Japan: French star Mickaelle Michel forced to fly home after COVID-19 spread

Horse Racing Mickaelle Michel jockey
Mickaelle Michel: fan favourite had hoped to stay in Japan. Photo: courtesy of Saudi Cup

By Jon Lees

Japan: Record-breaking jockey Mickaelle Michel, who has made such a name for herself on the world stage with her exploits this winter, has been forced to fly home to France due to the rapid rise in the number of coronavirus cases in Japan.

Japan has reported relatively few deaths from the outbreak compared to other countries and racing has continued behind closed doors.

But in the last week the number of cases in Tokyo has doubled to more than 1,000, leading to fears of a major outbreak. As a result on Tuesday the government declared a month-long state of emergency in the capital, and six other prefectures. That gives governors the power to close schools and businesses.

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Michel has established a large following as a fan favourite in Japan, where she completed a hugely successful two-month riding stint a week ago when riding her 30th winner to break the record for the most wins by an overseas jockey on a two- or three-month licence on Japan’s second-tier NAR circuit.

She had planned to remain in Japan through April while exploring options to ride in other countries before returning in August.

Michel, who has become a hugely popular figure among Japan’s fanatical race fans, told netkeiba.com: “I’m very sorry, I’ve decided to change schedule and return home. The French government is encouraging people to return home. My mother is very worried about me.

“I got in touch with the airline, and this week’s flight is the last. I do not know what other time I can return home if I do not get on it, so I decided to go home suddenly.”

Michel, who hopes to sit the first stage of the two-part exam to earn a licence for the JRA circuit in October, said she would continue her Japanese lessons with her teacher by Skype.

She continued: “I want to come back in the summer and I want to take the JRA licence primary test in the fall and the second test next year, and during the three months I will be able to ride on a short-term local horse racing licence as scheduled.

“It’s very sad that my important Japanese fans can’t meet me. Despite the world’s difficult situation, I think we can overcome this. I will always return to Japan.”

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