After two near-misses, Kozzi Asano is delighted to have broken through for his first victory at racing's highest level.
Asano guided He's A Doozy to a fighting victory in the Group 1 Thorndon Mile (1600m) at Trentham on Saturday, taking control at the top of the straight and holding off a renewed challenge from outstanding three-year-old Sharp ‘N' Smart.
The former champion apprentice had won 11 black-type races prior to the Thorndon Mile but a Group One victory was proving elusive.
He guided Babylon Berlin to her career-best results in January, finishing a head behind Imperatriz in the Group 1 Railway (1200m) at Te Rapa on New Year's Day and then a long neck behind Levante in the Group 1 Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham on January 14, before He's A Doozy ended his wait.
“Babylon Berlin ran very well in those races but couldn't quite win,” Asano said.
“So winning this race was a very special moment. I'm over the moon.”
Asano has formed a great partnership with He's A Doozy this season. He rode the Lisa Latta-trained five-year-old for the first time in the Group 3 Thompson Handicap (1600m) on October 23, producing a patient ride to burst through a gap 200m out and score from Markus Aurelius.
“I got the ride because his previous rider was suspended that day, so I ended up on him at Wellington, so I was very lucky to get the chance,” Asano said.
“But Lisa Latta has been a great supporter of mine. Andrew Carston, who I was apprenticed to, used to work for Lisa and they are good friends, which is how I got to start riding for her. I'm very grateful for her support.”
Following the Thompson, Asano and He's A Doozy won the Group 3 Coupland's Bakeries Mile (1600m) at Riccarton on November 9 before finishing a slightly disappointing sixth in an open handicap on a soft track at Trentham on January 7 – a run that meant Asano wasn't full of confidence heading to the Thorndon.
“He didn't handle the track that day and when it was wet again for the Thorndon I wasn't confident. I had a few rides before that race on horses that didn't handle it so I knew it was tough,” he said.
“But he had a big weight (62kg) in that earlier run and he got through the ground well in the Thorndon.”
Originally from Kawasaki, near Tokyo, in Japan, Asano came to New Zealand seeking opportunities to ride and he's made the most of them. He was champion apprentice and second on the overall jockeys premiership in 2019-20, and then finished second in the champion apprentice race in the next two seasons.
The 2022-23 season is his first as a fully-fledged jockey but it hasn't slowed him up. He's equal seventh on the premiership with 31 wins, and only Opie Bosson, Michael McNab, Craig Grylls, and Warren Kennedy have exceeded his total of five black type victories for the season.
“It hasn't been a problem really,” Asano said when asked if there had been any difficulties moving out of his apprenticeship. “I've just kept working hard and I've been riding winners, so I've been getting rides. It's going well at the moment.”
Asano and He's A Doozy may seek a second top-level victory in the Group 1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m), to be run at Te Rapa on February 11, where his opponents are set to once again include Sharp ‘N' Smart, along with Defibrillate, Wild Night, and Prise De Fer.
It would be his third attempt past 1600m – the first two produced an unplaced effort on heavy ground in the Group 3 Manawatu Classic (2000m) as an immature three-year-old in 2021 and a second-place finish in a 2100m open handicap at Te Rapa last April.
“He's running his races out well and I'm not worried too much about the distance if he races there,” Asano said.
Asano was back at work today at the trials on the Cambridge Synthetic track, riding among others the useful filly Sakura Girl to victory in an open 1300m catchweight.
He's also got five rides confirmed at Te Rapa, which has been switched from Wednesday to Friday, including Gingernuts Salver (2100m) fourth-place finisher Loosespender in the Group 2 Legacy Lodge Waikato Guineas (2000m).