Nothing lost in translation: Meet “Keiba Kate”, the Kentucky Derby girl from Nashville – in the name of Japan! | Topics: Silver Charm, UAE Derby, Kate Hunter, Japan Racing Association, Crown Pride, Kentucky Derby

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Kate Hunter: The American expat has become a well-known face in the Japanese racing scene through her Marugai Racing operation. Photo: Japan Racing Association

American expat Kate Hunter, back on her home turf as part of the team with UAE Derby winner Crown Pride, talks to Amanda Duckworth

On the afternoon of May 4, 1996, Nick Hunter was looking for a way to entertain his daughter. Realizing it was the first Saturday in May, he sat her down to watch the Kentucky Derby, and she loved it.

The following year, remembering his enthusiasm for the Course des Roses, he activated the cover well before the horses entered the starting grid. She absorbed every minute, learning the stories of the horses and their people. Then she chose her horse. It was called Silver Charm, it won, and Kate Hunter was hooked for good.

Up close and personal: Kate Hunter with Crown Pride, bidding to become the first Japanese-educated winner of the Kentucky Derby.  Photo providedNow, 25 years later, Hunter could very well be the one on TV, translating the dealings of Crown Pride, who are trying to become the first Japanese horse to win the famous race.

In 2016, American-born Hunter started her own company, Marugai Racing, and she is the Japan-based representative for Churchill Downs, Keeneland, the New York Racing Association, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and the Triple Crown races, among others. .

The middleman

Japan’s recent success at the Breeders’ Cup as well as in Saudi Arabia and Dubai is well documented. Often, after a Japanese racer has won another prize on the international stage, it is Hunter who viewers around the world see play the role of translator between the winning connections and the broadcasters. Although this is the most visible part of his work, it is only a small part.

Behind the scenes, Hunter’s role is global. She works as an intermediary between race organizers and Japanese participants, which requires a lot of paperwork and more than a little hands-on work. Hunter, who can be found doing everything from attending meetings with racetrack CEOs, holding the rod while a horse takes a bath, or picking up laundry, takes all this hand in hand.

“I want everything to go well for everyone, both sides, so they can focus on what they’re here to do,” Hunter said. “Whether it’s preparing for the Breeders’ Cup because they’re the organizers or having fun before the Kentucky Derby because they own the horse, I don’t want anyone to worry about paperwork. involved.

“I also find that doing the little things is very important. Technically this might not be what I was hired to do, but if getting the feed or cleaning up the laundry means they can focus on looking after their horse, well worth it. hard for me to help.

“Basically, I do half of what a groom would do and half of what an administrative assistant would do, but I do it in two languages. I enjoy spending time with horses that travel overseas. If you need help cleaning the stalls or need your horse held down while you wash it, I can do that. Being with horses is my happy place and I love helping people achieve their dreams.

find his home

It was an unlikely trip for a kid who lived in Nashville, Tennessee, and grew up in a family that had nothing to do with horses. Although the state borders Kentucky, it’s not exactly a hotbed for those looking to succeed in the thoroughbred industry.

“I thank my dad for remembering how excited I was to see Grindstone win the Derby,” Hunter said. “He insisted on making me watch all the coverage next year. He actually took me to Louisville to see Silver Charm’s last run in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs a few years later. There’s a picture of me with Pat Day signing something for me on this trip, and I look like a girl in love. Now I hope I can help the first horse bred and trained in Japan to win the Kentucky Derby.

Meet Your Heroes (1): A young Kate Hunter receives Pat Day's autograph at Churchill Downs.  Photo providedAs Hunter discovered her love of horse racing, she also had a growing interest in Japan after the anime caught her eye. She attended Earlham College in Indiana, where she majored in Japanese Studies, and she was studying abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo around the same time Silver Charm arrived in Japan to study there. assume the functions of standard.

It sparked a thought in her that maybe she could merge two of her passions, but it would take time to put the pieces together. After graduating from Earlham in 2006, Hunter took a job in Tennessee for an auto parts company as a parts coordinator and bilingual administrative assistant.

She hated it.

Looking back, Hunter admits it would have been a good job if she had been a different person, but she wanted more.

