller, Kimura’s agent, knows he’ll be ready.
“His professionalism and dedication to riding… it’s all he thinks about. When he’s not at the track, he’s watching races or working out. His dedication is something I’ve never seen in a jockey. He’s really focused on having another big year.”