keirin racing
Casino gambling is illegal in Japan but Japanese are allowed to bet on horses, bicycle and motorboat races. Gambling is also done in a disguised form at pachinko parlors. Punters can place illegal bets on baseball games and other sports using their cell phones.

In the 7th century, Japanese gambled on everything from poetry competitions to horse races. In the postwar era legalized betting became an important source of revenue for governments.

Horse racing, bicycle races and miniboat races — and for a while motorcycle racing — are government-controlled and sources of revenues for local governments. The amount of money spent on government-controlled gambling has declined since the bubble economy years, with revenues falling from ¥5.5 trillion in 1991 to ¥4 trillion in 1998 to around ¥3.5 trillion in 2001. As the amount of money spent on gambling have fallen so too have local government revenues from gambling.

Out of all the money taken in by gambling, 75 percent traditionally went to the winning betters with local and national governments splitting the rest. Horse racing money traditionally went to the ministries of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries while bicycle racing money went to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Much of the money paid for the "construction state" and "bridges to nowhere."

Japanese show up in large numbers in Las Vegas. They and other Asians are among the biggest rollers there. There has been some discussion of legalizing casino gambling in Japan. These efforts have been spearhead by Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, who has proposed opening a casino in Tokyo’s Odaiba area. In November 2005, this plan was shelved.

According to the National Police Agency, jockeys, cyclists and others involved in activities subject to government-run gambling are liable for criminal penalties if they fix races in return for money.

In Japan, there are illegal cell phone gambling sites, where people can win cash prizes for playing junken (rock, scissors, paper). In July 2010, the owner of one such site, who said that he had earned more than $1 million, was arrested in crack down on mobile phone gambling. In the game players buy betting tickets for ¥315 and win ¥1,000 if they win three times in a row and ¥10,000 if they win five times in a row. According to police the site had 27,000 users, including minors.

Good Websites and Sources: Japan Visitor on Gambling in Japan Wikipedia article on Gambling in Japan Wikipedia ; What Japan Thinks on Gambling Kyotei Boat Racing ; Kyotei Video YouTube ; Horse Racing in Japan ; Horse Racing in Japan International Museum of the Horse ; Beginners Guide to Horse Racing in Japan ; Photos of Draft Horse Racing ; Wikipedia article on Keirin (Bettable Bicycle Races ) Wikipedia ; Keirin Info ; Kerin Story and Photos


Lotteries in Japan

New Year lottery ticket
Around New Year's many Japanese buy tickets for the Jumbo Takarakuji lottery at department stores. The lottery number is selected during a television broadcast using arrows fired at fast-spinning targets with numbers. Many people buy a series of numbers in succession because the winning number, yielding a prize of around $2 million, is the number selected through the arrow system and the second and third place worth about $1 million and $500,000 are the numbers that are one number higher and one number lower than the winning number. The Summer Jumbo lottery offered 42 top prizes worth ¥200 million in 2003. Sometimes long lines form to get tickets.

Japan’s first lottery is believed to have been held at Ryuanji Temple in Mino, Osaka. A letter dated to 1575 by a local daimyo asks for the lottery to be conducted fairly. Ukiyo-e prints of famous places in the Osaka area from the late Edo period depict a lottery at the temple. A box used in lottery in the mid Edo period is still in use at the temple.

Lotteries were popular in the late Edo period until they were banned in the Tempo reforms (1841-1843) after a number of tragedies were linked with them. A satirical poem from that period reads, “Someone hanged himself holding a lottery ticket.” Lotteries came back and were used in World War II t raise finds. A lottery called the Kachifunda held in the closing months of the war collected ¥200 million but never awarded a prize as the war ended and a winner was never chosen.

In April 2005, Hisako Yoshida, a 42-year-old woman, won $2 million in a lottery and promptly disappeared. Three years later her boyfriend, Ininich Kumagai, was arrested for murder. Kumagai said he used some of the lottery money to settle his debts and is believed to have killed Yoshida after a fight over money.

The sale of lottery tickets declined from ¥60.4 billion 2001 to ¥40.8 billion in 2003 to ¥15.5 billion in 2004. Some blame the drop on the difficulty in winning. In the Loto6 game, for example, you have to pick six winning number from 43 million possibilities.

