Jockey Damian Lane already knew Japanese racing fans were "crazy" – he had already signed hundreds of autographs – but when he alighted a bullet train at Niigata three weekends ago, he gained a new appreciation for their obsession.
"I had been riding at Tokyo that day and we were coming to Niigata, so the fans knew I would have to be coming on some train sooner or later," Lane said. "They were waiting there for me with photos to sign."
Earlier that day Lane had ridden a four-timer, the following day he won the group 3 Niigata Daishoten on Mer De Glace, but since then his own notoriety has gone to another level and the autograph requests become even more frequent.
Last weekend Lane won the Victoria Mile on Normcore, his first group 1 on foreign soil, before which he got another feel for the following the sport enjoys when the slow handclap from the 45,000-plus crowd began.
"They are just crazy, even though we were behind the gates in the back straight we could hear them from the other side of the track, cheering before the race," Lane said. "It has been full on, every time you win a race the fans are hanging over the fence looking for an autograph. I sign a few when I get a chance between races but you can't get through them all."
It's little wonder Lane has been so busy. Between that first weekend and the maiden overseas group 1 last Sunday, he won a group 2 for Godolphin on Tower Of London and enters this weekend with an incredible overall record of 13 wins from 44 rides at a tick under 30 per cent.
That freakish on-track success – combined with a little bit of luck and the right off-track support – has resulted in Lane snaring the rides on top chances for upcoming features after leading rider Christophe Lemaire was suspended for careless riding.
Fans are already camping outside Tokyo Racecourse ahead of Sunday's Yushun Himba (Oaks), in which Lane will ride leading contender Contra Check, and the level of expectation will be taken up a notch seven days later when he rides burgeoning superstar Saturnalia in the Tokyo Yushun (Derby).
"The media coverage is pretty intense and every time the press want to talk to me, they always ask about Saturnalia," said Lane, after travelling to Ritto training centre near Kyoto to ride the horse in trackwork on Wednesday. "He gave me as good a feel as I have had on a horse for a very long time."
Saturnalia is a son of new sire sensation Lord Kanaloa and out of Oaks winner Cesario, making him a half brother to 2014 Japan Cup winner Epiphaneia, and if he can extend his record to five-from-five on Sunday week he will be the first unbeaten Derby winner since Japan's all-time great Deep Impact in 2005.
Lane has landed on his feet in Japan, with his translator and representative Adam Harrigan helping him link with top trainers like Contra Check's Kazuo Fujisawa, Saturnalia's handler KRead More – Source