Story and photo by Hayley Morrison
The Woodbine jockey colony is as multicultural as they come, with riders originating from various parts of Canada, the U.S, the Caribbean, South America, as well as Europe. The recent additions of Japanese apprentice jocks Daisuke Fukumoto (pictured, blue silks)
and Kazushi Kimura (pictured, orange and green silks)
has added yet another level of diversity to the Toronto oval.
Fukumoto arrived in Toronto a couple of years ago and started out as a hot walker and groom on Woodbine’s backstretch until he could obtain his visa to ride.
“When I came here I spoke no English. I was using gestures or just a word,” said Fukumoto who worked at various barns including Reade Baker’s before making his way into the irons in late July.
The 20-year-old jockey is from Kagoshima, Japan and attended a private riding school in the countryside in the south. His dad worked at one of the racetracks as a groom and Fukumoto soon found himself competing in amateur races, specifically, in an event called Jockey Babies, where races are held regionally and the best pony racers from each province then compete in a final race at Tokyo Racecourse.
Looking towards his future, Fukumoto decided to transition abroad and gain more riding experience.
“North American style is just (to) sit on the horse and be very quiet. The European style, they are moving a lot on the horse to assist the horse in going forward. In Japan it’s in the middle, between North American and European style. I like the American style which is just to sit quiet.”
He rode 44 races before finally hitting the wire first with a filly named Raglan Road last October. A sweet victory, not likely to forgotten, given that it came on his 20th birthday. Fukumoto continued to do well throughout the season, winning another three races and ending the year with close to $200,000 in career earnings. This year his winning percentage has jumped from 3 to 9 per cent and he’s already banked northward of $200,000.
While riding in a different country can be a somewhat daunting venture, the jock has adapted well to the ever-evolving Woodbine landscape, noting a few differences between the circuit and his homeland.
“Japan doesn’t have ponies. Also, in Japan, they have to stand by themselves. It’s one of the biggest differences between racing in Japan and North America.”
Asked why he was attracted to the track, the jock is quick to respond. “Here, there are big races like the Queen’s Plate, the Canadian International - sometimes North American jockeys come too.”
Establishing himself as an up and coming rider on the circuit, Fukumoto has been working for several different trainers including Paul Buttigieg, John Ross, Pat Parente and John LeBlanc Jr.
Despite facing initial work barriers when he first arrived, Fukumoto has made a name for himself in the colony and has also found a second home at the track. “I love Woodbine Racetrack. I have many friends at the racetrack and when I win my friends say congratulations to me and it makes me happy.”
Another Japanese jockey who is smiling a lot these days is Kazushi Kimura. The 18-year-old apprentice has been making waves since arriving on the scene this spring.
Kimura inherited the itch to ride from his family who owned a training facility back in Hokkaido, Japan. He learned to race ride professionally at the Japan Racing School in Shiroi City, Chiba before venturing over to Canada to further his career. Within a short period of time he’s also made a name for himself, securing his first win on Woodbine Oaks day aboard Tornado Cat.
Kimura lost his 10-pound bug after clinching his fifth victory aboard Wild Parade last month. Banking close to $280,000 already this season, the young jock has his sights set on another goal.
“This year’s goal is to be the best apprentice jockey,” said Kimura who sits within the top 20 of Woodbine’s jockey standings with a 12 point win percentage.
While the competition is stacked against him with veteran riders leading the standings, he notes several members of the jockey community, including riders such as Gary Boulanger and Rafael Hernandez have been helpful and offered advice.
“Many jockeys are kind to me, for example they teach me how to ride,” said Kimura.
Even though English is not his first language Kimura has managed to translate his riding skills across into live mounts for various connections.
He rides for several trainers including Robert Gerl, Nathan Squires, Kevin Attard, Vito Armata, Norman McKnight, and Tony Gattellaro.
Kimura is enjoying riding on the circuit as well as further developing his riding skills.
Asked why he wanted to come to Canada, Kimura smiles, but not long after responds: “I came here because I wanted the challenge.”
Positive and determined, both apprentices are here to stay and continue to pave the way for future international riders at the Ontario racetrack.
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