The Japan Racing Association will present its 2018 Horse of the Year title to Almond Eye, who was the unanimous selection on all 276 ballots after an outstanding year in which she dominated the fillies’ Triple Crown and the Japan Cup against older male rivals. Winning all five of her starts in 2018, the star filly became the first horse since T.M. Opera O in 2000 to earn the JRA’s highest honor unanimously. The annual JRA Awards, which will be presented in a ceremony at Prince Park Tower Tokyo on Monday, January 28, recognize horses, trainers, jockeys, and other individuals and organizations for their outstanding performances or achievements during the thoroughbred racing season.
Almond Eye was also the unanimous pick as Best Three-Year-Old Filly while Danon Fantasy was named Best Two-Year-Old Filly on all but one ballot. Best Sprinter or Miler Fine Needle and Best Dirt Horse Le Vent Se Leve both were just two votes short of unanimous selection. Best Older Filly or Mare Lys Gracieux, Best Steeplechase Horse Oju Chosan, who claimed this title for a third consecutive year, and Best Older Colt or Horse Rey de Oro received 96%, 83% and 77% of the maximum 276 votes, respectively. Best Two-Year-Old Colt Admire Mars and Best Three-Year-Old Colt Blast Onepiece won their titles in close votes by margins of 30 or less over the runners-up.
JRA Best Trainer Awards were presented for Races Won, Winning Average, Money Earned and Training Technique based on accomplishments in JRA races and designated NAR and overseas races. Hideaki Fujiwara won his first Races Won title after claiming Winning Average titles in 2007, 2008 and 2013. Yasuo Tomomichi (Money Earned) and Tetsuya Kimura (Winning Average and Training Technique) celebrated their first JRA Award titles.
Best Jockey Awards were presented for Races Won, Winning Average, Money Earned, Steeplechase and Newcomer based on accomplishments in JRA races alone. Christophe Lemaire swept the flat-racing titles for Races Won, Winning Average and Money Earned to become the first Grand Prize winner since Yutaka Take. The French native also won his second consecutive title as Most Valuable Jockey, which is determined by points earned for wins, earnings, winning average and rides in JRA, designated-NAR and overseas races combined. Yusuke Igarashi won his fourth Best Steeplechase Jockey title, his first award in three years, while no one was eligible for the Best Jockey (Newcomer) title as no one debuting in 2018 scored the required minimum 30 wins. Legendary Yutaka Take was given a Special Award for his many noteworthy achievements, including an unprecedented 4,000 career JRA victories.
The Equine Culture Award was presented to Yoshihiko Yano for his book “Race & Rail” (Keiba to Testudo) and the Equine Culture Award of Merit went to Ryoma Hara, a well-known horse racing commentator who was recognized for his contributions to equine culture for nearly 50 years.
Japan Cup (G1 - English)
Almond Eye completed her sweep of the fillies’ Triple Crown with a Shuka Sho win in the fall, becoming only the fifth filly in JRA history and the first since Gentildonna in 2012 to claim all three legs of the three-year-old fillies’ G1 titles. The daughter of legendary sprinter Lord Kanaloafurther emulated Gentildonna by becoming only the second three-year-old filly to claim the Japan Cup. In the race, she broke from the inner-most stall, hugged the rails back a few lengths in second, steadily climbed the stretch hill and swooped past Kiseki in the last furlong, easily pulling away to a 1-3/4-length victory in a record-breaking 2:20.6, which was 1.5 seconds faster than the previous record set by Alkaased in 2005. She is slated to commence her 2019 season with her first overseas challenge in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1, 2,410m) or Dubai Turf (G1, 1,800m).
Almond Eye was second in her two-year-old debut in August 2017 and promptly broke her maiden in her next start two months later with a 3-1/2-length victory. Following a three-month break, she faced the males in her three-year-old debut, the Shinzan Kinen, which she won impressively by a comfortable 1-3/4 lengths from racing way back and then registering the fastest last three furlongs on a good-rated track.
Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes
(G1 - English)
Admire Mars capped off a flawless debut season with a triumph in the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes, his fourth consecutive win, sealing his selection as Best Two-Year-Old Colt of 2018. Giving up the race-favorite position for the first time to filly Gran Alegria in the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes, the chestnut chased the targeted filly a few lengths behind in third before making a strong bid while shifting outside at the final turn. Quickly stealing the lead 300 meters out, the colt found another gear in the last half-furlong and shook off the stubborn race favorite while powerfully pulling away to land a two-length win.
The son of Daiwa Major made his debut in June where he traveled wide in fourth and dueled with subsequent graded winner Cadence Call in the last 200 meters but dug in for a close win. In the Chukyo Nisai Stakes three weeks later, the colt accelerated from a third and three-wide position to win by a comfortable three-length margin. Well rested from a three-month break, he set the pace in his first graded challenge, the Daily Hai Nisai Stakes, repelled a determined challenge from Meisho Shobu in the straight and drew away strongly in the last half furlong to win by 3/4-length.
Hanshin Juvenile Fillies
(G1 - English)
Danon Fantasy was named the 2018 Best Two-Year-Old Filly by capping off her debut season with a three-race winning streak to become the second filly to claim both the Fantasy Stakes and the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, following Peace of World in 2002. She will kick off her three-year-old season in the Tulip Sho (G2, 1,600m) on March 2 and then head for the first leg of the Triple Crown for fillies, the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas, G1, 1,600m), on April 7.
In her debut start she was second, succumbing to Gran Alegria, who subsequently claimed a graded victory against male contenders, but the Deep Impact filly broke her maiden in her second start in September as odds-on favorite, cruising in fourth before easily taking command 300 meters out for a two-length victory. Again posted a heavy favorite in the following Fantasy Stakes, from seventh she circled wide and accelerated powerfully to take command 200 meters out and pulled away to win by 1-3/4 lengths.
Arima Kinen (G1 - English)
Tsurumaru Onepiece (King Kamehameha)
Blast Onepiece captured his first G1 title in the Grand-Prix Arima Kinen against older G1 rivals to be named the 2018 Best Three-Year-Old Colt. As the only three-year-old in the field, third-pick Blast Onepiece made an early bid from around 600 meters out after traveling in mid-division, secured a clear path turning the last two corners wide and blasted through the last uphill stretch to overtake the front less than 100 meters out, holding off a strong effort by race-favorite and 2018 Best Older Colt or Horse, Rey de Oro, before the wire.
Breaking his maiden in his debut start in November 2017, Blast Onepiece capped a three-race winning streak in the Mainichi Hai last March, where as race favorite he saved ground in second and assumed command in the last 300 meters for a two-length win. Though posted second favorite in the following Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), the son of Harbinger met traffic entering the lane but made a belated charge to fifth.
Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1 - English)
Rey de Oro was chosen Best Older Colt or Horse of 2018 for his second JRA Award following his Best-Three-Year-Old Colt title. The King Kamehameha colt was winless in the first two starts of his four-year-old campaign, finishing third in the Kyoto Kinen and fourth in the Dubai Sheema Classic. But after his fourth grade-race victory in the All Comers in the fall, he landed his second career G1 title in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) by picking off the frontrunners while traveling in mid-field early and then held off late challengers over the last 100 meters for a 1-1/4-length victory. Rey de Oro was also impressive in the following Arima Kinen but was a neck short of the winner, who carried 2kg less, to conclude his 2018 season with two wins, a second and a third out of five starts.
Trained by Kazuo Fujisawa, Rey de Oro won all three of his starts as a two-year-old, all by comfortable margins, including his first graded victory in the year-end Hopeful Stakes (G2). Tagged as a serious candidate for the three-year-old classics, Rey de Oro was forced to skip the trial race and head straight to the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) due to a delay in conditioning, finishing fifth in his G1 debut.
Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1 - English)
Lys Gracieux bested the field of top fillies and mares in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup to capture her much-awaited first G1 title after four runner-up efforts in seven previous G1 challenges. She maintained good form in her first overseas campaign at the end of the year against an international mixed field of G1 runners in the Hong Kong Vase, where she dueled strongly with Exultant in the last furlong but missed by a neck in second. Her upcoming spring campaign will either commence overseas in the Dubai Turf (G1, 1,800m) or Dubai Sheema Classic (G1, 2,410m), or she will attempt to claim her second G1 title in the Victoria Mile at Tokyo in May.
