When it comes to the Korea Cup and Korea Sprint, few know as much about winning than jockey Kanichiro “Joe” Fujii, the only person to have ridden the winners of both races, having guided Chrysolite to victory in the 2016 Cup and Moanin in the 2018 Sprint.
Fujii, who remains in hospital in Japan after a devastating race-fall earlier this year, rode full-time in Korea from 2012 to 2015. After returning home, he became the go-to man for Japanese connections bringing their horses to run in big races in Korea, following his success on Esmeraldina in the Ttukseom Cup in 2015.
“I was so happy to get the opportunity to ride Chrysolite in the Korea Cup” recalled Fujii this Cup week. He was a horse who didn’t like to race among other horses, so the way the race panned out was ideal. Kurino Star O led, and (Chrysolite) was able to sit off the speed and at the end he was very strong.”
Fujii’s 2018 Sprint win on Moanin, can potentially serve as a template for those who have missed out on drawing an inside gate as he emerged from gate nine, while Hong Kong’s Fight Hero, who he duelled with in the home straight and ultimately beat by a Head, started from gate thirteen.
“I knew Moanin was a good horse because he won a Group level race in the JRA but (the Korea Sprint) was his first time running in a 1200M race and I knew Korean horses are very quick out of the gate and very fast in the early part of the race so I couldn’t really keep up with the speed in the early stages. He was off the bridle all the way but once he got out, he really showed a good turn of foot and he fought with the Hong Kong horse. I was never really confident until the last 100 metres because, you know, Hong Kong horses can fight pretty hard.”
Fujii believes that the Japanese horses are in a strong situation compared to other horses coming to Korea, simply due to practical reasons. “I think Japanese horses have a good advantage because the surface of the racecourse is very similar. Transportation wise, Japan to Korea is pretty much next door so it is an easy trip.”
This time around there is one Japanese horse in the Korea Cup, three-year-old Sekifu, who is already a seasoned traveller, while six-year-old Raptus makes his first trip out of Japan to run in the Korea Sprint. Both are strong contenders.
“Sekifu is a horse that likes to get back in his races and can finish very strong. His jockey Fujioka (Kota) is a good jockey.” Similar to Moanin before his Sprint bid, Raptus has been mostly racing over 1400M and Fujii sees no reason that he can’t emulate his performance, especially with a not-so-secret weapon in the shape of his rider. “Raptus has been running in short races and I’m pretty sure he’ll be running in the first three or four. Raptus will be ridden by Miyuki (Hideaki) and he rode Kurino Star O (behind Chrysolite) so he knows the track well.”
As for the pair’s overall chances: “It’s hard to compare with the Korean horses and the other international horses, but (Sekifu and Raptus) have above average form in Japan, so if they do what they have been doing there, I’m sure they will be right up there.”
The Cup, Sprint and Ttukseom Cup weren’t the only big Korean races that Joe Fujii won. “I stayed in Busan and Kim Young-kwan was the champion trainer and he was giving me a lot of opportunities like Speedy First in the Derby and Gamdonguibada in the Grand Prix so that’s why the Japanese connections asked me to ride the Cup and the Sprint. At that time, I wasn’t a jockey in the JRA; I always wanted to be so these victories really opened up my road to becoming a jockey in the JRA.”
Fujii achieved his lifelong goal, but as has been well reported, he now has another, much bigger task ahead of him. “Four months ago, I had a spinal cord injury from the race fall. Ever since then I have been in the hospital. I have been doing a lot of rehab seven days a week, so it is a long long recovery road for me, I’m just trying to get the sensation back into my legs so it is a new challenge for me.”
“I stayed in South Korea for three years; I was so happy with all the people and all the connections giving me a great opportunity and without my South Korea experience I could never ever get into JRA so that was one of my dreams. I won all the big races, the Cup and the Sprint, the Derby and the Grand Prix so the South Korean fans are very important to me, and I hope one day that I can travel again and show my face at the racecourse.”