Japan uses the western calendar but also gives names to eras based on the reigns of emperors. The current era, called “Heisei”, started in February 1989 and will end on 1 May, 2019, when the current Emperor Akihito will abdicate his throne to his son.
This will be the last LONGINES Hong Kong International Races of the Heisei Period, then, and there is also a sense of a changing of the guard in Japanese racing as the golden era of Yutaka Take may be giving way to a new era, one that is seeing the rise of an international star - perhaps even a new emperor of Japan’s jockeys’ room - Christophe Lemaire.
Both riders compete in tonight’s (Wednesday, 5 December) LONGINES International Jockeys Championship and do so as true superstars of world racing.
Frenchman Lemaire is a previous IJC winner and represents Japan after a spectacular season yielding 200 winners and a burgeoning relationship with Japan’s equine darling Almond Eye, whom he partnered to win the Fillies’ Triple Crown and the G1 Japan Cup.
With those exploits under his belt, Lemaire is at the peak of his powers and relishing the IJC challenge.
“I am very glad to be a part of the IJC again,” he said. Riding at Happy Valley against the best riders in the world is always a big thrill and I am looking forward to it.”
Lemaire partners high-class filly Deirdre in Sunday’s Hong Kong Cup (2000m) and star miler Mozu Ascot in the Hong Kong Mile (1600m).
He is also booked for Hong Kong’s champion sprinter Ivictory in the Hong Kong Sprint (1200m), while Irish legend Dermot Weld has booked him to ride the Aga Khan-owned Eziyra in the Hong Kong Vase (2400m).
“International races, such as the races here in Hong Kong, are events that I always have in mind during the year,” he said. “The high level of competition offers a great show for the racing fans.”
Yutaka Take, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Take’s making the most of his golden autumn
Legendary jockey Yutaka Take has competed at the IJC seven times – sharing the title with Christophe Soumillon in 2004 – and is the first (and probably last) jockey to reach 4,000 wins on the JRA circuit.
The 49-year-old received a rapturous reception when he set the benchmark at Hanshin in September and his feat has earned comparisons with legendary Japanese baseball milestones such as Sadaharu Oh’s world record of 868 home runs and Ichiro Suzuki’s 4,367 hits.
Records aside, Take’s place at racing’s pinnacle was already assured. He was the first Japanese jockey to capture a G1 race in Europe when he won the Prix du Moulin in 1994, and has succeeded at the elite level all over the world, winning the July Cup, the Prix de l’Abbaye, the Dubai Duty Free and the Hong Kong Cup, in addition to riding Japanese champions such as Deep Impact, Vodka and Kitasan Black.
Take said after he reached 4,000 in September: “This is not the end. As a jockey I want to improve more. My next target is my next race, which I always hope to win.
“It has been a while since my last ride at Happy Valley, so I am very excited to join the championship again. It is a great honor to be invited to this event with so many world-class jockeys competing together,” he said.
Time moves on and the Heisei era is coming to an end. Take’s era is also in its autumn – but don’t be surprised if the autumn proves golden at Happy Valley tonight.