Fujita finishes fifth in Grade 1 as she breaks new ground for female riders

Nanako Fujita, the first female rider to compete in a Grade 1 race in Japan, finished a respectable fifth on Copano Kicking in the February Stakes at Tokyo on Sunday, the contest falling to 8-5 favourite Inti.

The Akira Murayama-trained Copano Kicking, who had won the Grade 3 Negishi Stakes on his previous start, was slow to leave the stalls and trailed the field but made up ground to finish six lengths behind the winner. 

The appearance of Fujita, who is the only female rider in the JRA ranks and already the winningmost female jockey in JRA history, resulted in excited racegoers camping out overnight in order to secure favoured spots by the paddock and in the stands.

Fujita, 21, said: "I was excited in the paddock and could hear the crowd roaring before the start. I'd like to say thank you again to the owner and trainer, I'm truly grateful to all who made it possible for me to ride in this race.

"I have experienced this course numerous times before, but today everything felt totally different.”

She added: "Copano Kicking is a stunning horse. I think he showed a nice turn of foot, but the pace was a little slow and no good for us." 

Copano Kicking's owner Sachiaki Kobayashi said: "Nanako's riding was perfect, just as we wanted. She rode him to use his ability and good turn of foot in the straight."

Inti, who was giving trainer Kenji Nonaka his first Grade 1 success since opening his yard in 2008, has now landed seven of his eight starts, including six on the spin, and could ultimately end up in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November, this having been a 'win and you're in' qualifying race.  

Jockey Yutaka Take said following the victory by a neck over the Christophe Lemaire-ridden Gold Dream: "He was in peak condition, so I thought we could win if I was able to ride him nicely. He held on well at the finish, although the runner-up got close.

"Before the race he was keen but he raced calmly enough at his own pace. He's got stronger every race. I'm looking forward to his future because he beat strong rivals today."