Ex-riders Fujii, Sam bound by same fate, Latest Racing News - The New Paper

Ex-riders Fujii, Sam bound by same fate

Both paraplegic since horrific race and trial falls, former Kranji jockeys compare notes

Kanichiro “Joe” Fujii rode against Sam Subian 38 times at Kranji.

They never fought out a 1-2 finish, but their scoreline reads a 2-2 draw – two for Fujii at his first stint in 2007 with Sam levelling up at the Japanese’s second visit in 2016.

At a time when Noel “King” Callow stole the show in 2007 and arch-rivals Vlad Duric and Manoel Nunes hogged the 2016 season, Sam and Fujii did their best to find their place in the sun.

Theirs was actually more a friendly rivalry as they both rode a lot for trainer Hideyuki Takaoka.

Eight years later, a career-ending and life-changing drama would reunite them.

Both were robbed of their livelihoods after they became paralysed from the chest down following horse fall-induced spinal injuries.

When “A” would denote the best quality in horseflesh, like a Kranji Stakes A, they now share the same alphabet to grade their paraplegia – in this case A being the worst: No motor or sensory function.

After spending most of their lives on their two feet, then on four, speeding around at 65kmh, both men are today wheelchair-bound.

Fujii, who won around 500 races – the highlights being the 2016 Korea Cup with Chrysolite and 2018 Korea Sprint with Moanin – was in town recently, his first Singapore visit since his horror race fall at Fukushima on April 16, 2022.

A roving racing ambassador of sorts for Japan these days, the 40-year-old caught up with old friends at the Kranji races on April 13.

But the one person he was keenest to meet again was Sam.

The father of three was aware the Malaysian suffered a similar fate – after crashing heavily when his mount Silver Spoon clipped heels in a barrier trial on June 13, 2017.

He also read that the winner of 350-odd races had been following a revolutionary electrode implant-based therapy only available in Singapore in a bid to walk again.

Fujii was happy for the 49-year-old, but was also content to continue with his own physiotherapy back in his Shiga hometown.

Over lunch in Bugis on April 11, the two men went down memory lane – but also as two kindred spirits comparing notes.

“When I went to Australia to watch Obamburumai win the Golden Eagle at Rosehill last November, I met Tye Angland, who is also paralysed like me (after a fall in Hong Kong),” said Fujii, who honed his craft in Australia.

“I just came back from Sydney. Obamburumai’s owner invited me again. He ran in the Doncaster Mile, but he didn’t win this time.

“But I was so excited to stop over in Singapore on the way back to meet Sam. He told me he can now walk 28m, which is amazing.

“Japan doesn’t have that implant, but I’m also making slow steps using a frame and high-tech aids.”

While they share other common side-effects like loss of bladder control, Sam said he felt more pain than Fujii, like spasms when it rains – but not just physically.

“Japan Racing Association takes good care of Joe. He told me he gets a S$70,000 yearly allowance for life,” said Sam, who works as a Decathlon sports adviser in Bedok.

“I did get an insurance payout of $420,000. It paid for the surgery and other costs for the first two years, but the costs are ongoing.

“The implant scheme was great but it doesn’t last forever. I have to pay for my own therapy now, not easy when I earn $1,000 a month.”

Regardless of their plights, they both hope for a miracle cure, even if Fujii is not as hell-bent.

“Many articles make it sound like I can walk again, but it’s not quite true. To be honest, I’m already used to life in a wheelchair,” said the winner of 18 races at Kranji.

“I’m quite independent, I can go anywhere I want. I can travel the world, and enjoy my racing and my part-time work for Shadai Farms.

“Even if a cure is found one day, there is still a risk I can fall over and hurt myself even more.

“I’m just happy to be alive with my family, and in good health.”