Horse racing: Japanese jockey Taiki Yanagida dies following tragic fall in Cambridge


Taiki Yanagida. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

Jockey Taiki Yanagida has died in Waikato Hospital from injuries suffered in a horse racing fall at Cambridge last Wednesday.

The 28-year-old jockey had his mother Kayano and one of his two sisters Chiaki by his side when he died on Tuesday. They had rushed from Japan last Thursday to be with Taiki, who suffered brain and spinal cord damage in the accident.

He was placed in an induced coma straight after the accident and never regained consciousness.

If he had, the damage to his spinal cord was so severe it was highly unlikely he would have walked again.

Yanagida was riding maiden horse Te Atatu Pash in the last race of the Cambridge synthetic track meeting last Wednesday when his mount was checked and fell.

Yanagida’s riding helmet came off in the fall and he was partially rolled on by his own mount but was also galloped on by a following horse, who in the split-second incident could not have avoided him and struck him heavily in the back.

The accident stunned racing industry participants, particularly the very close-knit ranks of professional jockeys, with Yanagida the first jockey to die in a race fall in New Zealand since Rebecca Black at Gore in December, 2016.

Yanagida, known to almost everyone in the racing industry as Tiger, was born and raised in Japan and didn’t start riding until he was 18, firstly in Australia before moving to New Zealand.

He recently told racing publication Raceform his mother had initially been against him becoming a jockey.

“I wanted to try and become a jockey but my Mum didn’t agree, she said I must go to university first,” Taiki said in June.

“I completed one year at university before I said I was going to Australia to train to be a jockey.”

Yanagida then spoke of his mother’s fears for him in his chosen career, fears that have so tragically become reality.

Taiki Yanagida.  Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Taiki Yanagida. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

“Now my mother is happy for me, she knows I am doing what I always wanted to, but she still worries about me and is always going to the temple to pray for my luck and safety,” he said just two months ago.

Yanagida moved to New Zealand and developed his craft working for top Matamata trainers Andrew Scott and Lance O’Sullivan, the latter one of New Zealand’s all-time champion jockeys.

O’Sullivan said the news was heart-breaking for those who knew Yanagida but will be felt throughout the racing industry not only in New Zealand and Japan but beyond.

“He was a good young man, very dedicated to his career,” said O’Sullivan.

“He had to be because he was quite tall for a jockey so had to work hard to keep his weight under control but that became his other passion, being a fitness fanatic so he could keep being a jockey.

“He wasn’t a natural jockey when he first came to us but worked so hard he got better and better.

“It is a very sad day for everybody who knew him and the racing industry.”

One of Yanagida’s closest friends was fellow Japanese apprentice jockey Yuto Kumagai, who Yanagida’s had helped mentor since Kumagai arrived in New Zealand.

“He was a very special friend and he told me a few weeks ago he wanted to help me become the leading apprentice this season,” said Kumagai.

“He loved riding and worked so hard to stay fit so he could be better at it. He always wanted to improve.

“It is very, very sad. I am very sad.”

Yanagida was a single man with no children who O’Sullivan says was unfailingly polite.

“These days it is rare for an apprentice to stay with the same trainers right through their apprenticeship because it is so easy once they start riding winners to go somewhere where they don’t have to do the stable work, just ride trackwork and in races .

“But Taiki stayed with us all the way through. He wanted to work hard and do the right thing. That is what sort of young man he was.”

Yanagida’s racing manager Ted McLachlan had been with him and his family at the hospital every day and was devastated by his death.

“He was such a wonderful young man it really is a tragedy and so hard to watch what his mother and sister here have had to go through,” said McLachlan.

“This will really hurt the other people in the industry because Taiki was so popular.”

Yanagida had his personal best season last racing term, riding 42 winners including three black type successes, which are at racing’s highest levels.

He sacrificed his goal of winning 50 races for the season to fly home to Japan for the first time in four years to see his family for a month in June, only returning to New Zealand mid-July.

Yanagida rode 162 winners in his New Zealand career and while those numbers are testament to his work ethic those who met and worked alongside Yanagida will not remember him for his racetrack victories.

They will remember a polite, happy, dedicated young man who was willing to leave his home country to chase his dream of becoming a jockey.

Taiki achieved his dream and that can never be taken away from him.

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