Masa Tanaka’s time riding in Korea is at an end but the Japanese jockey had time to clock up his 100th winner on the peninsular last Friday, one of three successes on his final weekend.
Tanaka joined Busan Racecourse in June of 2013 and returned solid results in his first year even while fellow Japanese rider Joe Fujii was getting most of the acclaim. Tanaka rode 24 winners in his first seven months up to the end of that year.
2014 was a challenging one but Tanaka still emerged with 29 winners from 330 rides. It would be in 2015, however, when his persistence paid off and he became acknowledged as one of the top jockeys in the country. He rode 49 winners this season, taking him to 5th place in the jockey championship.
Although he couldn’t secure a Stakes race victory, he landed a 3rd place on New York Blue in the Asia Challenge Cup in 2014. This year he managed another 3rd, on Ildeung Hanghaesa in the President’s Cup , Korea’s joint-richest race, in Seoul in October.
As has been written many times here, i order to make it in a place like Korea, it is not enough to simply be a good jockey. An open mind, a thick skin and an awful lot of cultural and people skills are required too. If you have an ego, leave it at the airport.
Masa Tanaka fulfilled all of those criteria in addition to being very good in the saddle. He is one of those whose presence here has had a positive impact on Korean racing. He will be missed.
Tanaka came into his final weekend on 98 winners but had the 100 wrapped up by race 10 on Friday with victory on hot favourite Indian Star. He added a further victory on Sunday afternoon for long time supporter Bart Rice and while feature race favourite Queen’s Blade – his final ride in Korea – made a mess of exiting the gates, denying him the opportunity of going out with a final win, he ended with a total of 101 wins from just under 1,000 rides.
That took Tanaka to 4th on the all-time list for foreigners in Korea, the top ten of which now looks like this:
1. Ikuyasu Kurakane – 317
2. Joe Fujii – 149
3. Toshio Uchida – 138
4. Masa Tanaka – 101
5. Gary Baker – 77
6. Narazaki Kosuke – 68
7. Darryll Holland – 66
8. Nozomu Tomizawa – 63
9. Hitomi Miyashita – 55
10. Martin Wepner – 49
Tanaka, who is licensed in New Zealand and needs to maintain that license, is expected to be riding there in the New Year.