Japanese trainer Hiroyasu Tanaka set to shine in Hong Kong

Toshihiro Onikubo

09/12/2023 19:17

The Hiroyasu Tanaka-trained Rousham Park is one of the major contenders in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup.
The Hiroyasu Tanaka-trained Rousham Park is one of the major contenders in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup.

At the age of 37, Hiroyasu Tanaka is no stranger to breaking records as a trainer. The ex-jockey received his JRA training license in 2017, then becoming the youngest person ever to pass the licensing exam. In May 2022, he achieved another milestone by becoming the youngest trainer to reach 100 JRA wins since 1989.

Although the fledgling trainer has been consistent source of winners and was gradually establishing his brand as a trainer, it took six years to claim his first graded stakes success. The five-year-old, Lemon Pop, brought G3 Negishi Stakes success to the Tanaka Stable. The trainer recalls, “I have been significantly stressed because all six other trainers who started training in 2017 with me have won a graded stakes race.” The five-year-old G3 winner has subsequently exceeded all expectation and claimed the G1 February Stakes and just last weekend, won the G1 Champions Cup in fine style. Lemon Pop became just the fourth horse in JRA history to complete the only two JRA dirt G1 race double in the same calendar year.

Tanaka has proven himself to be one of the leading trainers in the JRA, and he is now aiming for international success to take his career to a truly different level. None of the seven trainers from the class of 2017 have won an overseas G1 race. This group includes Toru Hayashi and Shogo Yasuda, who trained multiple G1 winners Songline and Omega Perfume, respectively. Tanaka is sending two of his rising stars to the 2023 Hong Kong International Races.

“I feel a special bond and connection between Hong Kong and my career. I rode in the Hong Kong Cup on Queen Spumante in 2009, which was the first time I even had a passport in my life! In 2017, just before starting my stable, I visited here to learn from Chris So Wai-yin. It means a lot to me to return as a trainer with, what I believe, are genuine International G1 contenders.”

A son of Harbinger, Rousham Park, is running in the G1 Hong Kong Cup (2000m) on Sunday. The lightly raced four-year-old has won three consecutive races, including the G2 Sankei Sho All Comers over 2200m. In the G2, he defeated multiple G1 winner Titleholder by 1 1/4 lengths, and his jockey Christophe Lemaire praised him by simply saying, “He has shown G1 class.”

On Friday, Tanaka commented, “Rousham Park has settled well in Hong Kong, and he is in great form. We have been drawn the widest in stall 11, though perhaps it works well for him as he is still green.”

Tanaka’s second runner on the international stage this weekend is the lightly raced three-year-old, Lebensstil, set to run for the G1 Hong Kong Vase over 2400m. The son of Real Steal has raced only six times in his career, including G2 Asahi Hai St. Lite Kinen (2200m) success on his last start on 18 September. He beat G1 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) winner, Sol Oriens, by 1 3/4 lengths in the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) trial. Joao Moreira said after the race, “I rode him last Friday and he gave me great confidence to win. He won really well, and he can be a special horse in the future.”

Lebensstil bypassed the G1 Kikuka Sho with his sights firmly set on the Hong Kong Vase. “He is still maturing, both mentally and physically, but he has still been improving hugely. I wanted to take enough time to prepare for a race of this magnitude. It was the original plan to come here after the St. Lite Kinen,” Tanaka explained on Friday. “Lebensstil took time to get settled here after his flight.We worked him on turf this morning, which was Plan B as we intended to work on turf yesterday. However, he worked in Japan before traveling so he is fit enough anyway.” Tanaka continued on Lebensstil’s race plan, “He can race from anywhere. We have been drawn well in stall seven, and he will probably try to follow the pace.”

It’s a rare case for a JRA trainer to bring two strong contenders to an international race meeting due to the limit on the number of horses under their care. Tanaka expressed his appreciation: “It’s fortunate for us to take two horses to Hong Kong. It has worked very well as Rousham Park and Lebensstil tend to get nervous easily. For them, it’s great to have a companion. Everything is ready, and I hope we can achieve good results at Sha Tin on Sunday.”

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