In May 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Lottery ticket sales in Japan exceeded 1 trillion yen for the first time in three years in fiscal 2011, internal affairs minister Tatsuo Kawabata said. The government will consider steps to boost lottery sales even further, Kawabata told a news conference. Sales for the business year that ended in March were 1.004 trillion yen, up 9.3 percent from the previous year, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said. The growth was led by the popularity of the "Green Jumbo" lottery with record prizes, launched to help generate funds to support reconstruction of areas devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami last year. Lottery sales fell below 1 trillion yen in fiscal 2009 and to 919 billion yen in fiscal 2010. [Source: Jiji Press, May 14, 2012]

Soccer Lotteries in Japan

To generate money for sports organizations and create an interest in the J-League soccer league a government-backed lottery called "Toto" was launched in 2001. Punters must guess the win-loss results of all the games by making makers on the Toto cards. Anyone 19 or older can play and can bet as little as ¥100. Bets can be places with cell phones, on the Internet and at convenient stores. It is possible to bet an all 13 games, five games or two games.

Toto isn’t all that popular. Winner can earn as much as $899,000 from cards that cost less than $1. But the chances of winning were extremely low. Players have to predict the result of 13 J-League games that could have 1.6 million combinations. Toto has lost money and it operators have charged with mismanagement. It was originally set up to provide money for sports organizations but since it lost money there no money to give them.

The largest lottery prize ever was a ¥584,156,640 million payout in the “Big” soccer pool lottery. The winner is the person or persons with tickets match with all correct results of all the J-League first and second division games. Punters can not pick the results themselves. A computer randomly chooses the results for the ticket purchaser

In May 2007, seven people shared the 2nd largest lottery prize every of ¥563 million in the “Big” soccer pool lottery.

Bicycle and Boat Races in Japan

Japan is one of few countries in the world where gamblers can bet on humans. They can bet on Keirin track bicycle races, motorcycle races and boats. The crowd for these sports are usually rough and drunk and mostly male. Some venues don't even have women's bathrooms.


Keirin is a track cycling event in which races are motorpaced by a motor-bike before engaging in a frantic dash to the finish line. Appearing first in Kitakyushu in 1948, the races feature eight riders covering a distance of 2,025 meters. The betting is kind of complicated.

Attendance at bicycle track declined by 36 percent between 1992 and 2001, partly as result of the recession. Track owners have tied using scantily-clad girls and light shows to lure them back In September 2008, a professional cyclist was killed in a crash during a Keirin race at velodrome in Ichinomiya, Aichi Prefecture. The rider, 27-year-old Kei Uchida, fell and hit his head as he entered the home straight.

The boat races (kyotei) are held in a football-size artificial lake with a grandstand on one side. Eight bathtub-size. one-man boats race. They get a running start and do several laps around buoys at either end of the lake. Usually the boat that has the best position around the first turn wins the race. Punters can bet on who will win, place or show. Most bets are on the top two finishers or top three finishers, either in order or not in order.

Women's Keirin

Noriaki Sasaki wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “"Claaaang! Claaang! Claang! Clang! Clang! Clang!..." Clad in colorful uniforms, professional female cyclists pedaled furiously toward the finish line as the bell signaling the last lap of the race rang out over the Keiokaku velodrome near the Tamagawa river in Chofu, western Tokyo. After a 48 year absence, "Girl's Keirin," or women's bicycle racing, has made a comeback. The cyclists come from all sorts of backgrounds, including a former Olympic speed skater, a model, housewives and teachers. [Source: Noriaki Sasaki, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 2012]

Yukari Nakamura, 31, worked as a teacher at a public primary school in Osaka for seven years. After hearing that women's cycling would make a comeback, Nakamura decided to realize her childhood dream of becoming a professional athlete. By winning the preliminaries and the final race held on July 6-8, Nakamura rode to victory in all her races. As one of the first female keirin cyclists, Nakamura said, "I'd like Girl's Keirin to become a well-known sport.”

Aiming to attract young, new cycling fans, Keiokaku held a race-watching tour exclusively for women. Tour participants enjoyed sweets while learning important points about watching races. One participant, Yasuko Shoji, 44, a company employee from Hachioji, western Tokyo, seemed to fully enjoy the tour. "The race was exciting," she said.

Women's cycling began in 1949, one year after men's cycling was launched. However, it was discontinued in 1964 due to waning popularity, partly because of a lack of female professional cyclists. The sport was revived this year as women's cycling became an official event at the London Olympics. A total of 33 women are participating in the revived sport. These women, who range in age from 19 to 50, went through rigorous training at Nihon Keirin Gakko training school in Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Illegal Online Gambling in Japan?

