Promising Canterbury apprentice Kozzi Asano has come a long way from picking strawberries in Queensland for a living.
The Japanese 24-year-old left his homeland six years ago and after almost two and a half years in Australia he is now calling New Zealand home and pursuing his desired career as a jockey.
He is making a fine impression to be sitting fourth equal on the New Zealand Jockeys’ Premiership, albeit so early in the season.
Asano is indentured to Riccarton trainer Andrew Carston, for him he has ridden half of his 16 winners, the latest being at his local meeting on Saturday when successful on former northerner Ticket To Ride.
The talent that Asano has been showing hasn’t been missed by some of the leading trainers and one of those, Cambridge horseman Stephen Marsh, was rewarded for giving him an opportunity aboard Belle Fascino on Saturday. Asano didn’t let him down, getting the best out of the Per Incanto mare to win narrowly.
Asano was also entrusted with the ride on top stable representative Miss Federer fresh-up and, with the aid of his 3kg allowance, the smart filly wound up a handy second to Woodcote Lass. Asano also added a second to his good record on Galway Garry, who had credited him with two of his four wins over last month’s Grand National Festival of Racing.
Asano is now sitting on eight wins for the season, equalling his tally of last season which included his first winner, the Carston-trained Strowan at Riccarton in August 2018.
“It took me a while to get my first winner, but I’m loving it,” Asano said. “All I want to be is a jockey and my goal for this season was to double my winners from last season (eight). When that happens I might have to set a new goal.”
Asano had no association with horses when he left Japan and he spent his first year in Australia in Sydney on an international student visa.
“I wanted to learn to speak English and travel overseas,” he said. “I didn’t like living in the city in Sydney so I shifted to Brisbane. I was working on a strawberry farm picking strawberries for a living and the owners had a few horses. They were into western style riding and some showjumping.
“I loved the horses and decided I wanted to work with them so I went into Eagle Farm. I worked there for a while doing stable work and when I had to renew my visa I decided to come to New Zealand.
“I got a job working for Mr (Gary) Vile and (the late) Cody Singer taught me to ride. Masa Tanaka was a big help to me, too. I rode trackwork with him and was always asking him for advice.”
Asana furthered his experience working for Kevin Myers and that led to competing as an amateur rider two years ago before heading south and signing up as an apprentice with Carston.
“He’s been with me nearly two years and he’s a hard-worker who wants to make it as a jockey,” Carston said.
“He’s a nice, balanced rider and he’s just kept improving. He does a lot of form and watches a lot of race videos. He’s always trying to improve himself and it’s good to see him getting some rides from top outside stables.”
Asano has established a fine strike rate with his eight wins this season coming from 37 mounts and Riccarton is without doubt his happy hunting ground, with 10 wins on the track.
He is now looking forward to his first black-type opportunity when he rides stable representative Sorceress in the Listed New Zealand Bloodstock Canterbury Belle Stakes (1200m) at Riccarton, Saturday week. He rode the Showcasing filly in her impressive five and a quarter-length debut win at Ashburton on August 30.
Carston will also be represented in the fillies’ feature by Miss Federer with the Swiss Ace filly set to be reunited with Kylie Williams, who reached a milestone when kicking home her 700th winner (Queen Jetsun) at Riccarton on Saturday after winning earlier on the programme aboard Morweka.
“Kylie rode her at the beginning then she broke her leg and missed out on the rest of her campaign last season,” Carston said. “She’s riding as well as ever and she deserves to be back on.”
Carston was very pleased with Miss Federer’s fresh-up effort.
“She’s pulled up well and she’ll take massive improvement from that run,” he said. “I thought she went very well.
“The Canterbury Belle Stakes will be a good next-up run for her then we’ll decide on where she goes. That run will determine whether we press on for the New Zealand 1000 Guineas (Gr.1, 1600m) or not.