Tributes have poured in for Japanese jockey Taiki Yanagida, who died after suffering head and back injuries in a fall during a race in New Zealand, Waikato Hospital confirmed on Wednesday.
The 28-year-old, who was based in Manawatu, died on Tuesday night after being on life support in a coma after sustaining critical injuries following the fall at a race meeting in Cambridge last Wednesday.
The Herald Sun reported that Yanagida fell about 250 meters from the finish line and his horse fell on top of him. Yanagida’s helmet came off during the fall and he was also trampled by a horse behind him, the NZ Herald reported.
In a statement, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) said his mother Kayano and sister Chiaki, who flew in from Japan last Friday, as well as fellow rider Yuto Kumagai had visited him.
NZTR also said his mother released a statement saying “her son has never regretted his career choice.”
“Our deepest sympathies are with Taiki’s family – his mother Kayano, sisters Chiaki and Ayano, and his grandmother,” NZTR CEO Bruce Sharrock said.
“We share your grief at the loss of such a talented, kind and well-liked young man.”
Sharrock said Yanagida had recently spent a month visiting family in Japan, having been unable to travel earlier due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“We hope they take comfort from the memories made during that time.”
Those who worked with the Japanese jockey at Wexford Stables in Matamata near Cambridge “were Taiki’s New Zealand family and they will all be affected by his death,” Sharrock added.
NZTR will now help Yanagida’s family “as they make plans to bring their son and brother home”.
Nicknamed ‘Tiger’ in the racing industry, Yanagida was born and raised in Japan and first started cycling when he was 18, first in Australia before moving to New Zealand.
He reportedly rode 162 winners in New Zealand, sacrificing his goal of winning 50 races this season to fly home in June to see his family before returning in mid-July.
Yanagida honed his skills working under top Matamata trainer Lance O’Sullivan, one of New Zealand’s former champion jockeys.
“He was a good young man, very dedicated to his career,” O’Sullivan told the New Zealand Herald.
“He had to be because he was quite tall for a jockey so he had to work hard to keep his weight under control, but it became his second passion, being a fitness fanatic so he could continue to be a jockey.
“He wasn’t a natural jockey when he first came to us but worked so hard he got better and better.
“It’s a very sad day for everyone who knew him and the racing industry.”
Yanagida had helped mentor Japanese jockey Kumagai since the youngster arrived in New Zealand.
“He was a very special friend and he told me a few weeks ago that he wanted to help me become the lead apprentice this season,” Kumagai said. “It’s very, very sad.”