In her debut year in 2017 as a two-year-old, the Heart’s Cry filly was 2-2-0 out of four starts, including an Artemis Stakes (G3) win and a second in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (G1). She started in six races in her three-year-old campaign and, although winless, she turned in consistent runner-up finishes by threatening the winners in two legs of the fillies’ Triple Crown, the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas, G1) and the Shuka Sho (G1).
Sprinters Stakes (G1 - English)
Fine Needle was chosen Best Sprinter or Miler for his outstanding accomplishment of claiming both JRA-G1 sprint races—the Takamatsunomiya Kinen and the Sprinters Stakes—in the same year, becoming the fifth horse in history and the first since Lord Kanaloa in 2013 to do so. Although he marked a fourth and an eighth in his two Hong Kong endeavors, he was undefeated domestically throughout his 2018 campaign.
The son of Admire Moon marked his first win in his third start as a two-year-old and was 1-1-1 out of his four starts that year. He has concentrated on racing distances of 1,400 meters or shorter since being heavily defeated in a mile race at the beginning of his three-year-old season. After landing two wins as a three-year-old, the following year he claimed his first graded title, the Centaur Stakes (G2), where from third the bay romped to the line to win by 1-1/4 lengths.
The five-year-old kicked off the 2018 season in good form, landing a confidence-boosting win by beating 2017 Takamatsunomiya Kinen champion Seiun Kosei by a comfortable two lengths in the Silk Road Stakes. Next, in his first Takamatsunomiya Kinen challenge, he made his bid from outside, steadily picked off his rivals one by one in the stretch and finally pinned Let’s Go Donki at the wire for a nose victory. It was the first JRA-G1 title for owner Godolphin as well. His first overseas endeavor in the Hong Kong’s Chairman’s Spring Prize ended in fourth.
Champions Cup (G1 - English)
Le Vent Se Leve was named the 2018 Best Dirt Horse by winning last year’s Champions Cup as the fourth three-year-old to claim the race, following Kurofune in 2001, Kane Hekili in 2005 and Alondite in 2006. He is the fifth three-year-old to win this award, following the aforementioned three horses and Gold Allure in 2002. Though the talented colt was scheduled to kick off his four-year-old season in the February Stakes (G1, dirt, 1,600m) on February 17, he will pass up the race due to a minor leg problem.
Raced only on dirt since his debut as a three-year-old, the Symboli Kris S colt broke his maiden with an overwhelming seven-length victory, won his second start with track record and concluded the season with a perfect performance in the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun, where as race favorite he made his bid from near the rear, turned the third corner three wide and accelerated easily after taking command 200 meters out for a comfortable one-length win.
He finished second and experienced his first and only defeat so far in his three-year-old kick-off start without his regular rider, Mirco Demuro. Thereafter, however, he continued to demonstrate his explosive late charge to register four consecutive wins, running the fastest in the last three furlongs in three and second fastest in one, including the Unicorn Stakes, in which he won by a comfortable 3-1/2-length margin, and the Japan Dirt Derby, where he outperformed subsequent Tokyo Daishoten winner Omega Perfume by 1-1/2 lengths.
In his first challenge against older rivals in the Mile Championship Nambu Hai, he won impressively from racing just behind the front runners and sprinting away for a 1-1/2-length victory over 2017 Best Dirt Horse Gold Dream, becoming the first three-year-old to claim the race. In the following Champions Cup as the odds-on-favorite, he was positioned toward the front and traveled along the rails up to the top of the homestretch, then overtook the frontrunner from the outside 200 meters out and accelerated powerfully with the second fastest late drive to pull away for a 2-1/2-length victory.
