Keiba ( 競馬, lit. "Horse-Racing"); Horse racing in Japan is a popular equestrian sport, with more than 21,000 horse races held each year. There are three types of racing that take place in Japan - flat racing, jump racing, and Ban'ei Racing (also called Draft Racing).
In Japan, horse racing is organized by the Japan Racing Association (JRA) and the National Association of Racing (NAR). The JRA is responsible for horseracing events at ten major racecourses in metropolitan areas, while the NAR is responsible for various local horseracing events throughout Japan. This system of administration of horse racing is unique to Japan.
Japan's top stakes races are run in the spring, autumn, and winter; the top race is the Japan Cup.
The history of equestrian sports and horse racing in Japan goes back many centuries, but it was not until the Spring of 1862 that the first horse race in a recognizably European format was organized by a group of British residents on an area of drained marshland just outside the recently opened treaty port of Yokohama.
After a series of informal races were held on the location often referred to as the Swamp Ground, in 1866 the Negishi Racecourse was constructed to provide a more permanent site adjacent to the expanding Yamate residential district.Initially intended as an entertainment venue for the foreign community, the racecourse rapidly became popular with Japanese society; the Emperor Meiji himself visiting on 14 separate occasions. The popularity of horse racing spread rapidly in the vicinity of other treaty ports; the Kobe Jockey Club following the Yokohama precedent, was established in 1870.
Early in the development of the sport Japan adopted an integrated approach to both thoroughbred breeding and racing. The close financially supportive relationship between these two industries enabled both to grow significantly during the post Second World War economic boom.The Japan Racing Association was formally established in 1954.
The Japan Cup, one of the richest horse races in the world, was inaugurated in 1981. Run at Tokyo's Fuchu Racecourse on the last Sunday in November, it continues to attract thoroughbreds from all over the world.
The JRA manages the ten main tracks in Japan. Races at these tracks are called Chuo Keiba (meaning "central horse racing"). It provides some of the richest racing in the world. As of 2010 [update] , a typical JRA maiden race for three-year-olds carried a purse of ¥9.55 million (about US$112,000), with ¥5 million (about US$59,000) paid to the winner. Purses for graded stakes races begin at ¥74.6 million (about US$882,000).
The country's most prominent race is the Grade 1 Japan Cup, a 2,400 m (about 1½ mile) invitational turf race run every November at Tokyo Racecourse for a purse of ¥476 million (about US$5.6 million), which used to be the richest turf race in the world. Other noted stakes races include the February Stakes, Takamatsunomiya Kinen, Yasuda Kinen, Takarazuka Kinen, Arima Kinen, and the Tenno Sho races run in the spring and autumn. The Satsuki Sho, Tokyo Yushun, and Kikuka Sho comprise the Japanese Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing.
The NAR control what is called Chihou Keiba (meaning "local horse racing"). The fifteen Chihou Keiba tracks are operated by municipal racing authorities and run under the affiliation of the National Association of Racing (NAR). These races are smaller than JRA races, with the exception of Minami-kanto Keiba (a group of four tracks - Oi, Urawa, Funabashi and Kawasaki). All tracks of Minami-kanto Keiba are located in the Kanto region, including many large cities.
Unlike the JRA, the NAR mainly organize dirt graded events (except for Morioka Racecourse which has turf), of which the JRA has few, including the international Grade 1 race, Tokyo Daishōten, and a number of domestic Grade 1 events like Teio sho, Kashiwa Kinen and the Japan Breeders' Cup series.
The global financial crisis has caused serious problems for Chihou Keiba. Local government finances have suffered from growing cumulative deficits, leading some local governments to discuss whether to keep or close their horseracing facilities. In 2011, Arao City in Kumamoto prefecture decided to close its track, which was the oldest one in the NAR. Fukuyama City's racetrack was closed 2013.
