South African champion jockey Lyle Hewitson is nearing the end of the first month of his two month contract in Japan.
It’s been an exhillirating confidence recharging boost to his career after a flat spot in Hong Kong and he’s loving every moment of the experience – despite the coronavirus restrictions inhibiting any sightseeing or the soaking up of massive racecourse crowd experiences.
Lyle spoke to the Sporting Post on Monday from his and girlfriend Hannah Runnalls’ apartment in the port city of Yokohama – which is Japan’s second largest by population and lies on Tokyo Bay, south of Tokyo, in the Kantō region of the main island of Honshu.
He will be returning to South Africa, subject to the COVID-19 restrictions, at the end of his short contract in Japan.
Lyle has ridden 9 winners (and ten seconds), including a Gr2 success. His mounts have amassed stakes of JPY 197594000 – the equivalent of R33 million in about three weeks of riding. As an academic comparison, he won his first SA title winning just over R20 million in stakes and his second with R27 million in stakes.
He says that he has enjoyed every moment of his first visit to the Land Of The Rising Sun.
“The adjustment from Hong Kong has been seamless, barring the language barrier. We have slotted in so easily,” he observed as we ask him if it’s different to the Hong Kong vibe in terms of lifestyle.
“Yes. Japan just gives the impression of offering a much easier going lifestyle and a relaxed atmosphere. The place is clean, the people are friendly and the food is good!” he adds enthusiastically.
On the subject of the local racing, Lyle observes that the game is run very professionally with top-class facilities.
“They are well maintained, clean and well structured. It’s a thorough privilege and pleasure to have been granted this opportunity to ride here!” he says enthusiastically.
In terms of race-riding and pace, and compared to his Hong Kong and South African experience, he says that in terms of pace, Hong Kong would probably be the most intense and ‘rushed’ racing of the three.
“Japanese racing is also run at a good pace generally. But it feels much more natural for the horses. I still believe we have great horses back home in South Africa that can compete worldwide.Japanese horses are great. They are supremely fit, strong and well bred horses, which is why they’re probably the best in the world as a whole.”
Fitness has always been a top priority for the young professional, and he is working hard on this important aspect.
“I have gym sessions with my Personal Trainer, track work, physiotherapy and then of course racing on the weekend. Although with the tightening of the coronavirus restrictions at the moment, I think we are fortunate to still be racing!”
The COVID-19 scourge has impacted on the globe and has also denied Lyle the opportunity of enjoying the world famous atmosphere of the local racing.
“There are a lot of people across the world much worse off than us. But yes, I sadly haven’t got to experience the wonderful crowds and electric atmosphere created by the passionate Japanese racing fans. Over social media I get loads of messages and letters sent to the house. They are such good people. I can only imagine on a raceday what the atmosphere will be like when you have thousands of happy and supportive fans! Hannah and I haven’t done any sightseeing either. But we will be back. This is a wonderful country!”