Farewell, Yuichi Fukunaga! Yuichi Fukunaga, the “big brother” who has watched him closely, said, “It’s really a waste…
Fukunaga said, “Uichi’s hard work has finally paid off and he has been able to achieve such good results, so I feel it would be a shame for him to quit riding now. But Yuchi had one kidney removed in a horse accident. If something should happen to his other kidney, he would not be able to lead a normal life, let alone be a jockey. Considering Yuichi’s life, I feel that retiring from jockeying at this time was a good choice.”
Yuichi Fukunaga, 46, will retire at the end of February 2023 to become a trainer. Yoshikazu Nakayama, 66, watches over Yuichi with regret and relief. Nakayama was a member of the Kitahashi Shuji Stable, which Fukunaga belonged to at the time of his debut, and has supported and watched over him closely since his debut, writing a column in a horse racing magazine for 10 years in support of Uichi.
I first met Yuichi when his father Yoichi (former rider Yoichi Fukunaga) was still in good health, so he was only one or two years old. At that time, Yutaka (Yutaka Take, 53), an elementary school student, was taking care of Yuichi and Koshiro (Koshiro Take, 44, trainer) and letting them play together.
Later, his father, Yoichi, was seriously injured in a horse accident in 1979, which left him severely disabled. Despite opposition from his relatives, Yuichi chose to become a jockey, relying on trainer Kitahashi, whom he had known since he was a child, and became a member of his stable.
Yuichi was a smart and honest boy. But he was not a very good rider, and his body was too stiff. Still, it was a competitive world. When he made his debut, Kitahashi told the media to “win, win, win,” but inwardly he knew that Yuchi was not a good jockey. But secretly, he felt that Yuchi was not the type to have his father’s special sense of style as a weapon. So I really wanted him to be trusted and liked by others, and to build up little by little,” he said.
However, in 1999, the fourth year of his debut, he won the Cherry Blossom Prize with Primodine. The week after he became a G1 jockey after winning the Cherry Blossom Prize with Primodine, he had one of his kidneys removed in a horse accident at the Chukyo Race Course.
Immediately after the fall, he was placed in the ICU at the hospital and was not allowed to see anyone. He recovered so well that when I visited him the following week, he was begging for cream puffs to take with him.
In 2018, he won the Japanese Derby with Wagnerian, and in 2020, he won the Stallion Classic Triple Crown with Contrail. In 2020, he won the Stallion Classic Triple Crown with Contrail, and in 2021, he won the Japanese Derby again with Shafriyar, becoming a jockey who “wins and wins and wins” in both name and reality.
He is a diligent and serious rider, and as his career progressed, I felt that I was able to accumulate more knowledge and put it to good use. I feel that as my career has progressed, I have accumulated more knowledge, and I have been able to put it to good use.
Yuichi Fukunaga, upon his acceptance as a trainer, commented, “As a jockey, I am in the position of receiving the final baton in a race. I wanted to become a trainer because I wanted to be more deeply involved with horses. On February 19, he will finish his last ride in Japan, and on the last weekend of February, he will ride in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3, Dirt 1200m) and the Saudi Derby (G3, Dirt 1600m) in Saudi Arabia (King Abdulaziz Race Course). He is scheduled to ride in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (GIII, Dirt 1200m) and the Saudi Derby (GIII, Dirt 1600m).
I hope I can retire as a jockey safely and without injury until the end,” he said. When he becomes a trainer, he has a good personality, and I am sure that he will create a stable that people can trust, where both horses and people are valued and harmony is respected. I think he will be a good trainer who values both people and horses. However, it is still a world of competition. I would like to see Fukunaga’s stable become “a stable that wins and wins and wins.
Interview and text by： Takako Hanaoka Photography： Kazutoshi Aoyama (Fukunaga), Yuji Takahashi (Contrail)