In September 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Questions have been raised over the legality of a portion of a popular online game in which players dice for virtual currency, since winnings can be exchanged for real money elsewhere on the Internet. "Dragon Quest X" is enormously popular, selling 500,000 copies in the month since its release. In the game, players are able to invite other players to dice games using virtual currency that is supposed to be used only inside the game. In reality, the virtual cash can be openly exchanged for actual currency at real money trade (RMT) websites. This turns the play gambling during the game into unauthorized betting, which is prohibited by the Penal Code, according to legal experts. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 23, 2012]

RMT sites allow gamers to buy and sell virtual currency or items used in video games for real money. The service is available at sites operated by Internet auction companies and firms that specialize in the practice. The service has been widely available for about 10 years, and is used by a large number of online gamers to increase the levels they can reach in games or to obtain rare items. The RMT market is estimated to be worth at least 10 billion yen, but is not regulated by law.

In "Dragon Quest X," users interact online while playing the game. In parts of the game called "hiroba" (plazas), players can invite each other to chat. Dice games sometimes occur in these chat rooms. In one instance, a player invited to dice responded, "The bet is 1,000 G [gold] and the winner gets six times that." Other solicitations for similar dice games were easy to find. Players use a built-in dice function that returns rolls from one to 100. They bet on the number they think will turn up in the cast, and the player whose number is closest wins the round. Bets are paid in virtual currency called "gold.”

A self-proclaimed gambler chatted with The Yomiuri Shimbun online on Sept. 16. The user would not give a name or even state a gender, but claimed to be 11 years old and to have earned 500,000 gold through the dice game. According to another user, "I saved 50,000 gold in two weeks of struggle [playing the game], but I could earn the same amount in just one day at dice.” Where there are winners, there must also be losers, and the user said several players have lost huge amounts of gold and have resorted to purchasing more at RMT sites.

"Dragon Quest X" virtual currency and items can be exchanged for real money on RMT sites. One site advertised it would buy 1,000 gold for 70 yen and sold the same amount for 110 yen. According to a website that tracks RMT prices, the amount of virtual currency trading for "Dragon Quest X" in the past 30 days far outstripped that in other online games, surpassing the second-place game by a factor of about 2.6.

This frenzy of activity has caught the attention of legal experts, who have expressed concern that the practice could constitute illegal gambling if virtual currency earned by dicing was cashed in for real money. An official of Square Enix Co., the maker of "Dragon Quest X," denied the practice was illegal. "Players are exchanging virtual currency only within the confines of the game. It's still within the range of play," the official said.

Legally, gambling is defined as two or more persons competing for valuables through an eventuality. "Virtual currency used inside online games has no economic value. It isn't subject to gambling charges," said another game industry source. However, according to Yoji Ochiai, a lawyer who specializes in the Internet, "Since there are cash-out systems, it's possible that the trading of virtual currencies could constitute gambling."

Takashi Kiso, president of the International Casino Institute, compared the RMT system to pachinko, in which players exchange prizes for cash at trading places outside pachinko parlors. The main difference, he said, is that the amusement business control law prohibits people under 18 from entering pachinko parlors. "Since a large number of primary and middle school students play 'Dragon Quest X,' the situation appears to be problematic from an educational viewpoint," Kiso said.

Mikoto Hata wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Video game companies have responded to the gambling charges by saying RMT sites are run by third-party firms and that their games do not resemble gambling in any way. Game companies note that their rules of use prohibit players from using RMT sites and those who violate that rule face expulsion. However, an official at an RMT firm said the relationship is mutually beneficial. "They welcome the situation because the RMT system increases enthusiasm for their games," the official said. RMT operators register themselves as game users so they can give and receive the items and the virtual cash their customers buy and sell. "If the game companies wanted to, they could easily deregister us. But I've never had that happen. I don't think they have any intention of getting rid of the RMT system," the official said. The Dragon Quest series is a national icon, with 59 million copies sold overall, so a large number of children are seen as being at risk of engaging in gambling in the game.

Horse Racing in Japan

More money is spent on track horse race betting in Japan than any country in the world. Race tracks are often filled with people. Japanese punters bet $38 billion on horses in 1999 — three times as much as their American counterparts. The government get 10 percent of that gate at 10 national courses and earns hundred of millions of dollars its share of betting receipts.

Regional horse racing is held nationwide at 16 tracks, all of which are run by associations backed by municipal or prefectural governments. Many Japanese bet at racetracks in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and other cities and also place bets at WINS or JRA off-track-betting outlets (which are closed Monday through Friday). Japanese punters like to bet on quinellas (top two horses in any order), or to win or show. Many styles of bets that are popular in the United States are not used in Japan. About 12 percent of the betters are women.