Nakayama Grand Jump (J-G1)
Oju Chosan not only won his third consecutive Nakayama Grand Jump in record time in his first start of the 2018 season, tying Australia’s Karasi (2005-2007) in consecutive Nakayama Grand Jump wins, he made a unique move by switching to flat racing after a history-making accomplishment in jump racing. He quickly succeeded in registering two wins on the flat under Yutaka Take in July and November. Oju Chosanthen proved competitive against top G1-caliber runners in the Arima Kinen, having earned a third-highest 100,000-plus votes to start in the All-Star race, by challenging the lead at the stretch before tiring from his early efforts over the wet track to finish ninth. He will return to obstacle racing when he starts his eight-year-old season with the Hanshin Spring Jump (J-G2, 3,900m) on March 9, and then will aim for his fourth consecutive Nakayama Grand Jump title on April 13.
Winless in two starts on the flat as a two-year-old, Oju Chosan was given a year break to restart his racing career over obstacles. He was last in a field of 14 in his jump race debut, but after changing hands to current trainer Shoichiro Wada he turned in a runner-up effort in January 2015 and then two consecutive wins two months later. Progressing well throughout the season, he finished fourth in his first grade-race challenge, the 2015 Tokyo Jump Stakes, under Shinichi Ishigami, who has ridden in all his steeplechase starts since.
Hideaki Fujiwara, a three-time JRA Award winner for Best Trainer (Winning Average), became the leading national trainer as of the end of the 2018 season to land his first JRA Award for Races Won. Fujiwara racked up wins at a rapid pace in the early part of the season, reaching 30 wins by the end of April. Although he slowed down thereafter, he still saddled five grade-race winners, including Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) victor Epoca d’Oro, who gave Fujiwara his ninth career JRA-G1 victory and second classic title. He concluded his 2018 campaign with personal-best 58 wins.
Debuting in 2001 after 12 years as assistant to Kaoru Hoshikawa in Ritto, Fujiwara won his first race at Hanshin with Invisible Touch, landed his first two flat grade-race victories with Tenzan Seiza in the Kyoto Shimbun Hai (G2) and the Keihan Hai (G3), and concluded his rookie season with 15 wins out of 150 starts. He doubled his wins in 2006 while capturing five grade-race titles and finishing 18th in the JRA national rankings.
Armed with a string of quality two-year-olds and three-year-olds in 2007, he ranked third among Ritto-based trainers and his winning average jumped to a nation-leading 18.3%, which earned him his first JRA Award. He improved in 2008 with a winning average of 20.0% for a second-consecutive title while notching seven grade-race wins, including his first G1 title in the Victoria Mile with Asian Winds.
Since then, he has continued to produce top runners both on turf and dirt. Eishin Flash brought him his first classic tile in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) in 2010 and then the Tenno Sho (Autumn) in 2012. Tosen Ra won the 2013 Mile Championship, the year in which Fujiwarawon his third JRA Award for Winning Average. Other G1 winners have included Success Brocken in the 2009 February Stakes and Straight Girlin the 2015 Sprinters Stakes and both the 2015 and 2016 Victoria Mile.
Yasuo Tomomichi was named 2018 Best Trainer (Money Earned) to win his first JRA Award. A regular name on the trainer’s national leaderboard in recent years, he was fourth in 2015, eighth in 2016 and tenth in 2017. The Ritto-based trainer claimed four grade-race titles in Japan, including the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) with Wagnerian and the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes with Admire Mars. He also recorded runner-up efforts in high-prized G1 events overseas with Vivlos in the Dubai Turf and the Hong Kong Mile, both of which supported his award selection. Tomomichi, who reached 400 JRA-career wins when subsequent Japan Cup victor Cheval Grand won the Copa Republica Argentina in 2016, owns 37 grade-race titles (JRA only) as of 2018 and soon is likely to celebrate another milestone with less than 10 wins to go before reaching the 500 mark.
Born in Hyogo Prefecture, Tomomichi studied veterinary medicine at Osaka Prefecture University and started riding horses as a member of the university equestrian team. After enrolling in JRA’s Horse Racing School, he began his career as an assistant trainer under Kuniichi Asami at Ritto Training Center in 1989, transferred to Kunihide Matsuda’s yard in 1996 and acquired his training license in 2001. He opened his own yard in 2002 and claimed his first grade-race title with One More Chatter in the Asahi Challenge Cup.
