Masafumi Matsuda, assistant trainer for Japan’s Crown Pride, aims to ‘change history’ in Kentucky Derby

In an unusual training regimen for Kentucky Derby contenders, Crown Pride gallops perfect circles 20 yards behind the chute at Churchill Downs. He is composed, calm and focused. A few minutes later, when he enters the track, he flips a switch internally and becomes an intense thoroughbred pulling to make his head run faster.

Two-time Kentucky Oaks winner Rosie Napravnik noticed Crown Pride’s morning rituals. She said, “It’s a great way to warm up the mind and body. Keep them relaxed and focused. You will see their energy change before they reach the pole where they begin their breeze.

Crown Pride earned their way into the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve by winning the UAE Derby sponsored by Mubadala. He was part of a brilliant day of racing for five horses from Japan at the $12million Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airlines. He is the fourth Japanese horse to enter the Derby. He’s been on the track for a month since the UAE Derby and he’s thriving!

Assistant Coach Masafumi Matsuda is in attendance with Crown Pride. He was entrusted with the preparation of the Derby by coach Kochi Shintani. Churchill’s coordinator for Japan, Kate Hunter, explains that “Masa is the team. He is 100% dedicated to every little thing the horse needs at any time of the day. He constantly watches, feels and listens for any changes in the horse in any way. After years of honing his skills all over the world, I can’t think of a person more apt to prepare one of the best shots Japan has ever had to win the Kentucky Derby than Masa.

Matsuda’s life has been devoted to the passion for horses since the day he was born. His childhood photos show an exuberant child bouncing on a stuffed horse at age 3 perfecting his form which is still visible today.

He explains, “Ever since I was born, my alarm clock was the sound of horses walking, so I didn’t need an alarm clock or the need to choose another job. There was no choice. I’ve lived this life so far with luck and good timing.

Matsuda comes from a distinguished family in horse racing. His grandfather (Yoshitaro Matsuda) was a trainer “who won two Japanese Derbys”. His mother (Atsuko) is the daughter of coach Yutaro Matsuda. His father (Yukiharu) was a jockey for 23 years and a training assistant for 19 years. He was the first Japanese jockey to ride overseas as an Irish trainee. “My father won the Japanese Oaks and two Queen Elizabeth Cups, one of which was the first Queen Elizabeth Cup. I wonder if I had no choice from birth but to continue on their tracks.

The first coach he worked for was Hideyuki Mori, whom he described as a “top coach with international ambitions. He always taught me to adapt. Matsuda was part of the Mori team that won the July Cup at Newmarket with 5-year-old Kentucky-raised Agnes World. In 2000 they competed with Agnes World in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs.

“With Mr. Mori’s Air Shakur, I was able to take on the challenge of King George in England [at Ascot]. I was also able to accompany several horses in France and Singapore. Then I worked for coach Katsuhiko Sumii, who won the American Oaks with Cesario and the Melbourne Cup with Delta Blues. Thanks to him, I was able to win the Dubai World Cup with Victoire Pisa in Dubai.

He returned to Dubai with Crown Pride. He speaks happily of that special day in Dubai when Crown Pride won the UAE Derby. “I had heard that the owner of this horse, Teruya Yoshida, had studied horses in Kentucky when he was young, and he had always wanted to bring a horse to the Kentucky Derby. We really wanted to win. We were excited to to have the opportunity to come here for the Kentucky Derby, not just with a horse that qualifies but with a horse that has proven it deserves to be here. won in such an unexpected way!

Crown Pride “seems to have settled in very well. He has made a lot of friends, like me. Crown Pride really likes Monnie [Goetz] who stabbed us the first days of our stay here. He will call her when he hears her. He really relaxed in his American life.

Monnie Goetz enjoyed her time with Matsuda and Crown Pride. “This horse is a character! He knows my voice. If he hears me when I walk through the barns, he starts talking to me. This horse is so smart. When I say hello, he sticks his head out and pricks up his ears. He knows who I am!”

Matsuda explains the personality of Crown Pride. “It can turn on and off smoothly, which is great for a racehorse. Maybe he looks like an actor? I feel like it has a work mode and a private mode. He has the sense to take care of himself. He’s still young, so he can be a little naughty at times and likes to playfully try to bite.

“I can’t wait to see how the scenery will change on Derby day, walking along the track with Crown Pride. I’ve heard a lot of people will be there. I’m delighted to see it.

He does everything he can to prepare the Crown Pride for jockey Christophe Lemaire. As one of Japan’s top international jockeys, he competed in his first Kentucky Derby. With Matsuda’s keen attention to detail, there’s quite a buzz surrounding Crown Pride’s chances of victory on the first Saturday in May.

Matsuda thinks. “I want to change horse racing history and Japanese history by winning the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. We came here to change history.

“The Chinese characters of my given name Masafumi (全史) take 全 from ‘everyone’ (全世界) and 史 from ‘story’ (歴史). It has the meaning of a name to change history around the world. I couldn’t change history at the Breeders’ Cup with Agnes World at Churchill Downs last time, so this time I absolutely want to win and change history.

Matsuda is very proud of Crown Pride. “I hope the fans will come to Churchill Downs to see her big, beautiful stride. They may be more obsessed with her charm after that. I’ll do my best to win the Kentucky Derby for Crown Pride owner Teruya Yoshida My dream now is to take pictures with Crown Pride in the winner’s circle I want to change history.

Special thanks to Kate Hunter for providing the translation of this interview.