The popularity of horse racing has been declining for some time. In February 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Sales at regional racecourses stood at just 332.2 billion yen in fiscal 2010, about one-third of the 986.2 billion yen recorded in fiscal 1991. The number of visitors to racetracks also fell sharply during the period, from a peak of 14.66 million to 3.96 million in 2010. Of the 16 organizers, eight posted losses in fiscal 2010 ending in March 2011. The Arao Racetrack in Arao, Kumamoto Prefecture, was forced to close in December 2011 due to accumulated debt. In total, 13 racetracks have closed their doors since fiscal 2001. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 26, 2012]

The amount of money bet at horse race tracks drop from around ¥1 trillion in 1991 to around ¥4.3 billion im 2003. The number of spectators in the same period dropped from around 14 million to 7 million. There are plans for private owners to take over the tracks to rescue them. In the 1990s attendance at tracks dropped from 12.2 million to 10.7 million between 1995 and 1999. The total take dropped from $6.6 billion to $5.8 billion in the same period. A quarter of the nonprofit associations that run the tracks are in the red. The reasons for the decline include the economic recession and competition from other kinds of entertainment.

Japanese horse races often have a lot of horses running. Some horse races in Japan are run counter-clockwise (European-style) and some are run clockwise (American-style). There are rules that limit the number of foreign horses that can take part in a race. Japan Racing Association oversees horse racing in Japan.

Increasing demand for race horses from China is breathing fresh life into Japanese stud farms. Organizations and wealthy Chinese organize horse races while riding and polo are becoming popular among the rich. A single horse farm in Jilin bought over 100 horses from Hokkaido stud farms.

Betting on Horse Races in Japan

horse race bet-making
vending machine
Gambling on horse racing is done through parimutuel betting, which means the odds are set according to the amount bet nationwide. Bets can be placed at Japan Racing Association (JRA) racetracks or betting outlets known as WINS. Bets are usually made using computer-readable cards. To place a bet you need to know the horses number or the bracket they are in, the number of the race, the track they are running at and the type of bet you want to make.

Punters can: 1) place bets on horses to win or place second; 2) exactas for the top two finishers in the correct order and the trifecta in which you pick the top three horses in the correct order: and 3) quinellas in which you pick the top two horses but the can come in either order.

Bracket quinellas are popular in Japan and somewhat unique. To understand them you first need to know what a bracket is. The gates in Japan are divided into eight brackets each with color. 1 is white 2 is black, red 3, 4 blue, 5 yellow, 6 green, 7 orange and 8 pink. These are the colors of the jackets and hats of the jockeys. The shirts are the colors of their owners, because a Japanese horse race can have 18 horses but there are only 8 brackets some brackets may have two or even three horses. So when you bet on bracket quinella you are betting on the horses in bracket of a particular color. If any horse in the bracket wins the bracket wins. As is true with a regular quinella you bet on the top two finishers, in either order, only with a bracket quinella you are betting on the bracket not the individual horses.

Average prize money per horse race in 1998: 1) Hong Kong ($79,700); 2) South Korea ($33,600); 3) Japan ($27,100); 4) United Arab Emirates ($15,500); 5) France ($15,100); 6) Ireland ($14,000); 7) Britain ($13,000); 8) the United States ($10,900); 9) Saudi Arabia ($8,800); 10) Germany ($7,100); 11) Australia ($6,100); 12) New Zealand ($4,300). [Source: International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities]

Eleven horse races were canceled at a race track in Tokyo in December 2004, after the the horse feed there was found to contain small amounts of stimulants. Sixty-three, or half the horses on the card that day, ate the feed.

Horse Racing Reforms

In February 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “To boost the nation's struggling sport of horse racing, the government has decided to allow regional race organizers to decide what percentage of the proceeds from the sale of betting tickets to set aside for the payment of winning bets. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 26, 2012]

Currently, about 75 percent of the sales from horse race betting is set aside to pay winning tickets for races conducted by the National Association of Racing. This is the same rate adopted by Japan Racing Association races, which are wholly financed by the government. The remaining 25 percent of the betting turnover is used as prize money for the owners of victorious horses and to cover operating costs, such as employee salaries. Under the revision, race organizers would be allowed to set the rate of return at their own discretion--for instance, by lowering it to 70 percent or raising it to 80 percent.

