Ascot test run for Japanese missionaries

Sue Montgomery says more than victory is at stake for Air Shakur

That the only two previous challengers from the shores of Nippon in Britain's most prestigious all-aged race were both ignominious failures is no longer an entirely viable statistic. Poor old Speed Symboli, fifth to Park Top in the 1969 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and Sirius Symboli, eighth to Petoski 15 years ago, were of an era before racing's global village had started turning Japanese.

That the only two previous challengers from the shores of Nippon in Britain's most prestigious all-aged race were both ignominious failures is no longer an entirely viable statistic. Poor old Speed Symboli, fifth to Park Top in the 1969 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and Sirius Symboli, eighth to Petoski 15 years ago, were of an era before racing's global village had started turning Japanese.

Until as recently as two years ago runners from Japan in Europe had been regarded as no more than curiosities. But in 1998 Seeking The Pearl and Taiki Shuttle made the breakthrough in Europe, winning Group One events on successive Sundays at Deauville and last year Agnes World took the Prix de l'Abbaye less than an hour before his compatriot El Condor Pasa took Montjeu to half a length in the Arc.

Agnes World, a sprinter, ensured his place in Turf history 10 days ago when his July Cup victory made him the first Japanese-trained winner in Britain. On Saturday his young stablemate Air Shakur will test the mettle of Europe's best middle-distance horses in the 50th running of Ascot's great summer showpiece.

Against the likes of seasoned performers like Montjeu (if he runs), Kayf Tara and Daliapour, Air Shakur's mission may be impossible. He is just about the best three-year-old in Japan, but it is five years since one of his age, Lammtarra, triumphed in a King George.

There is, however, a hidden agenda here. Air Shakur is not just running for himself, but for the honour and future of an industry. Sure, Seeking The Pearl, Taiki Shuttle, El Condor Pasa and Agnes World all laid down markers for Japanese racing, training and jockeyship, but all four were bred in the United States. Shiva, the only Japanese-foaled Group One winner in Europe to date, is European in all but theaccident of her birth.

But Air Shakur, owned jointly by Teruya Yoshida and Tsunebumi Yoshihara, trained by Hideyuki Mori, ridden by Yukata Take and bred at Shadai Farm in Hokkaido, is Japanese through and through. And his mission, as a representative of the Classic generation, is to test the water for a crack by another from his stable at next year's Derby.

Yoshida, one of the prime movers in leading his country away from its introverted past, has become one of the bloodstock world's leading players with a power base centred at his family's massive Shadai Farm on the northern-most of Japan's three main land masses. The roster of stallions standing there includes the Arc winners Helissio, Carnegie and Tony Bin and the phenomenally successful Sunday Silence, perennial champion in his adopted home and sire of Air Shakur.

The overweening superiority in Japan of the stock of Sunday Silence, winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic 11 years ago, is one factor in the desire to test his offspring on the international stage. "Air Shakur and the King George is very important, " said Masafumi Matsuda, assistant to Mori. "We know that Sunday Silence horses are good and that Air Shakur is one of the best of his generation. This is the first chance to see how good in a country like England, where there is such a history of racing."

Matsuda, 26, has supervised Air Shakur's preparation since his arrival in Newmarket last month. He and Agnes World have been based at Geoff Wragg's Abington Place Stables. According to Matsuda, Air Shakur has blossomed since his arrival. If the tall, light-framed, dark bay colt has a weakness, it may be his temperament, but the wide-open spaces of Newmarket, such a contrast to the Japanese Racing Association's Ritto training centre near Kyoto, have acted as a soporific.

"At home," said Matsuda, who rides his charge daily, "it is a city of horses. There are always journalists with cameras, many horses, with noise and activity. It can be very stressful, particularly for a nervous horse like this one. He was always jumping about and needed two people to control him in the parade ring before a race.

"He felt threatened by other horses close to him and always spent a lot of time on his hind legs, boxing. In the first week here he took up his fighting pose too, if he saw many horses coming towards him. But now he has relaxed. He is a happy horse."

Air Shakur is now content to mooch about the walking grounds for an hour before getting down to work. Yesterday morning, his sleek dark coat set off splendidly by a red bridle and red leg wraps, he slopped down the side of Warren Hill like an old hack, pausing only occasionally to prick his ears and take in the view. He became animated only in the reverse direction, when he attacked the steep incline with a low, slashing purposeful stride.

Afterwards, he was allowed to pick the grass, an unknown treat back home because of the fertiliser put on it, and sighed as if he'd died and gone to heaven. Matsuda let him nibble. "He loves it," he said. "I always have to drag him away."

Matsuda, no stranger to Europe - he has had spells with Clive Brittain, Michael Kauntze and at Corbally Stud - is fairly pragmatic about Air Shakur's chances on Saturday. "He is only three, and a rather unfurnished, inexperienced three," he said. "He will be a much better horse next year. I worry slightly that he will be distracted by the occasion at Ascot and the picnics in the car park, as he sometimes finds it hard to concentrate in a race. But he goes on any ground and can race from the front or the back and the distance is no problem. He will not be a disgrace."

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence