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Sakai Ready To Shine In Saudi Arabia

[Saudi Cup Official Release] Ryusei Sakai, a 26-year-old jockey with a rich horse racing pedigree, looks set to make his mark in Riyadh once again this weekend.

His father Hidemitsu is an ex-jockey, who currently trains in the NAR (Japanese provincial racing) scene, while his uncle was also a rider.

Sakai has been to three of the four previous Saudi Cup carnivals, having won last year’s US$2m Saudi National Bank 1351 Turf Sprint on returning hero Bathrat Leon (JPN) but this is his first time to compete in the Invest Saudi International Jockey’s Challenge.

"I have ridden in international races outside of Japan, and there are some great jockeys coming to ride in Japan as a short-term license holder every year. I have respect for those top jockeys, but I would still like to win if racing against them," he said.

"This year is my fourth year travelling to Saudi Arabia and I have witnessed the International Jockey’s Challenge. It means a lot to participate here as a Japanese representative."

Sakai began his career in 2016 as an apprentice for the hugely successful and widely revered Yoshito Yahagi stable. To date, he has recorded 401 wins including four top-level races in the JRA. His career high was last year with 107 wins, including two Grade 1 successes.

So far, he has travelled to eight different countries outside home in his flourishing career and he also spent a year in Australia from 2017 to 2018. While this is a normal occurrence in other racing jurisdictions, it is far from common practice for a young Japanese jockey to travel abroad so frequently due to language and cultural barriers.

"There are some brilliant jockeys in Japan, but the beauty of riding on the international stage is competing against the legends of the racing world. Those experiences contribute to improving my skills as a jockey," he said.

Aside from Bathrat Leon, Sakai’s partner include the particularly exciting Forever Young (JPN) in the US$1.5m Boutique Group Saudi Derby and Japan’s dirt hero Lemon Pop (USA) in the US$20m The Saudi Cup.

"Forever Young has a good chance in the Saudi Derby. He has huge potential that even I can’t imagine," he explained.

"The Saudi Cup is a highly competitive race this year. We have the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, the Pegasus World Cup winner, and the Dubai World Cup winner. This race could decide the champion of the dirt. It is exciting to challenge such a race with Lemon Pop."


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