In the past, profits from horse racing sufficiently funded the coffers of local governments. The sport produced such legends as Haru Urara, who raced at Kochi Racetrack in Kochi. The horse was adored by fans not for her success but for a string of losses, failing to post a single win in 113 starts. There also was the legendary Oguri Cap, who started at Kasamatsu Racetrack in Kasamatsu, Gifu Prefecture, and went on to compete in the JRA circuit, winning graded races at various levels.

The revision bill also would promote the development of thoroughbred breeding and training areas by providing assistance for the acquisition of high-quality broodmares and the improvement and expansion of pastures. The bill also would promote exports of Japanese stallions and other thoroughbreds to China, Singapore and South Korea.

Japanese Horse Races and Jockeys

The races in the Japanese Triple Crown are: 1) The Satsuki Sho in Nakayama in April (2,000 meters); 2) The Japan Derby in Tokyo in May (2,400 meters); The Kikka Sho in Kyoto in late October (3,000 meters long). The races in the fillies Triple Crown are : 1) Oka-Sho in Kobe in April (1,600 meters); 2) the Yushun Himba in Tokyo in late May; and 3) the Shuka-sho in Kyoto. These events are mostly for Japanese horses.

The Japan Cup and Japan Derby horse races at Tokyo racecourse are two of the world's richest horse races. The Japan Cup is an international event first staged on 2004 that takes place on 2,400 meter turf track. The winner gets the Emperor’s Prize. The Japan Cup Dirt is on run a 2,100 meter dirt track on the same day as the Japan Cup. It was first run in 1999. The Japan Derby is a race 2000 meter race featuring three-year-old thoroughbreds. First held in 1999, it is modeled after the Kentucky Derby.

Other big races include the Arima Kinen run on Christmas Day at Nakayama Racecourse in Chiba Prefecture. It is the highest grossing race in the world.

In November 2007, jockey Yutaka Take won his 3,000th career victory on a race course in Kyoto. A few months earlier he set the records in Japanese horse-racing for all time wins with 2,944. Take was 38 when the record was set. He needed 21 years to set it.

Star jockey Hiroyuki Uchida had the highest number of wins for a record seven consecutive years in the JRA in 2009. He started the 2010 season by breaking his arm in a freak nine-horse accident caused when the horse in lead leaned inside at a strange angle causing the horses and jockeys trailing it to go down one after another.

In February 2008, 19-year-old Kosei Miura became the fastest jockey to chalk up 100 wins. He did it in 11 months and seven days after his debut.

Japan’s top jockey in 2010, Norihiro Yokoyama, won 120 victories and earned about $1.34 million. Masayoshi Ebina was second with $1.25 million in earnings. Hiroyuki Uchida was third with $1.20 million in earnings.

Famous Japanese Horses

Mejiro Bright
The winner of 2000 Kentucky Derby, Fuchaichi Pegasus, was owned by a flamboyant ponytailed Japanese entrepreneur named Fusa Sekiguchi, who bought the horse at the Keeland race track's annual yearling sale for $4 million in 1998.

In November 2006, two Japanese horses — Delta Blues and his stalemate Pop Rock — placed first and second in a photo finish at the 146th running of the Melbourne Cup. Both horses came from the world’s biggest thoroughbred stud farm owned by the Japanese Yoshida family.

In the early and mid 2000s a big deal was made about a racehorse named Haruurara, who debuted in 1998 and as of 2005 had never won in 106 appearances. Many came at the race track to see her and bet on here. She became so famous that she appeared in a film and some television commercials. In June 2008, a racehorse named Elizabeth Queen set a new record for consecutive losses: 162. The previous record of 161 had stood for 16 years,

Other famous race horsed in Japan include Haiseiko, who raced in 1973 and 1974 and was sort of a Japanese version of Seabiscuit; Oguri Cap, who raced in the early 1980s but couldn’t enter the Japanese triple Crown races because he as not registered as a two-year-old; Opera O, the all-time leading money winner with ¥183 million in winnings; and Symbolic Rudolf, who went unbeaten and won the Triple Crown in 1984.

The greatest winning for a horse was $9,663,593 by the 1994 Japanese triple Crown winner Narita Brian (foaled 1991) to June 1996. In May 2007, Vodka became the first filly in 64 years to win the Japan Derby. Only two other fillies have won the race.

In March 2011, following the Great East Japan Earthquake, Victoire Pisa became the first Japanese racehorse to win the premier Dubai World Cup, reflecting improved performance of Japanese steeds at overseas races.

In July 2012, I’ll Have Another, the winner of the Kentucky derby and Preakness, was sold to a farm in Japan for $10 million. The horse’s owner, J. Paul Reddam, had received offers of $5 million and $3 million for the horse in the U.S.

