When a relatively young assistant trainer named Noboru Takagi was offered a scholarship by one of the most influential men in the world of horse racing, little did he know that in the future it would lead him to the biggest success of his career.
In 1994, Takagi was chosen to join a unique initiative by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, that would see him intern at some of the most prestigious thoroughbred racing stables in England, Ireland, and France.
He was 27 at the time and was set on securing a full trainer’s licence in his native Japan, which he did shortly after.
Almost 30 years later, Takagi, now one of the most established horsemen in Japan and Asia, would scale the summit of his career when a horse called Ushba Tesoro would come from last to first to win the $12 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan.
As the Japanese connections began to celebrate their momentous victory in the parade ring, Takagi was greeted by none other than Sheikh Mohammed, who he says gave him a warm handshake and congratulated him on his accomplishment.
Ever since the Dubai World Cup began in 1996, Sheikh Mohammed would display the same camaraderie with the winning connections of winners like Cigar, Silver Charm, Captain Steve, California Chrome, and Arrogate, to name a few.
As Ushba Tesoro joined the pantheon of greats, Takagi was overwhelmed by emotions and memories of how it all began.
“I was fortunate to be offered a three-month training programme in the days before I became a trainer,” Takagi told Khaleej Times during an exclusive online interview from Tokyo, Japan. “His Highness paid for all my expenses during that three-month spell which was aimed at up-and-coming assistant trainers that were working under the JRA (Japanese Racing Association).
“I was always interested in racing overseas and in the past, I had runners in Hong Kong and Singapore. Dubai was always on my mind and it was just a matter of having the right horse and being in the right place and at the right time. This was the year that it happened.”
Takagi also revealed the story behind how Ushba Tesoro came into the Dubai World Cup picture.
“As I said, I was always looking for a horse that was good enough to compete at the world level and when Ushba Tesoro won the Kawasaki Kinen (Group 1) at Kawasaki on February 1, we realised that he was the horse to go to Dubai with,” Takagi said.
“After the Kinen, we rested him a little bit. The plan was to get him to do all the fast work in Japan before shipping to Dubai. Once we were there, it was just a question of getting him acclimatised and putting on the finishing touches.”
Takagi said that like most horses, Ushba Tesoro needed some special care and attention once he arrived in Dubai, his first overseas trip from Japan.
“When he first arrived, he was a bit anxious and nervous. However, because there were so many Japanese runners in Dubai and since they move in groups, it was not too difficult for him to get used to the environment, with the co-operation of the other Japanese connections,” he added.
Aakagi also revealed why, unlike other Japanese horses, he sidestepped the $20 million Saudi Cup and opted to come straight to Dubai.
“I felt the 1800-metre trip was a little short for him. I was also a bit worried about the weather and the heat because he is a little vulnerable to the warm weather. So we decided to concentrate on the Dubai World Cup.”
In the end, it was the perfect decision.