Kent Desormeaux got off to a good start, with three wins, two seconds, and two third-place finishes in 11 rides his first weekend in Japan.
Desormeaux's lineup, which included three favorites, was an enviable one for Tokyo Race Course as races at the venue require quality horseflesh to win and are rarely pocketed on rider skill alone. Desormeaux's mounts were the envy of local riders, even more so considering his position as an outsider splitting Japan's tightly sewn ranks.
The 31-year-old picked up his first win and 5% share of the ¥10 million ($81,996) prize money on his fifth mount Saturday aboard Tequila Shot, a colt from the stable of Japan's leading trainer Kazuo Fujisawa, who is sponsoring Desormeaux's stay in Japan. Two races later he nabbed the top stakes of the day (¥18 million for first) aboard race favorite Green Blitz, another Fujisawa charge.
"I was very excited to come in and knock out not only two wins but two stakes on my first day of rides for the very stable that invited me out here," Desormeaux said early Sunday.
Later that day, Desormeaux notched another win and followed with a near miss of the Flora Stakes (Jpn-II). His second-place finish, however, ensured favorite Lady Pastel a spot in the May 20 Japanese Oaks (Jpn-I) and Desormeaux his share of the ¥21 million second money.
"I'm fond of the grass course here already," he said. "It's very fair. The horses get good hold of it. It takes a smart ride."
Desormeaux agreed that the wins on the Tokyo turf helped erase one especially bad memory. In a heated stretch duel in the '93 Japan Cup, Desormeaux mistook the finish line and eased up momentarily before realizing his mistake, one that may have cost Kotaashan the race. "I'm not proud of it." he said, "but I think that a lot of horsemen know exactly who I am because of the ordeal. It's a mistake I wish had never happened but this is the kind of way you erase it."
Desormeaux said he is having no trouble adapting to the Japanese system of riding, the biggest difference being the quarantine rule, in which riders are kept off-limits from the public (including family) from Friday afternoon through the weekend. "I feel like I've been on vacation because I haven't had that much rest in 13 years." Desormeaux said he slept 10 hours both nights and was "fresh and sassy" Sunday.
As for the Japanese riders, Desormeaux said they are "like anywhere else...there are some that have gone out of their way to say hello.' There are some that haven't. I'm sure half of it's shyness and half of it's competitiveness."
With professionalism, and two fantastic days behind him, Desormeaux seems to be taking it all in stride, including the raw fish, which he claims to love. "This is the world of horse racing. It's worldwide...We're all after the same thing--getting there first on horseback."
Desormeaux's current license runs to May 20, but, with good prospects in line for the coming weeks of top-level races (including the May 27 Nippon Derby), an extension is likely in store.