In 2008, he saddled his first G1 winner, Admire Jupiter, to victory in the Tenno Sho (Spring) and became a classics winner in the 2009 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) with Unrivaled. Verxina brought Tomomichi consecutive G1 titles in the Victoria Mile (2013 and 2014) and he has claimed at least one JRA-G1 title in every season thereafter: the 2015 NHK Mile Cup with Clarity Sky, the 2016 Tokyo Yushun with Makahiki, the 2016 Shuka Sho with Vivlos, the 2017 Japan Cup with Cheval Grand and two G1 titles in 2018 with Wagnerian and Admire Mars. He has also enjoyed success overseas with Makahiki (2016 Prix Niel) and Vivlos (2017 Dubai Turf).
Tetsuya Kimura was presented with his first JRA Awards for Best Trainer (Winning Average) and (Training Technique) in his eighth season. He marked career highs in wins, earnings and striking rate, putting him in seventh on the leaderboard, his best annual ranking so far. His 48 wins included four graded titles, highlighted by his first G1 triumph in the Mile Championship with Stelvio.
Born in Kanagawa Prefecture and raised in an environment alien to racing, Kimura went to Hokkaido to work on a farm after graduating from college and then traveled to Ireland to increase his knowledge of the trade. Returning to Japan and graduating from JRA’s Horse Racing School, Kimura became assistant trainer to Yutaka Takahashi (2001-04), Kazuhiro Seishi (2004-07) and Tadashige Nakagawa (2007-11). He finally opened his own yard in 2011 and notched his first win that August, then added another seven victories by the end of the season.
After collecting nine, 16 and 14 wins respectively in the next three years, he nearly doubled his personal best to 31 in 2015, placing him 24th in the national rankings. That year, the Miho-based trainer saddled Albiano to their first graded victory in the Flower Cup (G3), which they followed with a runner-up effort in the NHK Mile Cup (G1) and another victory in the Swan Stakes (G2). In 2016, he was ranked ninth with 37 wins, including the Radio Nikkei Sho (G3) title with Seewind, but he dropped to 17th with 33 wins the following year, although he landed a Tanabata Sho (G3) victory with the same colt.
Christophe Lemaire capped off his fourth season as a JRA jockey with a number of record-breaking achievements and dominated all four JRA flat jockey titles, making him only the third jockey after Yukio Okabe and Yutaka Take to become a Grand Prize winner for sweeping the Races Won, Winning Average and Money Earned titles. His accomplishments included record eight JRA-G1 titles, including the fillies’ Triple Crown and the Japan Cup with Almond Eye. His 215 wins also set a JRA record, exceeding Take’s 212 in 2005, and his seasonal earnings of 4,660,235,000 yen rewrote yet another entry in the history book. Lemaire also took home his second consecutive Most Valuable Jockey title for his two major NAR titles—the Kashiwa Kinen and the Teio Sho with Gold Dream—as well as his runner-up effort and third-place finish in the Hong Kong Mile and the Dubai Turf, respectively, overseas with Deirdre.
Lemaire debuted as a regular jockey in 2015 after passing his JRA exam together with Mirco Demuro. Despite not starting until April, he still managed to notch 112 wins to place fourth on the leaderboard in his debut year and register the highest winning percentage to become Best Jockey for Winning Average. His 13 grade-race titles in 2016 included four G1 victories, earning him his first Money Earned title as well as his second award for Winning Average. He led all jockeys with 199 wins in 2017 to land his first Races Won title, and he also claimed his second consecutive title for Money Earned with 14 grade-race victories, including four G1 titles, along with his first Most Valuable Jockey title.
Yusuke Igarashi claimed his fourth title for Best Steeplechase Jockey, adding to his award-winning seasons in 2009, 2010 and 2015 to tie four-time winner Shigefumi Kumazawa (1999, 2000, 2002 and 2004). While he fell short of his personal best of 14 wins in 2009 (when he became the youngest jump jockey to win the JRA award), his total points for number of wins (13), winning average (0.135), earnings (¥197,723,000) and mounts (96) has earned him the title once again.