Deep Impact

Deep Impact was arguably the strongest, the most successful and popular Japanese race horses of all time. Trained by Yasuo Ikee and ridden by jockey Yutaka Take, as a three-year-old in 2005, he was only the second horse in Japanese history to go undefeated and then win the Japanese triple crown

Deep Impact was rarely whipped. A few tugs on the reigns was enough to send the colt “flying.” He usually made his move on the final straight and exploded with a convincing lead over the field. He won Derby by five lengths. In the Japan Cup Deep Impact made a come back won. When he won the Kikka Sho in Kyoto in October 2005, 5 percent of the total prize money of ¥56.4 went unclaimed because racing fans preferred to the keep their winning tickets with even odds rather than cashing them in.

Deep Impact was born and bred in an elite stable. He was sired by Sunday Silence, a famous breeding horse that won the Kentucky Derby in 1989. Shortly after his birth he as sold for ¥70 million. Top jockeya were in the saddle in all of his 13 starts.

Deep Impact lost his first race in at the Arima Kinen in December 2005. Before that he had seven straight victories. He finished second. If he had won he would have been the first horse to win the famous race and the triple crown. Some blame snowy conditions at the for messing up Deep Impact’s training.

After a lot of hype and expectations Deep Impact went to Paris to race in the prestigious Prix de l’ Arc de Triomphe race, the richest race in Europe. More than 6,000 Japanese went to France to see horse race. One Japanese man flew to London so he could place a $30,000 bet in cash at odd of 4-1 on the horse at an off-track betting office. In the end Deep Impact finished a disappointing third and then was disqualified for doping after ipratropium, an inhaled medication, was found in his urine. Ipratropium is used to treat respiratory ailments such as asthma. It is not banned in Japan The drug is believed to have been used in an inhaler used to treat a respiratory condition on the horse.

Deep Impact won 11 of 12 starts — seven at Grade One level — in Japan. He closed out his racing career at the age of four with a win in the 51st Arima Kinen in front of a crowd of 117,000. The victory left him second on all-time money lost in Japan with ¥1.5 billion ($12.6 million) in earnings, just short of the amount won by Opera O in 26 races (Deep Impact raced on only 13). After owner Makoto Kanelo sold the stud rights to a syndicate for ¥5 billion Deep Impact returned home to Abiracho, Hokkaido where his stud fees will be about $100,000 — the highest price on record in Japan for a thoroughbred in its first year as a stud.

Japan Takes First and Second in World’s Richest Horse Race

In March 2011, two weeks after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, Japan’s Victoire Pisa won the $10 million World Cup by a half length over another Japan horse Transcend, capturing the world’s richest horse race in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. [Source: AP, New York Times, March 26, 2011]

AP reported: “Three Japanese horses were entered, and the March 11 earthquake and tsunami clearly were on the minds of the owners and trainers. Many wore polo shirts with the word “Hope” on the sleeve and the date of the disaster on the back...The Japanese came into the World Cup with some of the stronger horses, but the catastrophe seemed to inspire many of the owners. Several of the Japanese teams said their operations were damaged by the quake and tsunami that have left more than 27,000 dead or missing.”

“Transcend, the lesser-known of the Japanese horses, stormed out of the gate and led much of the way, with the Irish Derby winner Cape Blanco and the long-shot Monterosso coming on. As the horses headed down the stretch, Victoire Pisa broke from the pack to beat Transcend. Monterosso was third...Much of the prerace talk concerned Buena Vista, the horse of the year in Japan in 2010. She finished second in Dubai last year in the Sheema Classic. In 17 career starts, she has never finished out of the money — eight wins, six seconds and three thirds.

But Victoire Pisa had the momentum, beating Buena Vista in December in the Arima Kinen, a Group 1 race in Japan. Still, the trainer Katsuhiko Sumii came into the race with doubts since Victoire Pisa had not raced against such a “strong field” that included the likes of favorite Twice Over and the American heavyweight Gio Ponti, and never on the all-weather Tapeta surface in Dubai.

