Yuichi Fukunaga, a leading jockey in Japan, is slated to ride in three races over closing weekend at Del Mar before he returns home. Fukunaga has been spending time in Southern California to learn about riding in a different part of the world, an experience he has enjoyed even while getting mounts has been challenging.
"I knew that this would be a very tough circuit to break into," said Fukunaga, partly through interpreter Mikki Tsuge, who has helped coordinate the jockey's time in California. "The main objective for this experiment was to see how much my current skills would be competitive outside of Japan."
Fukunaga, 35, began by riding in several races at Churchill Downs and then went to Southern California for the end of the Betfair Hollywood Park meeting and the entire Del Mar stand. He also did some extensive traveling, at one point riding in Japan and a day later in Pennsylvania. Brian Beach, who books mounts for Corey Nakatani, acted as Fukunaga's agent in California.
Through Aug. 30, Fukunaga, riding mostly longshots, had one win from 58 mounts with one second and 10 thirds.
The leading rider in Japan last year by winning percentage, Fukunaga won the 2005 American Oaks (gr. IT) at Hollywood on Cesario. He earned his first victory at Del Mar July 29 on Switch to the Lead and also piloted her to a third in the Aug. 8 Sorrento Stakes (gr. III) for trainer Patrick Biancone. Executiveprivilege, the Sorrento winner, is undefeated in three starts and the likely favorite for the Sept. 1 Del Mar Debutante (gr. I).
"I have been fortunate to be able to ride in multiple graded stakes races," said Fukunaga.
During his time in the U.S., Fukunaga has become good friends with Martin Garcia. He has also had the opportunity for some sightseeing.
"I went to Newport Beach and Sea World," he said.
Fukunaga noted that the biggest difference between racing in Japan and the U.S. is that races here are much shorter than races in Japan.
"Because of the distance, what is asked of the jockey is very different," he said. "The required skills are very different."
Fukunaga's mounts this weekend at Del Mar are Green Secret for trainer Jim Cassidy in the first race and Indycott for Richard Mandella in the seventh race Sept. 1, and Romance Is Roman for Leandro Mora in the 11th race Sept. 2.