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Christophe Lemaire and Ryusei Sakai Among 20 Jockeys for the Kentucky Derby

Lemaire and Sakai will ride Derma Sotogake and Continuar, respectively, at the Kentucky Derby, the opening leg of the American Triple Crown.

Two of the Japan Racing Association's top jockeys will compete in the 149th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 6 (Post time: 7:57 AM JST on Sunday).

Christophe Lemaire, currently second in wins in the 2023 racing season, and up-and-coming jockey Ryusei Sakai, who is seventh, are among the 20 listed riders for America's most famous thoroughbred extravaganza at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

Lemaire won the Tenno Sho (Spring) aboard second favorite Justin Palace on Sunday, April 30 at Kyoto Racecourse.

Now, half a world away, Lemaire is preparing to compete in the 2,000-meter Kentucky Derby for the second time in his illustrious career. The 43-year-old Frenchman finished 13th with Crown Pride in last year's Run for the Roses.

Equinox, guided by Christophe Lemaire, wins the Arima Kinen on December 25, 2022, at Nakayama Racecourse in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture. (KYODO)

Chasing Kentucky Derby Glory

Lemaire's 2023 Derby ride, chestnut colt Derma Sotogake, who drew post 17 for Saturday's big race, was listed at 10-1 odds on Monday, May 1. 

A day later, assistant trainer Masanari Tanaka spoke about Derma Sotogake's Derby assignment.

"I think from the outside he will be able to take a decent position keeping an eye on the whole field in the early stages," Tanaka said in Louisville, according to a Churchill Downs press release. "He broke quickly from the gate the other day, so I think it won’t be a problem."

The Mind Your Biscuits-sired Derma Sotogake, ran his last race overseas, winning the UAE Derby by 5½ lengths on March 25 to book his spot in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Hidetaka Otonashi's Derby entrant has four wins in eight career starts.

Kentucky Derby
Continuar, guided by exercise rider Kazunari Yoshida, is seen in a morning training session in the run-up to the Kentucky Derby. (CHURCHILL DOWNS/COADY PHOTOGRAPHY)

Sakai Set to Ride Continuar

Sakai, who turns 26 on May 31, finished 13th with Iron Barows in the Tenno Sho. He'll ride Continuar, a 50-1 longshot, in the Derby. Continuar drew post 20 for the opening leg of America's horse racing Triple Crown.

"I’ve been getting the outside draw in a lot of big races lately," Continuar's trainer Yoshito Yahagi told reporters on Tuesday, May 2. "I feel like I am cursed. It isn’t a good draw at all, but there is only so much we can do."

On April 29 (at Tokyo Racecourse and April 30 (in Kyoto), Sakai competed in a combined 15 races on a busy weekend on the job, and he collected three victories and three second-place finishes. 

In Drefong progeny Continuar's most recent race, he placed third in the UAE Derby.

Ryusei Sakai with Lemon Pop celebrates his February Stakes win at Tokyo Racecourse. (SANKEI)

A former apprentice jockey in Adelaide, Australia, under trainer Ryan Belfour, Sakai's commitment to his craft has grabbed people's attention in the industry.

"His judgment from the moment he walked into the stable was next level and his style was all class," Balfour said in a recent interview, according to Australian website Racing And Sports.

Belfour added, "His dedication to his craft was second to none."

In addition to Sakai, three other jockeys are set to make their Derby debuts on Saturday: Juan Hernandez (with Skinner), Jareth Loveberry (Two Phil's) and Gerardo Corrales (Raise Cain).

It's just a shoe!


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.


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