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BEN'S BEAT: IN THEIR OWN WAY, NOZI AND KENJI HAVE BEEN TRAILBLAZERS FOR JAPANESE JOCKEYS

By Ben Saunders | Friday, August 9, 2019

Ben Saunders knows the players in Toowoomba very well and in this edition of Ben’s Beat, on the back of several reader’s questions to HRO asking for some information about the Japanese riders plying their trade at the top of the range, Ben spoke to Kenji Yoshida about how he found his way to Toowoomba twenty years ago as a young apprentice chasing the goal of achieving his life’s dream. Ben’s Beat appears exclusively on HRO.

Nozi Tomizawa and Kenji Yoshida were really the first two Japanese lads to come across to Queensland and they have become stalwarts at the Toowoomba Turf Club’s meetings with Nozi once again winning the Toowoomba Jockeys Premiership in the season just ended.

Nozi is currently away on a three-month riding contract in Japan but I thought I would take the opportunity to catch up with Kenji Yoshida to get the background story on a journey that started for these two riders some twenty years ago.

“From fourteen years of age Nozi and I always wanted to be a jockey,” explained Kenji, “but neither of us could get into the JRA (Japanese Racing Association) in the big meeting area. We had to pass an exam in school to get in there but, even then, the JRA was only taking about ten students every year.

“There are many people in Japan so you needed to have a good connection to help you get in. We didn’t have that.

“We had a look at the Japanese Race magazine,” continued Kenji, “and we saw that you could apply to be a jockey in Australia so we just grabbed that opportunity.

“I came down to Australia in 1998. I went to school at Deagon. I was there and then I went to Toowoomba to be apprenticed to Tony Sears. Nozi was already there. He started twelve months before me. Nozi had also gone through Deagon and he was also with Tony Sears.

“Our apprentice time was four years. At that time in Queensland, you could spend three years with the same stable but for the last year you had to go somewhere else. Nozi went to Sydney. That rule changed so for my last year I didn’t have to go anywhere and I stayed here in Queensland.

“At around the same time another two Japanese jockeys came. One went to Perth and one went to Melbourne and, of course, others have followed since then.

“It has been good for me and for all of the Japanese riders who have followed because Nozi worked so hard from day one. Aussie trainers like people who turn up on time early in the morning and who are prepared to work hard so Nozi gave Japanese riders a good reputation.

“I did the same thing as Nozi. Go to work early in the morning. Go away to the races. Leave after races and come back to the stable. Do stable work. We worked all day. I think the Australians liked our dedication to what we were doing.”

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The way that Nozi and Kenji were, in effect, representing their country with such credit opened the doors to other Japanese riders. With a sizable workload and a steep learning curve … while all the time being a long way from home … I had to ask if homesickness ever reared its head in the settling in process in Australia.

“Not for me,” answered Kenji without hesitation. “I knew I wanted to be a jockey and so I knew I was going to stay in Australia.

“In fact, when I did go back home to ride over there on the provincial / country circuit in 2002 … I was there on a three-month contract like Nozi is now … after a few weeks I was homesick for Australia.

“Nozi’s contract is nearly finished so he will be back soon. They don’t extend contracts where he is now. Nozi is always keen to learn something different. He has also ridden in Korea and Macau and has interstate experience here. He likes going to new places.”

For his part, Kenji is just happy to stay in the Australian racing environment. Work and family life are good.

“I am very happy to be a jockey in Australia! It is a good lifestyle. I wasn’t moving anywhere before and I’ve got a boy now so it is probably not a good time to even think of moving.

“I’ve been married eight years and my boy is two years old and I’m really enjoying the new life with my son. I have my family. I am a jockey which is what I have always wanted to be. I’m very happy here.”

So, that’s Kenji … and his story which almost duplicates that of the Toowoomba Champion jockey Nozi Tomizawa.

Kenji has always portrayed the fact to the Toowoomba community that he wasn’t a fly by night person and that he was here for the long haul.

He has proved that over and over again.

He and Nozi have, literally and figuratively, come a long way since that time when they were told they could not get into the JRA.

Both are to be congratulated on achieving their goal of being jockeys and for the fine contribution they bring to racing, particularly in Toowoomba.

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Kenji Yoshida
Kenji Yoshida
Nozi Tomizawa
Nozi Tomizawa
Tony Sears … he played his part. Initially, both Nozi and Kenji were apprenticed to the Sears stable

Photos: Graham Potter
Tony Sears … he played his part. Initially, both Nozi and Kenji were apprenticed to the Sears stable

Photos: Graham Potter
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