Those that know him will probably have lots of different words to describe Takashi Kodama, and now they can add ‘tenacious’ to the list after the Japanese trainer finally got a long-awaited win on Wednesday.
Some 1,515 days after his last trip to the winner’s enclosure, Kodama was the toast of Navan as his horse, Tosen Wish, landed a maiden renewal under the guidance of Ronan Whelan.
Four long years after he took the spoils in a quality Irish Cambridgeshire renewal, Kodama – who admittedly has only had 49 entries in that time – enjoyed the sweet taste of victory once more courtesy of his sprightly two-year-old, who was bred and is still owned by countryman Takaya Shimakawa.
It’s the third winner of Kodama’s three-year career, which has yielded prize money of just over €86,000. And even the happy-go-lucky trainer has admitted there have been times where he has thought about calling it quits.
“I rarely have a winner, so I’m delighted!” he said with some understatement after his Navan triumph.
“I’ve trained for nearly 15 years and have thought about giving up a few times, but every year I say, ‘one more year’. Maybe after this winner, I will train for one more year!”
Having fallen in love with the sport of horse racing as a child, Kodama made the somewhat surprising decision to set up his own training facility in Kildare.
He has only ever had a small stable of horses, and yet in 2017 he experienced double joy in what many thought might lead to an influx of Japanese talent into UK and Irish racing.
His charge Pop Rock was a winner at the lucrative Galway Festival, not long before the biggest win of his career – Elusive Time triumphing in the Irish Cambridgeshire as the 25/1 outsider earned Kodama a handsome €59,000 payday.
He set up home in Ireland in 1997, after first leaving Japan to take up a three-year residency at the Santa Anita track in California. The affable Kodama would have to wait five years to be granted his first trainer’s licence, but after realising how difficult it was for small trainers in a sport where money talks, he temporarily gave up the sport in 2005.
Instead, Kodama went home to Japan and began working in racing there, assisting Japanese trainers and owners in their yards and also taking an interest in international sales – becoming familiar with Tattersalls, Goffs and Keeneland. It was experience that would serve him well further down the line.
By 2010, Kodama had got the bug back and re-opened his yard, and it wasn’t long before the outstanding Pop Rock was in his care. Hooking up with a legendary Irishman was the final piece in the jigsaw.
“Mick Kinane had retired a few years before I renewed my licence, but he very kindly helped me to try and get my first winner as a trainer.
“He started riding out Pop Rock for me—at the beginning once a week—but getting closer to the race, he was finally riding out most of the week. We got Fran Berry as Pop Rock’s jockey for his first time out in Europe, at the Galway Festival….he was my first winner and my dream came true!”