Horses belonging to the JRA cannot participate in NAR events unless they are designated "exchange races" or "Dirt-Graded races". The reverse applies to NAR horses, although they can participate in JRA Grade 1 turf events by either getting qualified in respective step races or winning a dirt/international Grade 1 event. Horse transfer between the JRA and the NAR is possible. Oguri Cap, the JRA Hall of Fame horse and Inari One, winner of Arima Kinen in 1989, both debuted in NAR before transfer to JRA.
Although JRA racing is considered to be more popular and more competitive, sometimes NAR horses have represented Japan in races outside Japan instead of JRA horses. For example, Cosmo Bulk (from Hokkaido Keiba) won the Singapore Airlines International Cup in 2006 as a NAR horse.
As protection for the Japanese breeding industry, horses which were not bred in Japan (or in a few cases, not having a Japanese sire) were, in the past, usually barred from many important races, including the Triple Crown. The trend began to change in the early 90s, when progeny of imported stallions, particularly Tony Bin (Italy), Brian's Time and Sunday Silence(both US), had remarkable success in both racing and breeding. This was particularly the case with Sunday Silence, who was the leading sire for 10 years (his progeny would succeed him for another 3 years). Sunday Silence sired winners in Grade 1 races outside Japan (one each in the Hong Kong Vase, Hong Kong Mile and Dubai Sheema Classic) and a number of graded races all over the world. Since the mid-2000s, most of the horses in Japan, including many overseas group race winner, had sires bred in Japan. Some of them also have a successful breeding record outside Japan - the daughter of Deep Impact, Beauty Parlour won the French classic race, the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches in 2012. The son of Hat Trick, Dabirsim was honored with Cartier Two-Year-Old Colt Award winner in 2011. Since the early 2000s, most of the bars on non-Japanese bred horses and sires have been lifted, although Japanese-bred horses are still considered to be more successful than imported horse in Japanese racing nowadays.[ citation needed ]
Japan's top jump race is the Nakayama Grand Jump, run every April at Nakayama Racecourse. Instead of running over a large course as is the case in other countries, the course for the 4,250 m (about 2⅝ mile) Nakayama Grand Jump follows a twisted path on the inside portion of Nakayama's racing ovals. The race carries a purse of ¥142.5 million (about US$1.68 million). In Japan, jump racing is generally less popular than flat racing. Racecourses do not hold more than two jump races in a single day.
Every Japanese jump horse has experience of running on the flat. Usually, all of them aim for success on the flat. They are only trained for jumping after they have retired from the flat. In Japan, unlike Europe, very few horses are bred specifically for jumping.
The top jockey in Japan is Yutaka Take, who is a multiple champion in his homeland and regularly rides Japanese horses in stakes races around the world. Yutaka Take was the regular jockey for Deep Impact, the 2005 Japan Triple Crown winner and JRA's two time Horse of the Year (2005–06).
From 1994, the JRA gives short-term riding licenses (allowing maximum of 3 months in a year) to foreign jockeys. Many world-class jockeys take an active part in Japanese horse racing using these short-term licenses, including Christophe Soumillon, Mirco Demuro (elder brother of Cristian Demuro), Christophe Lemaire, Craig Williams, Ryan Moore, Joao Moreira and Oisin Murphy.
And from 2014, the JRA allows full-year licenses to foreign jockeys, with Demuro and Lemaire taking these licenses in 2015. Lemaire went on to become the leading jockey in four years straight, from 2017 to 2020.
Victoire Pisa won the richest race, Dubai World Cup in 2011, under Demuro.
Other notable jockeys:
(Note on Japanese words in the names; Kinen:Memorial, Hai:Cup, Sho:Prize, Yushun:excellent horse)
The following races are designated as preliminaries for the Kentucky Derby.
The Japan Racing Association is a public company established to operate Chūō Keiba and to manage racecourses, betting facilities, and horse-training facilities.
Tokyo Racecourse is located in Fuchu, Tokyo, Japan. Built in 1933 for horse racing, it is considered the "racecourse of racecourses" in Japanese horseracing. It has a capacity of 223,000, with seating for 13,750.