In March 2010, Red Desire, a Japan-raised filly, became the first female to race in the world’s richest horse race, the $10 million Dubai World Cup

Heartbreak for Japan at the Arc Horse Race

Japanese racing fans hoped they finally could achieve their dream at Longchamp of winning Europe's most prestigious flat race the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe after two agonising runners-up spots. Japan have been trying for 31 years to win the race with 10 runners trying their best and failing, though El Condor Pasa, in 1999, and Nakayama Festa in 2010, both trained by 48-year-old Yoshitaka Ninomiya, have finished second. [Source: Pirate Irwin, AFP, September 26, 2011]

Given that only eight winners (seven Italian and one German) in the 88 runnings of the Arc have been trained outside the traditional strongholds of England, Ireland and France it is not a record to be ashamed of.However, Shingo Soma, from the Japan Racing Association, said that second best was no good to them."It is a Japanese dream to win the Arc and every year we try to have runners. Last year we almost won. Hopefully this year we can do it."

This time round Nakayama Festa is back for another tilt and will face last year's winner Workforce, who edged him after a thrilling duel down the straight.Nakayama Festa, whose owner Shinichi Izumi fulfilled his late daughter's wish for the horse to run in the Arc last year, will be joined by Hiruno D'Amour in the field.

But this year's Dubai World Cup winner Victoire Pisa is an absentee after suffering an injury.Both the Japanese runners have a run under their belts with Hiruno D'Amour having finished second and Nakayama Festa fourth and last - behind last year's Arc third and this year's favourite Sarafina - in the Prix Foy.Mitsugu Kon, trainer of Hiruno D'Amour, believes that Sarafina showed a weak spot in the Foy and that his stable star can beat her.

"The winner is the likely favourite for the Arc, but to have had to go up the inside like she did, I'd say she was having a rough time of it," said Kon."I think we can expect to turn the tables next time out."Ninomiya also believes Nakayama Festa has a lot more in him especially as the Foy was his first race in nearly a year since finishing a disappointing 14th in the Japan Cup"It's raining but I'm feeling like blue skies," he said after the Foy. "Since the Japan Cup, I've only tuned him with work. We needed this race. Considering the condition he was in after arriving from Japan, we absolutely had to give him a sharpener."

In the end Hiruno D'Amour and Nakayama Festa performed poorly at the 2011 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, finishing 10th and 11th respectively.


Orfevre was Japan’s 2011 Horse of the Year and a winner of Japan’s Triple Crown. There were high hopes he could win the Arc de Triomphe, regarded by some as the world’s premier horse race, but he was just edged out at the finish. Race Book betting reported: “Gerard and Alain Wertheimer’s filly Solemia won the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in October 2012 at Longchamp in a huge upset, overtaking front-runner Orfevre in the final strides in a heartbreaking loss to the Japanese superstar... Orfevre raced near the back of the field on heavy going under French champion jockey Christophe Soumillon, but swept past nearly all the field on the outside and into command about 200 meters out. [Source: Race Book betting, October 2012]

Opening a three-length lead and looking like he would land a historic first victory from 12 tries in the race for Japan, Orfevre weakened a bit on the stamina-draining ground nearing the finish. He could not hold back the tremendous rally of Solemia, who raced in contention from the start along the rail before landing her first Group 1 victory by a neck. “It’s the Arc!” trainer Carlos Laffon-Parias exclaimed to the French press after landing his first win in the race. “I thought we were beaten in the straight, then I saw Orfevre stopping.”

Solemia provided jockey Olivier Peslier a fourth win in the Arc, Europe’s premier middle-distance race, after three consecutive wins from 1996-1998. The irish-bred filly covered the Arc’s 1 1/2 miles in 2:37.68 on turf rated as heavy after breaking from post 6 in the Arc, from which three of the seven previous winners have started. Orfevre was drawn widest of all in post 18 and raced on the far outside throughout before his crushing defeat.

Ovfevre was trained by Yatsutoshi Ikee. The Asahi Shimbun reported: “When Orfevre won the Kikuka-sho in October 2011 to become the seventh horse to win the Japanese Triple Crown, trainer Yasutoshi Ikee attributed the success to his family's years of dedication to the sport. To celebrate the momentous occasion, Ikee took a family photo with his 70-year-old father, Yasuo Ikee, who was also a trainer, and his 1-year-old son Yuki. "I couldn't have done it without my father," says the younger Ikee. "He is the one behind the Triple Crown title." [Source: Masanori Ariyoshi, Asahi Shimbun, October 26, 2011

Before retiring from the Japan Racing Association in February, Yasuo Ikee had trained many famous horses over his 31-year career, including Deep Impact, the sixth horse to win the Triple Crown. Yasuo also trained Orfevre's sire, Stay Gold, and Orfevre's dam's sire, Mejiro McQueen. Yasuo's training of the two horses definitely contributed to Orfevre's impressive records. In a sport where thoroughbreds rule, Yasutoshi Ikee was able to validate both his and his father's history and dedication with Orfevre's Triple Crown title.

