Christophe Lemaire will ride at Ascot for the first time in a decade when he leads out the Rest of the World team in Saturday’s Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup.
Now a major star in Japan, the French rider has enjoyed a glittering career, with his big-race haul including two Classic wins in Britain aboard Natagora in 1000 Guineas in 2008 and Makfi in the 2000 Guineas two years later.
This weekend the 43-year-old returns to Britain to make his second Shergar Cup appearance as captain of a Rest of the World team that also includes Australia’s Kerrin McEvoy, New Zealander Jason Collett and Japanese ace Takeshi Yokoyama – and Lemaire is relishing the challenge.
“I think it has been 10 years since I last had a ride at Ascot. I have had a month off and there is no better place to get back in the saddle than here,” he said.
“Every time you race here, there is an excitement because you know it is an important occasion – you are competing against the best horses and the best jockeys in front of a great atmosphere.
“I am really looking forward to the Shergar Cup. We have a strong team made up of experience, with myself and Kerrin, and then the two young guns in Jason and Takeshi.
“I think it will be a nice combination as we try to win the title, and Kerrin’s experience will be very important. He is a top-class jockey and has enjoyed a lot of success in England.”
Having won multiple Group One races across Europe, Lemaire moved to Japan full-time in 2014 and three years later was crowned champion jockey – making him the first foreign rider to take the title.
He is now a five-time champion in Japan and is thrilled his bold career move worked out so well.
“I had a chance to ride for the biggest owners in France. I had contracts for the Niarchos family, Gerard Augustin-Normand and H H the Aga Khan. I worked very hard for those chances and I was lucky enough to win big races for all of them, but then my career had to rebound and I needed a new challenge,” Lemaire added.
“I had the opportunity to move to Japan on a full-time licence and I grabbed it. It has been eight years now and I am very happy with my life in Japan. I have been champion jockey for the last five years and I guess I will be in the history books as the first foreign rider to win the championship, but I will only look back once I have retired.
“For now, I am looking towards the next goal, which is to have a big autumn season in Japan and potentially come back here for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.”
Lemaire has ridden two Royal Ascot winners, most notably Chineur in the 2005 King’s Stand.
His teammate Yokoyama is 20 years his junior, but has already enjoyed five Group One wins, headed by Japanese Classic winners Efforia and Titleholder – favourite for this year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Speaking via a translator, Yokoyama said: “This is my first time at Ascot and my first time in the UK. I am really excited to be here and am appreciative of the invitation.
“Riding in the Shergar Cup will be a new experience for me. It is a big honour to represent Japan and hopefully I can learn a lot.
“There are a lot of jockeys in my family and I never really thought of being anything else. I started riding horses when I was 12 and have been riding competitively since I was 18. I am not satisfied with where I am yet. I want to keep riding winners and keep progressing.
“I have always said the Japanese Derby is the race I would most like to win but, since coming to the UK, I would like to win your Derby.”
Collett, 31, is also making his Shergar Cup debut, and said: “This is my first time at Ascot and, I have to say, it is something else with the grandstand and everything. This place obviously has a bit of history, so it is pretty awesome to be here.
“The Shergar Cup is something different and I like the look of our team. I know Kerrin McEvoy very well from back in Australia, and then Christophe and Takeshi are coming off great seasons in Japan as well.
“My career has been a slow, gradual progression. I have been in Sydney for nine or 10 years now, but the last two or three years have moved my career on an upward spiral. That is what I am after and hopefully it can keep evolving.”
Through his association with trainer Chris Waller, Collett rode the brilliant racemare Winx five times early in her career.
He added: “I rode Winx for her first couple of wins, but she was a different animal then to the one she became. I don’t think I was throwing any superlatives out there when I got off her, other than ‘that was pretty good!’.
“I have said it before, but I would have loved to have ridden her again towards the end of her career. The acceleration she had was unbelievable. It was a shame she never came over to Royal Ascot, as I have no doubt that she would have been ultra-competitive.”