Tiger heading home with plenty to smile about

By Dennis Ryan

15 Jun 2022

Tiger heading home with plenty to smile aboutAfter a four-year isolation, Taiki Yanagida is looking forward to catching up with his family in Jap

“I was aiming for 50 wins, but then when the borders opened I decided to book my ticket home, so that will have to wait.”
There are few wider smiles in the jockeys’ room than the one worn by Taiki “Tiger” Yanagida.
By his very nature the Japanese 28-year-old finds it easy to project a cheery persona, but there’s more to it than that given the career he is forging.
When his long-awaited trip home becomes a reality later this week, Yanagida will have plenty to tell his family about the past four years since he last saw them. In that time he has completed an apprenticeship with Lance O’Sullivan and Andrew Scott that included a second placing to compatriot Kozzi Asano on the junior jockeys’ ladder in 2019-20.
Since completing his indentures in February he has made a successful transition to senior ranks, with his season tally after last weekend of 42 wins taking him to a career total of 161.
It’s been quite a journey that began when Yanagida was growing up near Tokyo, before moving south with his mother and two sisters to Kyoto. In his late teens he gravitated towards horses but got only as far as basic lessons on ponies.
“I wanted to try and become a jockey but my mum didn’t agree, she said I must to go to university first, I think she was worried about the gambling,” Yanagida told RaceForm this week. “I completed one year at university before I said I was going to Australia to train to be a jockey.
“Now my mother is happy for me, she knows I am doing what I always wanted to, but she still worries about me and is always going to the temple to pray for my luck and safety.”
Even with his mother’s blessing, it was no easy road for Yanagida once he got to Australia. Stints with trainers in provincial New South Wales and then Sydney were a step in the right direction, but the lack of a visa meant he was unable to officially commence an apprenticeship.
That led him to New Zealand, where he initially worked for Matamata trainer Jacob McKay before transferring to the larger Wexford Stables. He wore the stable colours to his first win in early 2018, with another four to follow that season before making marked improvement to 39 wins in the next two and 36 in the COVID truncated 2020-21 season.
At Ellerslie in March 2019 he had landed his first winning treble and at last January’s Karaka Million meeting, just weeks before completing his apprenticeship, he claimed his first black-type win on the Mike Moroney/Pam Gerard-trained Dragon Queen in the Gr. 2 Westbury Classic.
Another Ellerslie feature win followed on the Catherine Cameron-trained Bellatrix Black in the Gr. 2 Sunline Vase on New Zealand Derby day, and his third stakes win came in early April on the Danica Guy-trained Germanicus in the Listed Flying Stakes at Awapuni.
“I’m very happy, this year I have the best results in my career,” says Yanagida. “I ride trackwork for lots of different people at Matamata and once a week I go to Cambridge. By working hard I am getting plenty of race rides – and winners too.”
Yanagida has further goals, both on and off the track. In the former category he was hoping to complete his first half-century of wins before the end of the season, while he is also planning to gain residency and secure his profession in New Zealand.
“I was aiming for 50 wins, but then when the borders opened I decided to book my ticket home, so that will have to wait. It has been too long since I saw my family and I am looking forward to that very much.”
New Zealand jockey ranks have in recent years become something of an international melting pot, and Yanagida is proud of the part he and other Japanese have played in that. Fellow apprentices Kozzi Asano, Masa Hashizume and current Wexford incumbent Yuto Kumagai add an extra edge to raceday.
“We like catching up and we always have competition between us when we are racing. It is only for fun but we enjoy it.”
Yanagida has applied for residency, a process requiring patience but one that he hopes will eventually be rewarded, and when that happens he plans to invest his hard-earned in his own home.
“I can’t buy a house without residency, but I have been saving hard. I don’t spend much – I don’t smoke and I only have two or three drinks maybe on the weekend after I have finished racing, that is what suits me.”
Above average height but lightly built, Yanagida keeps himself in trim with regular running and exercises in his home-built gym that complement trackwork and race riding.
“During summer I can ride at 54kg and even less for a really good ride. Ted McLachlan has been my agent for 18 months and he has been very good organising my rides.
“I’m really looking forward to being with my family for four weeks, then I will be back in time to get ready for the new season – I’m hoping it is going to be another good one.”