Christophe Patrice Lemaire is a French-born jockey. He takes his middle name from his father, who made a name for himself in the world of French handicap racing.
Yasunari Iwata is a Japanese jockey who rode the winner of the 2006 Melbourne Cup, Delta Blues. It was Iwata's first race outside Japan.
Gentildonna is a retired Japanese thoroughbred racehorse. In 2012 she won the Japanese Fillies Triple Crown and was voted Japanese Horse of the Year. She was also the first three-year-old filly to win the Japan Cup, in 2012, and the following year became the first two-time winner of that race. In 2014 she added victories in the Dubai Sheema Classic and the Arima Kinen earning her a second Horse of the Year award.
Victoire Pisa is a retired Japanese Thoroughbred racehorse and active sire. After winning three of his four starts as a juvenile, the colt won the Satsuki Shō at Nakayama Racecourse in April 2010. After an unsuccessful campaign in Europe he returned to Japan to win the weight-for-age invitational Arima Kinen in December. In the following spring he was sent to Dubai where he raced for the first time on a synthetic track in the Dubai World Cup. He defeated an international field to become the first Japanese-trained horse to win the world's most valuable race. His subsequent career was restricted by injury problems and he was retired at the end of 2011.
Duramente is a Japanese Thoroughbred racehorse. In 2015 he completed the first two legs of the Japanese Triple Crown by winning the Satsuki Shō and the Tokyo Yūshun before his season was ended by injury. He returned in 2016 to win the Nakayama Kinen and finish second in the Dubai Sheema Classic before his racing career was ended by a leg injury sustained in the Takarazuka Kinen.
Grass Wonder is an American-bred, Japanese-trained Thoroughbred racehorse and sire. In a racing career which lasted from 1997 until 2000 he won nine of his fifteen races including four Grade I races. He was the leading juvenile colt in Japan in 1997 when he was unbeaten in four races, culminating in a victory in the Asahi Hai Sansai Stakes. He missed most of his second season with injury problems but returned in autumn to win the Arima Kinen. He reached his peak as a four-year-old when he won the Takarazuka Kinen and a second Arima Kinen. He failed to win in three races in 2000 and was retired to stud. He has had some success as a breeding stallion.
Jungle Pocket is a Japanese Thoroughbred racehorse and sire. In a racing career which lasted from 2000 until 2002 he won five of his thirteen races and ¥704,258,000 in prize money. As a two-year-old he showed promising form by winning two races including the Grade III Sapporo Nisai Stakes in record time. In the following year he won the Tokyo Yushun and defeated an international field to win the Japan Cup. His achievements saw him voted Japanese Champion 3-Year-Old Colt and Japanese Horse of the Year for 2001. After failing to win in 2002 he was retired to stud and has had considerable success as a breeding stallion.
Screen Hero is a Japanese Thoroughbred racehorse and sire best known for winning the 2008 Japan Cup. In his first two seasons he showed above-average racing ability, winning two races and being placed at Grade II level but appeared to be some way behind the best horses in Japan. After a lengthy absence he emerged as a top-class racehorse as a four-year-old in 2008, winning the Grade II Copa Republica Argentina before recording a 40/1 upset victory in the Japan Cup. He failed to win in the following year and his racing career was ended by a serious leg injury at the end of the season. He has had early success as a breeding stallion.
Logi Universe is a Japanese Thoroughbred racehorse and sire. As a juvenile in 2008 he was unbeaten in three races including Grade 3 successes in the Sapporo Nisai Stakes, Radio Nikkei Hai Nisei Stakes. In the following spring he won the Yayoi Sho and then rebounded from his first defeat to win the Tokyo Yushun by four lengths. At the end of the season he won the JRA Award for Best Three-Year-Old Colt. His subsequent racing career was plagued by injury and he ran only four times in the next three years before being retired to stud.
