You’ll likely be seeing a lot more of jockey Kazushi Kimura in the coming weeks of the Classic Meet at Santa Anita. After a relatively slow start to the stand, things have started to pick up for the reigning champion jockey in Canada.
Last Sunday, Kimura won his first race ever at Santa Anita and first U.S. graded stakes when rallying Kristenbosch to a nose victory in the La Canada (G3) for trainer John Sadler. Then on Saturday, Kimura took things up a notch when closing the card with a flourish.
Riding 13-1 long shot Duvet Day in the featured Astra Stakes for trainer Michael McCarthy, Kimura was content to sit second-last in the mile and one half turf marathon. Then with a quarter mile left to run, Kimura angled out widest of all for clear running room and closed with a flourish to win going away by 1 ¼ lengths.
Two races later, Kimura uncorked another flying finish aboard Hawker to win a 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight on turf for Sadler.
“He’s definitely gaining some momentum,” said Brandon O’Bryan, who recently took over as Kimura’s agent. “Sadler and McCarthy have been his top supporters, so to win for those guys was especially nice. But he’s also been meeting new trainers and starting to work for guys outside of just those two. We’re getting into new barns – (Mark) Glatt, (Carla) Gaines, and others.
“It may have been a touch slow earlier in the meet, but he’s got the ball rolling now,” O’Bryan added.
A 23-year-old native of Hokkaido, Japan, Kimura got his start as a jockey at the Japan Racing Association’s Horseracing School. He arrived at Woodbine in 2018 and that year would earn the Sovereign Award as Canada’s outstanding apprentice jockey. The following year, he would win the Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice jockey.
Kimura said the move to Santa Anita after spending last winter at Turfway Park is all part of his career strategy.
“It’s been great here,” he said. “When I left my (jockey) school in Japan, I wanted to leave the country and get all the different experiences I could,” Kimura said. “To me, experience is the most important thing. To learn different riding styles, work on my English, things like that. Everything has just been great.”
Following Duvet Day’s win in the Astra, McCarthy noted Kimura rode for him last winter at Turfway Park “and he did an exceptional job.
“He handicaps the races very well, comes prepared, always eager to work and has a smile on his face,” McCarthy said.
Kimura acknowledged things are a bit different on the track at Santa Anita as compared to other places he has rode. Most notably, Woodbine and Turfway Park have synthetic main tracks. Riding on dirt at Santa Anita has been a slightly new experience.
“I grew up in Japan, everything is different,” Kimura said. “The morning training, the racing. Here you have to be quick to get into position. It’s always most important to be aggressive.”
Kimura is now winning at 15 percent clip at Santa Anita entering Sunday’s action. According to O’Bryan, Kimura has much more he wants to accomplish in his riding career and is putting in the work to do so.
“I spoke with him and he told me, ‘I want to be the best jockey in the world, like a Frankie Dettori.’ I thought that was really impressive to have such an ambitious goal like that.
“Also I didn’t know, but when he was the leading rider at Woodbine, he would go down to Presque Isle Downs and ride on his off days. He was doing nothing but riding. I really like his dedication to the profession.”
As things stand, Kimura said he plans to remain at Santa Anita at least until the start of the Woodbine meet on April 22. Last year at Woodbine, Kimura won at a 20 percent clip while booting home 152 winners, 30 more than the runner-up in the jockey’s standings. O’Bryan is hoping Kimura’s star continues to grow at Santa Anita in the coming months.
“It’s one of those things where we’ll cross that bridge when it comes,” O’Bryan said of a potential return to Woodbine. “For now, I just want him to have a good experience and win races.”