03/15/2005 12:00AM

Okabe, top rider in Japan, retires

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Yukio Okabe, the winningest jockey in the history of Japanese racing, has retired at age 56.

The winner of every Japanese classic at least once save the Japanese Oaks, Okabe rode 2,943 winners from 18,646 rides in Japan, among them 31 Grade 1 races.

Okabe will be best remembered as the man who rode Symboli Rudolf in all of his races. That horse's seven Grade 1 victories included the Japanese Triple Crown - 2000 Guineas, Derby, and St. Leger - in 1984. Okabe also won Japan's premier race, the Japan Cup, twice, aboard Symboli Rudolf in 1985 and on Tokai Teio in 1992.

Okabe made his decision to retire after having struggled to retain his form after a riding accident in 2002. He managed 60 victories last year but only two this year. His last ride came on Feb. 20.

The Okabe announcement comes just a day after the announcement of the retirement of George Duffield, the 10th-leading rider in British racing history with 2,547 victories.