After victory in race 1 at Busan on Sunday, Toshio “Mr Pink” Uchida let it be known that the win was his 100th success outside his native Japan.
It was a typical coaxing ride from Uchida as he brought second-favourite Hatteuneun Gisang from the back of the field to the front in the final furlong to take the lead at exactly the right time.
Punters’ friend Uchida is in his second spell in Korea. In May 2008, he came to Busan for the first time and quickly established himself as the top rider at the track, winning 69 races by the end of the year. It was a record for a while year at the course, let alone just eight months. When he made an appearance at Seoul to ride in the Minister’s Cup, the capital’s punters thronged the paddock and gave him a standing ovation. It would be no exaggeration to say that at that time he was arguably the most popular Japanese man in Korea.
In early 2009 after leaving Korea, Uchida was presented with an award by the Japanese National Association of Racing (one step down from the JRA) in recognition of his performance overseas which also took into account his earlier time in Macau where he won 20 races including a Group 1.
Uchida had always said he would return to Korea. Many hoped that he would go to Seoul and try to be the first foreign rider to crack the capital. Understandably, however, after nearly two years back home in Japan, it was back to Busan he went where the more internationalized racing procedures – and less pervasive power of the local Jockey Union – make for a much more hospitable environment for visiting jockeys. Since returning he has ridden 11 winners and once more is setting the standard that local jockeys can aspire to.
And that is exactly why the KRA brings over foreign jockeys in the first place. Young Korean jockeys are improving and the influence of South African riding instructor Kenny Michel has been very positive. On the track though there needs to be someone to watch and learn from in terms of tactics and especially – as they all still sprint for the first corner – in judging pace. Uchida provides this. Congratulations to him on reaching this milestone.