“I was unhappy and I remember sitting up in bed thinking, ‘Surely there’s something I can do between the two countries and horse racing and enjoy it and be happy,'” said Hunter. “At the time, I had no idea this could happen, but that little thought turned out to be exactly what I’m doing now.”

Language teacher assistant

In 2008, Hunter quit her job and returned to Japan to be an assistant language teacher in Chiba, which is part of the greater Tokyo area. Although she was originally only going to leave for a few years before returning home, it was a position Hunter kept until 2013 when she went to work for a thoroughbred farm. Japanese.

After class, Hunter would ride her bike to nearby racetracks to watch the day’s final races, and she would travel to see more of the Japanese racing industry in her spare time. This led her to create a running blog and take pictures to send back to American publications. “The Japanese admire hard work and you have to earn their trust,” Hunter said.

“For the first time ever, I got permission to come in from the back and take pictures at a racetrack because a trainer had seen me there every day for two months. He told them to let me in. He talked to me a little then asked me to photograph his son who was a jockey. He saw me every day doing the work and trying, and he respected that. I realized that would be the best way for me to get into Japanese racing.

Meet Your Heroes (2): Kate Hunter with her favorite horse Silver Charm while visiting Hokkaido.  Photo providedWhen she had saved up enough money, Hunter made the first of several trips to Hokkaido to visit Silver Charm at the JBBA Iburi Stallion Station. In many ways, this trip has come full circle, as Hunter continues to visit Silver Charm — who is now the oldest living winner of the Kentucky Derby and enjoys her retirement at Old Friends in Kentucky — whenever she is. back in the United States.

“I first rode and spent two full days with him in 2009, and the people on the farm thought I was crazy,” Hunter said. “The following year I came back, and this time they invited me for tea and cake, and they asked me a bunch of questions.

“What’s really cool is that a few years later I was working for a breeding farm in Hokkaido that sent a mare to JBBA to be bred by Empire Maker. I was like, ‘Hi guys! Remember me? I’m legit now! I’m not just a crazy fan anymore!’ Now I also work for them. For Japanese sales, when foreigners come to buy horses, I work for the JBBA to help translate for them.

After three years working on a cattle farm, Hunter started Marugai Racing. The name and logo are a nod to Hunter’s place in Japanese racing.

“If a horse is purchased elsewhere, but it is a legally registered Japanese racehorse, when it races it has this symbol next to its name because it is of foreign but local breed,” said explained Hunter.

“I see myself as a marugai racehorse”

“Marugai isn’t really a word in Japanese, it’s more of a Japanese racing term they coined to describe this mark alongside a horse’s name. ‘Maru’ is a circle and ‘gay’ is an outside person.I was born in America, but am a permanent resident of Japan, so I see myself as a marugai racehorse.

Hunter has lived in Japan for nearly 14 years and she was granted permanent residency in 2019. It’s a 10-year process, and several prominent Japanese riders have written letters of recommendation to the government on her behalf. One of them was Teruya Yoshida of Shadai Farm, owner and breeder of Crown Pride.

“He wrote a letter basically saying how important I was going to be to the future of international racing for the Japanese,” Hunter said. “His father bought Sunday Silence and started the whole Japanese boom. His family did all of this, and then he helped me. Now I’m here to help him with his Kentucky Derby horse.

If Crown Pride became the first Japanese horse to win the Run for the Roses, the pride Hunter would feel would be immense. Her family realized she wouldn’t be coming home in the spring of 2010 when she had the first of her two cats, and winning on the first Saturday in May would be a fitting tribute to her parents’ faith in her when Hunter decided to make a living. at the other end of the world.

“When I had Edie, my parents pointed out that having a pet was a commitment, and I said, ‘Well, I could commit to Japan for a while,'” said Hunter. “They were okay with it because they saw that I was. I obviously didn’t have it all figured out yet, and it took a little longer than I would have liked to get there.

“I wish it was faster so my dad could see it. He passed away at the end of 2010, but my mum told him not to worry about me, which I understood. I have the felt like I lived up to my mom’s deathbed praise, so I’m very happy about that.

• Visit the Kentucky Derby website and the Japan Racing Association website

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