Jeweler is a Japanese Thoroughbred racehorse and broodmare best known for her win in the 2016 Oka Sho. She won her only start as a juvenile in 2015 and emerged as a top-class performer in the following spring. After finishing a close second in two Grade 3 events she took the Oka Sho, beating Sinhalite by a nose in a photo-finish. She made only two more appearances, running unplaced in the Rose Stakes and finishing a close fourth in the Shuka Sho.
Saturnalia is a Japanese Thoroughbred racehorse. In 2018 he was rated the second-best two-year-old in Japan as he was undefeated in three starts including the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes on his final appearance of the season. On his three-year-old debut he added another Grade 1 success as he took the Satsuki Sho but was beaten when odds-on favourite for the Tokyo Yushun. Later in the year he won the Kobe Shimbun Hai and finished second in the Arima Kinen.
Logotype is a Japanese Thoroughbred racehorse and sire. As a juvenile in 2012 he won two minor races in his first four starts before recording an upset victory in the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes, which resulted in his taking the JRA Award for Best Two-Year-Old Colt. In the following spring he maintained his winning form by taking the Spring Stakes and then winning the Satsuki Sho in record time. He failed to win for over three years before taking the Yasuda Kinen as a six-year-old in 2016.
Admire Mars is a Japanese Thoroughbred racehorse. As a juvenile in 2018 he was undefeated in four races including the Daily Hai Nisai Stakes and the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes and won the JRA Award for Best Two-Year-Old Colt. In his first two races of 2019 he was beaten in the Tokinominoru Kinen and the Satsuki Sho before returning to winning form to take the NHK Mile Cup. In December he won the Hong Kong Mile. He failed to win in 2020 but ran third in both the Mile Championship and the Hong Kong Mile.
Loves Only You is a Japanese Thoroughbred racehorse. She showed promise as a two-year-old when she won both her races. In the following spring she took the Wasurenagusa Sho before extending her unbeaten run to four by winning the Yushun Himba in record time. She sustained he first defeat in November 2019 when she ran third in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup. She failed to win in five starts as a four-year-old in 2020, but returned to her best form in 2021 when she won the Kyoto Kinen and the Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
Lucky Lilac is a Japanese Thoroughbred racehorse. As a two-year-old in 2017 she was undefeated in three races including the Artemis Stakes and Hanshin Juvenile Fillies and took the JRA Award for Best Two-Year-Old Filly. In the following year she won the Tulip Sho and was placed in both the Oka Sho and the Yushun Himba. In 2019 she won the Queen Elizabeth II Cup and finished second in the Hong Kong Vase. As a five-year-old in 2020 she defeated male opponents to win the Osaka Hai and recorded a second victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup. She has earned more than $7 million in prize money.
Epoca d'Oro, is a Japanese Thoroughbred racehorse. After finishing third on his only appearance as a two-year-old in 2017 he showed steady improvement in the following spring, winning two minor races and finishing second in the Spring Stakes before recording his biggest success in the Satsuki Sho. He went on to finish runner-up in the Tokyo Yushun but failed to reproduce his best form in two subsequent starts that year.
Salios is a Japanese Thoroughbred racehorse. He was one of the leading juvenile colt in Japan in 2019 when he was undefeated in three races including the Saudi Arabia Royal Cup and the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes. In the following year he won the Mainichi Okan as well as finishing second in both the Satsuki Sho and the Tokyo Yushun.
Kurofune was an American-bred, Japanese-trained Thoroughbred racehorse and sire who won Grade 1 races on both turf and dirt. He showed promising form as a juvenile in 2000 when he won two of four races and ran third in a very strong edition of the Radio Tampa Hai Sansai Stakes. In the following year he took the Mainichi Hai and the NHK Mile Cup in spring on turf before being switched to dirt racing in late autumn and winning the Musashino Stakes and the Japan Cup Dirt. He won six of his ten races, four of them in track record times, before his track career was ended by injury. After his retirement from racing he became a very successful breeding stallion.