Expect The Unexpected
Ffos Las on Saturday afternoon was meant to be a quiet, run of the mill, meeting.
It was a meeting transferred from the ill fated Great Leighs and it was unquestionably the “weakest” flat meeting of the afternoon. There was also a delicious irony that the meeting had been transferred from the UK’s second newest course to its newest.
The “competition” came from Chester, Goodwood and, of course, Doncaster. The latter staging the final Classic of the season, the St Leger.
Consequently, forty five minutes before racing, the press room at Ffos Las was a relatively quiet place, with most of the racing media being at the other meetings.
There were six of us working in there.
Neil Morrice was in one corner, on the phone getting quotes from trainers with runners that afternoon. I am often tempted to mug Neil and steal his mobile phone as he has the most enviable contact list of trainers and others who matter in the sport. Neil was doing trackside live for the Racing Post as well as the report for the Sunday’s paper.
Keith Hewitt, the Raceform and Racing Post race reader, was battling with the hi-tech DVD recorder trying to figure out how it works – muttering about how much simpler video is.
Meanwhile reporters from Radio Wales and Radio Cymru were having similar technological battles in the other corner, attempting to get their broadcast equipment working.
On the other side of the room was myself and commentator Alan Howes, who was doing his last minute preparation for the eight race card.
Then, without warning, the peace and quiet was broken as in waltzed around a dozen members of the Japanese media, replete with television crew.
The reason they had trekked halfway across Wales and were forsaking watching the St Leger, was the presence of one Kosei Miura.
Who I hear you say?
Well Mr Miura is the latest sporting sensation in Japan. Last year, his first year in the saddle saw him ride 39 winners, breaking the record of Yutaka Take.
Back in his homeland he is, according to one of the media guys I was chatting to, treated with the same public adulation and media coverage as David Beckham and Lewis Hamilton combined – in other words he is big.
He was making his UK riding debut at Ffos Las and the Japanese media wanted to ensure the event received maximum coverage back home.
Neil and I were bemused at the attention he was receiving but thought it may make a couple of lines of copy on what looked like being an otherwise dull afternoon.
Miura had only arrived in the UK five days previously and must still have been jet lagged and was attached to Sir Mark Prescott’s Newmarket yard.
Sir Mark explained he had been approached by the Japanese Turf Authority and asked if he would take on one of their promising apprentices for three weeks.
In the few days he had been with Sir Mark, the 19 year old had impressed not only the trainer but all those who had seen him in action on the gallops ……. “a natural talent.”
His one mount was not until race five, the longest race of the afternoon and he was riding Sir Mark’s Royal Diamond.
He emerged from the weighing room with veteran rider Tony Culhane, who put a reassuring arm round the youngsters shoulder as they emerged from the inner sanctum. He also emerged to a cacophony of camera clicks which he took in his stride.
As they went to post Miura was easily identifiable by his very short stirrups and long reign, he was almost standing in the saddle.
In the race itself he settled Royal Diamond towards the rear and in all honesty it looked like a careful, almost cautious, ride – nothing special at all.
It was in the home straight everything changed. Positioned perfectly and taking cover he slowly edged towards the centre of the course.
Once he had clear daylight ahead, he simply shifted his balance, seeming to be at one with the horse, who responded immediately and eased to the front.
Nothing flash from the rider, seemingly no great effort, just a natural horseman getting the best out of his mount.
He came home the length and a half winner.
Some cynics may suggest it was a “jockey’s race” and his weighing room colleagues allowed him an easy win. That would be grossly unfair to both Miura and the other riders.
It also makes a mockery of what Miura actually did but more of that anon.
Even though his mount was not sent off favourite both horse and rider received a tumultuous reception as they returned to the winner’s enclosure.
After weighing in he returned to the winner’s enclosure and was presented with a bottle of bubbly by the course executive, was interviewed via an interpreter and Sir Mark Precott waxed lyrical, commenting that “unlike most riders, he followed my instructions to the letter.”
It was then the unusual happened. Normally riders return to the sanctuary of the weighing room after a race. Miura, instead, came into the press room – it seemed this young lad wanted to be with his compatriots as he “celebrated” his victory.
It was a very revealing twenty minutes.
I said earlier he had made the win look effortless … it was an illusion.
He was absolutely shattered after the race and dehydrated in the hot Welsh sun. What seemed to be an example of a simple synergy between man and beast was, in reality, an exhibition of really hard work and skill – it is just he made it look effortless.
It did not take him long to recover from his exertions though and he was soon giving am impromptu press conference for the Japanese media in the press room.
What struck me was how polite the whole affair was, no media scrum, questions were asked in turn and at the end he was given a spontaneous round of applause.
Once the press conference was over he was happy to relax and chat. I am ashamed to say his English, whist by no means perfect, is far better than my Japanese but we managed some rudimentary conversation.
He may me a superstar in the eyes of the Japanese media and with the public back home, but I found him to be a very pleasant, likeable, young man, seemingly without arrogance.
It is not very often you will see wizened hacks asking jockeys to sign their racecards, but believe me I was not the only one to obtain his signature, or ask for a photograph for posterity – all of which he did without complaint – although the “price” for mine was being asked to take a group photograph of Miura with the Japanese media contingent.
The hacks and broadcasters who went to Doncaster may well have seen a classic finish to the oldest Classic.
The handful of us who had ventured to Ffos Las were privileged to have witnessed the first UK ride and victory of one Kosei Miura – we were also privileged to have met a really nice guy.
Remember that name as in the not too distant future I predict he will be winning classics himself.
So what looked like being a run of the mill meeting turned out to be something special, one of those “I was there” moments – it is always worth expecting the unexpected.