Yuichi Fukunaga

Yuichi Fukunaga

Benoit Photo

Japan's Fukunaga Launches Summer Tour

Leading Asian jockey at Churchill this weekend before moving to Southern California.

Leading Japanese jockey Yuichi Fukunaga will ride the weekend of June 30-July 1 at Churchill Downs before launching a summer engagement at Southern California tracks.

Fukunaga is scheduled to ride at Churchill Downs in five races on the night of June 30 and in three more on closing night of the Churchill spring meet July 1. His first mount will be aboard Go Baby Go Go, 20-1 on the morning line for trainer Jimmy Baker.

According to agent Brian Beach, Fukunaga is expected to begin riding at Betfair Hollywood Park the week of July 4. Beach said the 35-year-old Fukunaga, Japan's leading rider at Japan Racing Association tracks in 2011 and so far this year, completed visa documents earlier this week.

He is scheduled to ride in Southern California through the end of the Del Mar meeting Sept. 5, a time when the Japanese racing season does not have any grade I races.
“He came over in 2005 and won the American Oaks (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park with a Japanese-bred filly named Cesario and that got his juices flowing for American racing,” Beach said. “Since then, he’s always wanted to come back. It’s a bit of a slow period for Japan racing during the next few months, so he decided to do it now.”
Fukunaga, who began his riding career in 1996, has more than 1,400 career victories and earnings totaling nearly $300 million.
“We started in Kentucky because (trainers) Ken McPeek and Wesley Ward had heard of him and wanted to put him on some horses,” Beach said. “Also, it was his only shot to ride at Churchill Downs.”
Beach added that Fukunaga has been working with an English tutor and is learning the language, but he will be accompanied by a translator.