Originally from Hanama‘ulu, Roy Yaka (1931-2007) was a perennial top 10 professional thoroughbred racehorse jockey in Northern California from 1959 to 1981, and a thoroughbred racehorse trainer from 1981 to 1991.
Since jockeys are required to meet horse carrying weight limits set by racing authorities, a small stature is a prerequisite to being a jockey. In the case of the Kentucky Derby, for example, the weight limit is 126 pounds, which includes a jockey’s equipment.
In this regard, Roy Yaka was naturally well-qualified, being one of the smallest jockeys in the western United States. Yaka weighed only 105 pounds, 10 pounds lighter than the average jockey’s weight and stood just 5 feet tall in his riding gear.
Following his apprenticeship in 1958, for which he was voted the outstanding apprentice rider for all the major U.S. race tracks, Yaka’s first mount as a journeyman in 1959 was “Forever Darling,” owned by musician and actor Dezi Arnez and his wife, comedian Lucille Ball. Although Yaka lost, he said he got a “big kick” out of the race.
He was known as a “hoop-de-do” rider, one of those jockeys who breaks quickly out of the gate and keeps a fast pace throughout the race.
A hard worker, Yaka averaged six to eight mounts a day and would turn out for workouts in the morning, whether required, or not.
Some of the top jockeys he competed against were Eddie Arcaro, Willie Shoemaker, Ray York, Bill Bolling, Don Pierce and George Taniguchi, whose mother was born in Kekaha, Kaua‘i.
His career statistics as a jockey from 1959 to 1975 are unavailable, but from 1976 to 1981, records show Yaka had 3,743 starts, 404 first-place finishes, 421 second-place finishes, 441 third-place finishes and earnings of $2,671,455.
Yaka’s statistics as a trainer consist of 1,375 starts, 125 firsts, 139 seconds, 148 thirds, with earnings totaling $1,093,536.
He and his wife, Atsuko, had one son, Royce.