Japan’s “King” Kawada relishes competing against the world’s top jockeys at Happy Valley

Mariko Seki

28/11/2023 10:38

Yuga Kawada celebrates the win aboard Loves Only You.
Yuga Kawada celebrates the win aboard Loves Only You.

Crowned Japan Racing Association’s champion jockey of 2022, Yuga Kawada has received the opportunity to join the LONGINES International Jockeys’ Championship for third straight year at Happy Valley on 6 December. Kawada was supposed to compete in the event last year but was ruled out after testing positive to COVID-19 before leaving Japan. 

Second in the 2023 standings with 140 wins, bested only by Christophe Lemaire who had already won 156 races as of 27 November, Kawada exceeds Lemaire with win ratio at the moment. 

Born in Tosu City, Saga Prefecture located in Kyushu district in October, 1985, Kawada is a fourth-generation jockey. He grew up near the NAR-Saga racecourse because his father used to ride and is a current trainer at Saga. His grandfather and great-grandfather also trained racehorses. 

Kawada has captured more than 100 wins in eight of the past 12 seasons and his highest number of wins in a season is 167, which he achieved in 2020 including the two Group 1 wins with Grenadier Guards in the G1 Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes (1600m) and Danon the Kid in the G1 Hopeful Stakes (2000m). His major Japan Racing Association victories in the past years include the Japanese Classic races - the G1 Satsuki Sho (2000m) on Captain Thule, the Japanese Derby on Makahiki, the G1 Kikuka Sho (3000m) on Big Week, G1 Oka Sho (1600m) on Harp Star and Stars on Earth, and G1 Yushun Himba (2400m) on Gentildonna. 

In 2023, Kawada has notched 13 Group race successes, with the highlight being a sweep of the Japanese Triple Tiara on the current heroine Liberty Island.

“I am very grateful for her achieving the feat,” said Kawada in the post-race interview of the Shuka Sho, as he celebrated his 38th birthday. “She was here to enjoy all the fans, so I have done the same thing I always do to her coming into the race. She is a horse with great ability, so I placed top priority on letting her run comfortably and finding a good path for her. She has a great ability.”

Yuga Kawada has ridden in Hong Kong on several occasions.
Yuga Kawada has ridden in Hong Kong on several occasions.

Since 2021, Kawada’s influence has expanded onto the world stage with wins in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf and the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m) on Loves Only You in 2021, while he also landed the G1 Dubai World Cup (2000m, dirt) on Ushba Tesoro at Meydan in March. 

JRA has a racing series for youngsters aged 10 between and 13 called “Jockey Babies”.  It has trials in eight locations through local pony clubs, and eight qualifiers are hosted at Tokyo Racecourse for the final, where the youngsters compete on ponies provided by JRA in front of many spectators after the regular races have finished. “Jockey Babies” started in 2009 and this has been successful for creating the venue for the professional jockeys and riders.  This year, 11-year-old Ginji Kawada, Yuga Kawada’s son won the annual Jockey Babies. 

Ginji said: “I was not nervous at all.  I did not receive any advice from my dad.  I want to become the world’s top jockey someday.”  Kawada watched the race after his riding tasks on the race day at Tokyo and he was very pleased to see his son’s triumph.

“I feel very relieved that all of the young children have passed the finish line safely, and thank you very much for you all to cheer on my son.  I am grateful that my son has won the race.  He has better balance than I do.  He wishes to become the top jockey in the world, and I do hope his dream come true,” said Kawada after the pony race. 

Kawada will head to the LONGINES International Jockeys’ Championship next month. 

“I would like to thank The Hong Kong Jockey Club for inviting me again this year. It is a great opportunity to meet my friends from all over the world and I am very looking forward to riding with the best of the best jockeys in the world.”

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