Yasutoshi grew up near Kyoto Race Course, where the Kikuka-sho is held most years. Popular jockey Yutaka Take was a classmate of his and Yasutoshi wanted to be a jockey, too. He trained with Take at a horse racing club but had to give up on that career path when he grew too tall. It was then that Yasutoshi decided to follow in his father's footsteps as a trainer. He trained in Britain and other locations, and began working professionally as a trainer in 2004. In just his third year in the job, he became the trainer with the highest winning percentage in the JRA. In his fifth year, he claimed the title for most wins. In his eighth year as a professional trainer, he was able to train a Japanese Triple Crown winner.

"I still had a chance (at success) but for Orfevre, this title was a once-in-a-lifetime chance," Yasutoshi says. "I am so happy that I was able to make him a Triple Crown winner." Yasutoshi desperately wanted a win at the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe to clear his family name, which was hurt when Deep Impact was disqualified from the Arc de Triomphe in 2006 after testing positive for a banned substance.

Japanese Draft Horse Races

“Ban-ei””draft horses racing”is a traditional sport of eastern Hokkaido. The horses, which often weigh more than a ton, pull heavy sleds, which weigh up to a ton, on a special course with two small hillocks. The hardest part of the race is pulling the sled up the hills. Many horses stop and rest and gather their strength before making a stab at the hill. Some horses don’t finish even though the track is straight and only 200 meters long.

Legally managed races began in 1946 and were very popular in the Bubble Economy years in the 1980s when four tracks drew reasonable-size crowds and made large amounts of money from gambling. Betting on the races peaked in 1991 when ¥32 billion was wagered. In 2005 only ¥15.4 billion was bet and the Hokkaido Municipal Horse Race Association was in debt of ¥3.13 billion.

In November 2006, the Hokkaido Municipal Horse Race Association said the sport was formally going to terminate at the end of the 2006-2007 because of losses incurred at the race courses. A month 2006, the Internet and cell phone company Softbank agreed to sponsor the draft horse races and the Obihiro municipal government said the races would continue. The desire to keep the sport going was driven by a love of the sport, worries about lost jobs and concern over the welfare of the horses that might have to be killed because without racing there was nothing for them to do.

Many feel the sport is doomed. Fans of the sport are old. Young people have little interest in it and horses no longer play a part in Hokkaido society. “Nowadays only fools own horses” one horse breeder told the International Herald Tribune.

“Yuki ni Negau Koto” (“What the Snow Brings”) is a film about draft horses race in eastern Hokkaido. It won many awards at the Tokyo Film Festival in 2006.

Draft horse race

Description of Japanese Draft Horse Races

Ban-ei is associated with settlers to Hokkaido, who raised horses to plow fields and haul logs and staged competition in which horses pulled logs from different directions. The horses originate from Europe and were originally used for military purposes, plowing and food. Racing became a pastime linked with the agricultural off season with the biggest races held at the Omatsuri Bamba Festival.

There are race courses in Asahikawa, Iwanuzawa, Obihiro and Kitami and an organizing body call the Hokkaido Municipal Horse Race Association. Bets can be placed on the draft horse races. The racers, spectators and fans have traditionally been men The races are often held on the snow in midwinter.

Describing a draft horse race in Norimitsi Onishi wrote in the International Herald Tribune: “The gate opened, and 10 huge draft horses, each weighing about a ton and pulling an iron sled just as heavy, lumbered forward as the jockey urge them on with cries and whips...After easily clearing the first mound No 10 took the lead and waited for the others to catch up before trying the second higher mound, Reinvigorated by the rest. No. 10 burst over the mound.”

“The horse dig their hooves in the dirt with sweat and steam rising from their bodies.” Onishi continued. “When they struggle up the slopes they often neigh. “Climb up! Climb up!” a jockey shouted, as the other horses struggled in the cold air, snorting white breath, one with forelegs buckling. No 10 was the first over but he was soon challenge by No. 7, a few lane over. In the final stretch, as the jockeys whipped them in a frenzy of motion, No. 7 crosse the finish line first.”

“By the time you reach the finish line you are ready collapse,” a 53-year-old jockey told Onishi. “When its really tried, a horse’ll suddenly drop its head, just nice, before raising it back. This requires an incredible amount of strength.”

Image Sources: Japan Visitors except vending machine (Doug Mann Photomann) and Mejiro Bright (Japan Zone) and kerin and boat racing (Wikipedia)

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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