06/03/2012 5:01PM

Japan: California-bound Fukunaga wins Yasuda Kinen on Strong Return


Jockey Yuichi Fukunaga, who is scheduled to begin riding in Southern California in early July for two months, won his first Grade 1 race of 2012 in Sunday’s $2.6 million Yasuda Kinen aboard Strong Return at Tokyo Racecourse.

Fukunaga, the leading rider in 2011 and this season at Japan Racing Association tracks, rode Strong Return to a neck victory over Grand Prix Boss in the one-mile turf race. Strong Return was second by a neck in the 2011 Yasuda Kinen.

Sunday, Strong Return, a 6-year-old horse by Symboli Kris S, was timed in 1:31.30, a course record. Fukunaga kept Strong Return at the back of the field and they closed with a wide run to hold off a late threat from Grand Prix Boss, a 24-1 shot. Cosmo Sensor, a 34-1 outsider, finished third in the field of 18. Sadamu Patek, the 5-1 favorite, finished ninth.

Strong Return races for Teruya Yoshida. Sunday’s Yasuda Kinen was the horse’s first Grade 1 win and second start since returning from a fractured foreleg last fall. Strong Return has won 7 of 19 starts and earned more than $3.9 million.

Fukunaga, 35, will be represented in Southern California by jockey agent Brian Beach. Last Friday, Beach said that Fukunaga is in the process of finalizing immigration papers and could begin riding by July 1.