Feature Story



The carnival has taken down its tent and left town for another year, leaving the serious circus to take to the stage in preparation for the biggest night of the year, the Dubai World Cup programme. And to emphasise the seriousness of the occasion, one of the biggest names of the moment is about to make his entrance.

Look to stage left and you will spot Japan’s leading trainer Yoshito Yahagi. You won’t miss him because he will be wearing one of his trademark hats. The trick will be to guess which one, for he has a collection of upwards of 300, each one guaranteed to make him stand out.

He freely admits taking up the sartorial mission as a way of getting himself noticed in his early days of training, and the habit has stuck for almost two decades, even though his ability to saddle high class international winners is now enough of a calling card to get him noticed.

Yahagi makes his first entry to the Meydan Racecourse scene since last year’s World Cup night treble, an unprecedented achievement for a wholly overseas-based trainer. He arrives as the atmosphere starts to ramp up ahead of the big event, having reached its usual starting peak on Super Saturday.

As fellow columnist Laura King pointed out in last week’s issue: “Super Saturday has suffered due to the advent of the Saudi Cup,” but “the lack of a standout horse in most of the races,” to which she also referred, meant that despite the higher numerical level of competition, quality came to the fore.

The carnival has followed a familiar pattern for overseas interests. The Scandinavians will have benefited from a spell in the sun; the Uruguayans have paid their way; Doug O’Neill has paved a path that should encourage more US involvement; the majority of Brits have largely fallen below expectations, again; and Fawzi Nass has shown what can be achieved with the right horses able to peak at the right time.

It was no surprise that Nass and his more than able lieutenant Adrie de Vries picked up two wins on Super Saturday, taking his season’s Meydan haul to nine from 51 runners at a strike rate of 17.6%. Nor was it a shock that Charlie Appleby (16 wins from 66 Meydan runners, 24%) and Bhupat Seemar (17 from 218, 7.8%) also saddled two winners apiece, while George Boughey (three from nine with same horse, 33.3%) and Musabbeh Al Mheiri (16 from 114, 14%) weighed in with a winner apiece.

These are all serious players, and suddenly the game gets more serious. So, enter Yoshito Yahagi, who has more than a soft spot for Dubai since, after working for the Australian training legends Neville Begg and Bart Cummings, he was awarded a Sheikh Mohammed-backed scholarship that took him to Geoffrey Wragg’s Newmarket stable in 1990.

It was another 14 years before the Japan Racing Association handed Yahagi his first trainer’s licence but he has not forgotten that experience in Newmarket. “That was my first visit to the UK, so the things I saw and experiences are all elements of what I do now,” he told the excellent Asian Racing Report last year. What he does now is train winners, at home and abroad. He may not repeat last year’s World Cup treble, but he will be doing his best, and he won’t need a hat to stand out.