Takaoka clocks up 500th winner

Matsuribayashi has given Hideyuki Takaoka a new milestone in Singapore.

By Michael Lee, Singapore Turf Club

Trainer Hideyuki Takaoka chalked up his 500th winner at Kranji with Matsuribayashi on Saturday, but typical of the down-to-earth man who prefers to slip under the radar and worry only about finding the next winner, he had absolutely no idea about the milestone.

“Really? I didn’t know,” said the four-time Singapore Gold Cup winner when told.

“No need to talk about it lah, it’s over.”

Already a man of few words, be it in English or his Japanese mother tongue, and regardless of the achievement, Takaoka was about to break the record of the shortest racing story ever written.

Maybe a change of subject to his current lofty log spot in sixth on 15 winners might loosen the tongue a little.

The humble horseman is actually enjoying a healthy 2021 season, albeit the bulk of it hails from Kranji’s cellar dwellers – 12 Class 5 winners.

For someone who shuns the spotlight, he wouldn’t take umbrage at the “Class 5 trainer” tag, even if it does sound a touch derogatory. Besides, his five runners this Saturday, Angel Halo, Etwas Neues, Lemon Squash, Sun Pittsburgh and Wind Rhapsody, are all entered in Class 5 races.

“I heard that, but it’s okay, they’re in good form. My better horses in Class 3 are long-distance horses and there aren’t many races for them,” he said.

“I don’t have that many horses because we haven’t bought new ones. I normally go to Japan to buy horses, but with COVID-19, I have stayed here.

“I have bloodstock agents who can buy for me, anyway, so don’t worry, we will get new horses in soon, but it won’t be like before, not so many.”

Takaoka is more dejected he will miss another Hokkaido Sale, than a once-in-a-lifetime global event coming up soon, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Not really once in a lifetime, Takaoka qualified, as the Japanese capital was also the host city in 1964. The Yokohama native was eight then, but he gave that a miss, too, despite Tokyo being only half-an-hour away.

“I was only an eight-year-old kid then, I didn’t go, but I watched every day on TV. I was more excited about judo and volley-ball,” he recalled.

“I wouldn’t have gone this year – even without COVID-19. Too hard to get tickets, I’ll watch on TV again.”

Speaking of the goggle-box, the camera-shy 65-year-old is relieved ‘live’ TV post-race interviews are currently off the raceday programme as part of the new sanitary protocol, hence him being spared the Spanish Inquisition of the 500-win Q&A after Matsuribayashi’s win, but we had to prod here.

After all, half a tonne of winners since leaving his Hokkaido base for Kranji in 2002 had to mean something to the former National Association of Racing (NAR) champion trainer.

“I don’t really feel anything. It’s just a number,” was the reply, which, to be fair, is actually in the same mould as most trainers who don’t make a song and dance about such landmarks either.

“But of course, I’m happy when I look back at my journey in Singapore. I have to thank the owners who have supported me from Day 1, including the Star Racing Stable, who owns Matsuribayashi, which means music festival in Japanese.

“Mr Keiichi Miura is the main owner along a few partners in the Star Racing Stable. When I just arrived, they had the good mare Optimum Note, who is the mother of Optimum Star, whom they also race here.

“Optimum Note was a better racehorse. She won seven races and got up to Class 3, but Optimum Star has done okay with six wins.

“As for Matsuribayashi, he’s also no champion, but he loves the 1700m on Polytrack. Oscar (Chavez) rode him the same way as last time, and they won again.”

In a lower Class 5 race on June 12, the winning move was Chavez’s midrace dash three wide before they kept rolling to a four-and-a-half length-win. The same tactic was played out on Saturday, but against Class 4 gallopers, they had to dig deeper to score by only half-a-length from Atlas (Simon Kok Wei Hoong) this time.

“Oscar knows the horse well – better than me,” he said.

No, Mr Takaoka-san, you do – just like it was for 499 other winners.

Author: iRace