While he won’t be the man picking up the 2018 LONGINES World’s Best Jockey award in Hong Kong tonight, Christophe Lemaire is undoubtedly the hottest rider in the global game right at this moment, having landed five Gr1 successes in the space of just 13 days on the Japan Racing Association calendar in October and November.
The bookends to that spree were the Shuka Sho and Japan Cup victories of emerging superstar Almond Eye, while Lemaire has also just passed the 200-winner mark for the season, with a second JRA champion rider’s crown already guaranteed.
Now the 39-year-old Frenchman heads into Sunday’s LONGINES HKIR meeting with a full book of four rides and will partner two of Japan’s leading hopes in Deirdre (Cup) and Mozu Ascot (Mile).
Lemaire had already been considered part of the European elite for a decade or more when the opportunity arose to sit the oral and written exams for a full JRA licence ahead of the 2015 season, joining Mirco Demuro as the first foreign-born jockeys to be allowed permanent status in Japan.
Not that he was coming to the JRA as an unknown quantity, thanks to a love affair with the country’s racing culture sparked as a 21-year-old by Patrick Barbe, a long-time friend and ally to the Yoshida Family and husband of Lemaire’s riding agent, Helen.
“I’ve been going to Japan every winter for the last 18 years and it pretty quickly became a second home. The standard of racing is exceptional with great facilities.”