There are few countries in the world of horse racing that are more progressive than Japan at the moment. Racing in the country has always been exceptionally popular, as it is the second most wagered-on sport in the country with Japanbets.com. However, global dominance is now the target for many of the leading trainers in the country, and they have already made impacts on some of the biggest stages in the world of racing over the past five years.
But, what are some of the biggest races in the country and what huge global races have Japanese trainers got their sights set on winning over the coming years?
Racing In Japan
Horse racing in Japan is regulated by the Japanese Horse Racing Association. The JRA was founded in 1954 and regulates all 24 tracks within the country, including the most prestigious which can be found in the forms of Tokyo Racecourse and Nakayama Racecourse. The biggest races in the country are run in the spring, autumn, and winter, with the most prestigious on the calendar racing the Japan Cup.
Racing’s history within Japan can be traced back to 1862, and European residents in the country opened a track at Yokohama. From here, the popularity of the sport took off, and that led to a number of new tracks also being opened. Nowadays, there are 24 tracks located around Japan, with all being regulated by the JRA to ensure that the welfare of the animals is kept at the forefront.
The Japan Cup
The biggest race on the Japanese calendar takes place annually on the last Sunday in November The Japan Cup boasts a huge purse of $5.8 million and is among the richest races staged on the calendar. A total distance of 2,400 meters is covered on the turf by the runners at Tokyo Racecourse, and is an international affair nowadays, with competitors from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and the United States all making the journey to compete.
However, it remains a race that Japan has dominated throughout history. Vela Azul won the most recent edition of the race in 2022, while Almond Eye won the race in both 2018 and 2020. The latter of those was one of the most famous editions of the race, as it featured 2018 Fillies Triple Crown winner Almond Eye, as well as the undefeated pair of Contrail and Daring Tact. Almond Eye’s win was the perfect close to her career, with Contrail bouncing back from his first career defeat by winning the race in 2021.
Japanese trainers have now set their sights on making breakthroughs in the world’s biggest races outside of their homeland. That was evident at the Breeders’ Cup in 2021, as Japanese-trained horses won two of the championship races at Del Mar. Loves Only You was a very impressive winner of the Filly & Mare Turf, picking up the vast majority of the $2 million purse.
However, the biggest shock of the entire weekend came in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Marche Lorraine was sent off as a 50/1 shot in the prestigious race for fillies and mares on the dirt. However, she outran those odds to finish a nose clear of Dunbar Road. It was a clear signal of intent by the Japanese trainers, with American superstars Malathaat, Clairiere, and Letruska all getting beaten in their own backyard.
Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe Dream
While Japanese trainers have set their sights on winning global races such as the Kentucky Derby, the race that they are desperately looking to win every season remains the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The most prestigious Group 1 in Europe has been dominated by horses from the home continent throughout its history. However, that hasn’t stopped Japanese runners from taking their chances. The first Japanese runner in the race came back in 1969 with Speed Symboli, but the wait for success for trainers from Asia has now gone over 50 years.
There was a real sense that the wait could have come to an end in 2022, as Titleholder boasted leading form after claiming three victories from three starts before lining up at Longchamp. However, it wasn’t meant to be, as the four-year-old could only finish eleventh; 13 lengths behind Alpinista.
The Future Remains Bright
Japanese trainers continue to pinpoint races across the globe to run their most talented horses, and that was evident at Royal Ascot last year with a number of runners competing in England. The future of the sport in the country remains exceptionally bright, and 2023 may be the year that Japanese connections can finally celebrate a first win in the Arc.