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Kazushi Kimura

Kazushi Kimura

Japanese superstars Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto made international headlines earlier this month when signing for more than $1 billion in combined contracts to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers next season.

About 18 miles up the road from Dodger Stadium at Santa Anita Park, there’s another top Japanese athlete ready to display his world-class talent to local sports fans. For the second straight winter, top jockey Kazushi Kimura is set to ride full-time at The Great Race Place.

Kimura, 24, returns to Santa Anita fresh off winning his third-straight jockey’s title at Woodbine Race Course in Toronto. During Woodbine’s nearly eight-month season, Kimura racked up 161 wins, which was 24 more than his closest pursuer, and $7.1 million in purse earnings.

At the conclusion of the Woodbine meet Dec. 17, Kimura the following day packed his blue Jaguar crossover and made the more than 2,500-mile trek from Toronto to Santa Anita. He arrived last Thursday.

“It’s great to be back. This is a wonderful place,” Kimura said Tuesday morning after working several horses.

In Kimura’s first go-around at Santa Anita, he finished the 2022-23 Classic Meet with 11 wins and more than $1.3 million in purse earnings, which ranked seventh among the local jockey colony. And although he didn’t win it, the highlight of his stay was guiding longshot (and fellow Japan-bred) Mandarin Hero to finish second by a nose in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

“I had a great opportunity here last year. Hopefully I can continue to build my name in California,” Kimura said.

This season Kimura will be represented for the first time by veteran agent Brian Beach. They have four mounts booked Tuesday and six more on Friday when racing resumes at Santa Anita. His rides opening day include the G1 Malibu aboard Giant Mischief (5-1) for trainer Brad Cox and G1 La Brea aboard Bangs (30-1) for trainer Librado Barocio.

Entering the Classic Meet, Kimura this year ranks 22nd among all North American jockeys in purse earnings with more than $8.7 million. He said his goal this winter is to surpass his previous accomplishments at Santa Anita.

“I always have big dreams. But if I could become the leading rider here, that would be my biggest goal,” Kimura said.

As for his countrymen joining the Dodgers, Kimura said he’ll be keeping a close eye on the pair come this spring.

“So many Japanese people live here along the West Coast. It’s great to see Shohei and Yamamoto both came here to Los Angeles,” Kimura said. “For people in Japan, it’s great as well because it’s easier to watch games on the West Coast than in the east because of the time difference.”

Kimura has been riding in the U.S. since 2018. In 2019, he won the Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice jockey.

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