• Kyodo, Staff report

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Hitomi Miyashita, 44, became the first female jockey in Japan to reach 1,000 wins earlier this month, overcoming a five-year period away from the track starting in 2011 as she gave birth to her two sons.

Miyashita made history at Nagoya Racecourse on Nov. 18 aboard Real Speed, taking first place by three lengths in the 11,439th race of her career.

“It feels like a dream. It hasn’t sunk in yet,” she said after the race with a big smile on her face. “When I came back, I didn’t think I’d make it to 1,000 wins.

“I always have a hard time winning if I’m close to reaching a certain goal,” she said, gently patting the horse’s neck.

Miyashita’s 999th win came only the day before and on Nov. 18, she won three of the seven races, bringing her total to 1,002 wins. In local races, Mai Beppu, 33, is second with 746 wins, while in national races, 24-year-old Nanako Fujita has bagged the most wins with 139.

Starting two years ago, female jockeys were given a boost and they are now allowed to ride 2 kilograms lighter than their male counterparts. Still, it’s not easy to handle horses that weigh more than 400 kg while competing against male jockeys and injuries are a part of the job.

In May, Miyashita was rushed to the hospital after she fell off her horse, breaking her ribs and crushing her lung. Surprisingly, she was discharged the following day.

Hitomi Miyashita, riding Real Speed, came in first by three lengths on Nov. 18 at Nagoya Racecourse. | KYODO
Hitomi Miyashita, riding Real Speed, came in first by three lengths on Nov. 18 at Nagoya Racecourse. | KYODO

That’s not the first time Miyashita has beaten expectations. The jockey has surprised everyone with her determination in the past and has been known to arrive at a training session even when injured.

Born in Kagoshima Prefecture, Miyashita became a jockey at the age of 18 and made her professional debut in 1995, when she also won for the first time. She gave birth to her sons in 2012 and 2014 during her time away from the sport.

But when her older son found a photo of Miyashita competing, he told her that he wanted to see his mother ride a horse.

She got back into shape, re-acquired her jockey’s license and returned to racing in 2016.

“Female jockeys used to retire after giving birth,” she said. “I hope I can be a role model for them to give birth and then return.”

She admits that juggling being a mother and a jockey isn’t easy. But despite having to wake up at 1 a.m. to train horses, she soldiers on.

“At the end of the day, I love riding horses.”

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