There’s been joy over the past two months for Yoshito Yahagi but there’s also been a sense of sadness as the veteran Japanese trainer has had to watch on as the curtain comes down on the careers of two of his greatest charges.
“I am thinking about these horses and how they have challenged me,” says Yahagi. “They have taught me about life.”
One of those Yahagi stars, the in-form Loves Only You, has arrived in town looking to capture the HK$30 million Longines Hong Kong Cup (2,000m) at Sha Tin in what will be the brilliant mare’s last go-around – and it would provide a “dream” end to a glorious career, said the trainer.
“To win one of the world’s biggest races, the Hong Kong Cup, is also a great challenge and it would be very nice,” he said.
Yahagi has been on a global tear with punters around the world witnessing the 60-year-old claiming Japan’s first-ever victories at the Breeders’ Cup meeting at Del Mar on November 6 with Loves Only You and Marche Lorraine, before returning home to capture the first Japan Cup of his illustrious 17-year career when the Triple Crown-winning Contrail swept to victory on November 28.
The trainer has been at his enigmatic best while at the same time carrying a mood of reflection heightened by the fact that Contrail has now been retired to a life at stud, and the same future awaits Loves Only You after Sunday.
First came the notion that watching Contrail win at Tokyo Racecourse made him feel “lonesome” as much as thrilled.
And this week he has admitted the emotions are similarly mixed as he turns his attention to a city – and a track – he first visited back in 2008, when a horse named Super Hornet finished fifth in the Hong Kong Mile behind the local hero Good Ba Ba.
“I love the life that I have,” he said. “The pressure to perform has been a challenge and I have loved that.”
Yahagi’s career started by his father, and fellow trainer, Kazuto Yahagi’s side but he was unsure which way life would lead him until, at 18 years of age, he headed off to Australia for 12 months working and observing the ways and the means of two legends of racing Down Under in Bart Cummings at Flemington and Neville Begg in Sydney.
Yahagi returned having learned how important it is to be passionate about ones craft, and his stable’s successes over the years have been built on exactly that.
“I enjoyed racing when I first worked with my father but those two trainers in Australia made me realise that I love racing,” says Yahagi. “That I have always had with my stable – people who love racing. And I love my stable staff. They are the best team and I have so much respect for all of them. They have got me to where I am today.”
Loves Only You arrived last week after stabling in Del Mar following her Filly & Mare Turf (2,200m) win and then flying into Hong Kong via a stop off in Anchorage, Alaska.
Yahagi is hoping she can live up to her effort at Sha Tin back in April, when she loomed with intent halfway up the straight and then powered to victory in the QE II Cup (2,000m).
The reports from the Yahagi stable, after the five-year-old’s first breeze-up, were that the horse has shown no ill effects from the adventure and trackwork has since confirmed she’s ready to roll.
Yahagi loves the horse, quite obviously, and he wants to make clear that, with this one, it’s all about her huge “heart” – and by that he doesn’t suggest she’s brave but quite simply that she possesses a huge motor.
“When I say that I mean I think she has a big heart, physically,” said Yahagi, who also saddles up Stay Foolish in the Vase. “She has a heart that means she can handle everything. Watch her and you can see how this heart drives her to win.”