Debuting in 2002, Igarashi began his jockey career under trainer Yasuo Sugawara and registered 11 wins out of 189 mounts on the flat, plus one win out of 23 over obstacles. While continuing to ride on the flat, Igarashi began to devote more of his rides over obstacles from 2007, when he captured his first major title with Best Grand Cha in the Tokyo Autumn Jump (J-G3).
He more than doubled his win total in 2009 to claim his first JRA honor and then landed three grade-race titles among 13 wins in 2010. He captured his much-expected first J-G1 title in the 2013 Nakayama Daishogai with Apollo Maverick, after which he validated the win with another J-G1 victory in the 2014 Nakayama Grand Jump. He is without a major victory since but has continued to demonstrate his skill as a steeplechase jockey, including ranking fourth in 2016 and sixth in 2017.
Yutaka Take continued to add to his many feats in JRA’s history book during 2018, earning him his third Special Award. The legendary jockey was a long-time leader (and runner-up in 2009) before suffering a major injury in 2010. He returned to the top ten within a few years and finished the 2018 season in 10th in the national jockey leaderboard with 76 wins, including eight grade-race victories. Despite going without a G1 title, he scored two runner-up efforts and three thirds in G1 events, and finished second in the World All-Star Jockeys. In 2019, he is continuing to make his presence known as the early leader in the national standings.
The third son of the late trainer Kunihiko Take, Yutaka started riding at 10 and has continued to renew practically every record available. He debuted in 1987 and immediately stood out with 69 wins. A champion jockey for 18 years, including from 1992 to 2000 and 2002 to 2008, he exceeded 200 wins for three consecutive years starting in 2003, culminating with a then-record 212 wins in 2005. By 2007, he had become the youngest to reach several important milestones, including an unprecedented 3,000th win for which he received a JRA Special Award.
His first G1 and Classic win was with Super Creek in the 1988 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger) and his first Derby title came with Special Week10 years later. Take became the first JRA jockey to ride a G1 winner overseas when he claimed the 1994 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp with Andre Fabre-trained Ski Paradise. He also rode the first Japanese-trained G1 winner abroad when guiding Seeking the Pearl to victory in the 1998 Prix Maurice de Gheest. He has more than 20 wins overseas at the group-race level, including seven G1 events in the United Kingdom, France, Hong Kong and Dubai combined.
The JRA Equine Culture Award recognizes noteworthy achievements and contributions to Japanese equine culture. Nominations for the 2018 award included horse-related cultural events and publications that were respectively held or published between November 2017 and October 2018.
Winner: “Race & Rail” (Keiba to Tetsudo)
The Equine Culture Award for 2018 was presented to “Race & Rail” written by Yoshihiko Yano and published by Kotsu Shimbunsha. The book chronicals the close relationship between racecourses and railroads dating back to the 1880s and revives the characteristic atmosphere of the old days by drawing on extensive, carefully collected materials as well as painstaking work in the field.
Horseracing, one of the oldest modern sports in Japan, has been supported by the close involvement of railroads going back to the days when a special train was operated to take Emperor Meiji to horseracing venues. Stations near racecourses have provided racing fans with easy access to racing venues throughout the nation while helping regional railroads to win passengers. Railroad companies have also played important roles by devising strategies to attract racing fans as well as sponsoring the races themselves.
Recipient: Yoshihiko Yano
Born in Tokyo in 1960, Yoshihiko Yano graduated from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Waseda University and joined Nippon Cultural Broadcasting Inc. in 1983, working mainly as a sports announcer. Since becoming a freelance announcer in 1989, he has done live broadcasts of major sports, including professional baseball, and served as the longtime and still-active announcer of “Winning Keiba,” TV Tokyo’s live horseracing telecasts.
Winner: Ryoma Hara
A native of Gunma Prefecture born in 1933, Ryoma Hara dropped out of Keio University and worked for a publishing company before becoming involved in horseracing as a reporter for the newspaper Daily Sports. He is currently a freelance commentator for live horseracing broadcasts and appears in talk events at “WINS” off-site betting venues nationwide. Hara was presented with his award for his significant work in advancing the social standing of horseracing and expanding its fan base for nearly 50 years.
2018 JRA Trainer Ranking
2018 JRA Jockey Ranking