On For Young And Old: The Story Of The 91st Japan Derby

A young and knowledgeable crowd embraced the story of a trainer and jockey at opposite ends of their careers when Danon Decile won the 91st running of the Tokyo Yushun.

On For Young And Old: The Story Of The 91st Japan Derby

A young and knowledgeable crowd embraced the story of a trainer and jockey at opposite ends of their careers when Danon Decile won the 91st running of the Tokyo Yushun.

WHERE IN THE WORLD would racing fans roar a 46-1 Derby winner back to scale? 

At Tokyo Racecourse on Sunday a young, boisterous crowd cheered as a longshot ninth-pick beat a dominant favourite into second place. More than that, they didn’t boo the jockey of that favourite that had sat three deep, no cover for much of the trip. 

A polite round-of-applause for an outsider might be expected in Saudi Arabia, Dubai or Qatar, tracks with no bookmakers or on course betting to speak of, where the crowd is blissfully unaware of odds. 

In turnover-obsessed Hong Kong, or in front of a boozy carnival crowd in Australia, the runner-up given a rough ride might expect expletive-laden abuse from those near the fence and a social media roasting from armchair jockeys. 

The scene in the immediate aftermath of the 91st Tokyo Yushun was proof that the romance of ‘racing as a sport’ and big betting aren’t mutually exclusive. It was also a life-affirming experience for overseas visitors that might otherwise fear for the future of the sport they love.  

Norihiro Yokoyama and Danon Decile after winning the 2024 Tokyo Yushun
NORIHIRO YOKOYAMA, DANON DECILE / G1 Tokyo Yushun // Tokyo /// 2024 //// Photo by Shuhei Okada

The crowd of 75,000 sounded more like 150,000 when favourite Justin Milano, under a desperate Keita Tosaki, appeared to be reeling in Danon Decile and veteran jockey Norihiro Yokoyama. 

The initial shock of an unexpected result soon gave way to recognition of the sporting moment: an aggressive, ground-saving ride from Yokoyama and a famous training effort from young handler Shogo Yasuda. This is a knowledgeable crowd, they knew the backstory before it had to be spelled out to them. 

Yokoyama has now ridden 28 Group 1 winners, three Derbies and his tally of 2,946 career wins is second only all-time to Yutaka Take. Yokayama is a legend but it had been more than seven years since his last Group 1 win and at 56 he was starting to become better known as the father of two talented sons: Kazuo, 31, and the rising star Takeshi, 25, who finished third in last year’s jockeys’ title behind Yuga Kawada and Christophe Lemaire. 

Norihiro Yokoyama celebrates after winning the Tokyo Yushun aboard Danon Decile
NORIHIRO YOKOYAMA / G1 Tokyo Yushun // Tokyo /// 2024 //// Photo by Shuhei Okada

Yokoyama will never catch Take’s ever growing win tally, which just passed 4,500, but this victory gave him a record the 55-year-old Take will now need to chase: that of the oldest ever JRA G1 winner.

For the trainer, it was a chance to truly step out of the shadow of his father Takayuki, winner of 967 races and trainer of the all-conquering sprinter, now star sire, Lord Kanaloa. 

Until Sunday, Shogo Yasuda was probably best known for partnering Lord Kanaloa in his blistering track gallops at Sha Tin before his 2012 and 2013 G1 Hong Kong Sprint triumphs. Those gallops have become the stuff of folklore. 

Now in his seventh season as a trainer, at age 41, Yasuda is a Derby winner. “I haven’t really thought about what it will mean for my career,” he said after the race. “In fact I didn’t really feel joy as the horse crossed the line. I was watching him through my binoculars and just making sure he was fine, watching his action and how he moved. Actually, because he came along the inside, it wasn’t until the very last moment that I realised he had won.” 

Horse trainer Shogo Yasuda
SHOGO YASUDA / G1 Tokyo Yushun // Tokyo /// 2024 //// Photo by Shuhei Okada

Shogo may have been too ‘locked-in’ for his emotion to bubble over but his older brother and assistant trainer Keiichiro Yasuda made up for it: tears streaked down his face as he walked on to the track to greet Danon Decile and Yokoyama, the jockey’s arms raised in triumph. 

The Yasuda brothers had produced a training masterpiece that signals that they will be a force for years to come. Danon Decile’s last start win at double figure odds in the G3 Kisei Hai was more than four months ago, on January 14. 

It is not unusual for Japanese horses to attack big races off a three-month or longer break, but this was no planned break. Danon Decile was due to run in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2,000 Guineas) but prior to the start, behind the gates, Yokoyama alerted vets to what he felt was a rough action and possible lameness. The horse was scratched from a key lead-up run. Little wonder Yasuda was watching his horse’s action so closely. 

Although Yasuda hadn’t yet processed his achievement, or what it might mean for his career, he seems ready for whatever will come next. 

“It’s up to me now,” he said. “This win might mean I will be given some more opportunities and owners could give me some better quality horses. I need to make sure I make the most of those chances.”

Michael Cox is Editor of Idol Horse. A sports journalist with 19 years experience, Michael has a family background in harness racing in the Newcastle and Hunter Valley region of Australia. Best known for writing on Hong Kong racing, Michael’s previous publications include South China Morning Post, The Age, Sun Herald, Australian Associated Press, Asian Racing Report and Illawarra Mercury.

View all articles by Michael Cox.

Don’t miss out on all the action.

Subscribe to the idol horse newsletter