For a sophisticated horse racing, Japan is the best venue to be in. The Japanese people love to gamble and they certainly love horse racing. In 2015, the country wagered a staggering US$22.5 billion in horse racing alone. One of the factors that make horse racing a popular gambling activity in Japan is the rate of the payout. Japan horse racing has one of the best prize money in the world.
Most of the high-grade races in the country are under the governance of the Japan Racing Association (JRA), which runs ten race tracks in Japan. This includes Sapporo Racecourse, Tokyo Racecourse, Nakayama Racecourse, Kyoto Racecourse, Hanshin Racecourse, Nakayama Racecourse, Chukyo Racecourse, Niigata Racecourse, and the Kokura Racecourse. These race tracks are easy to locate since they are mostly near major cities and are easily accessible going to many of Japan’s famous tourist spots.
Of all the racecourses, the Tokyo Racecourse in Fuchu, Tokyo is the most notable. Built in 1933, the racecourse is home to several high-profile races such as the Japan Cup and the Japanese Derby. Aside from racecourses, the JRA also allows individuals to place their bets through off-track betting sites.
Before Race Day
To truly enjoy the races, visitors must prepare beforehand. Here are some pointers:
- Dressing up is not required when visiting a racecourse. Visitors can go there wearing a simple shirt and jeans. Those who acquired reserved seating are expected to wear a “smart casual” clothing, however.
- Make sure to bring binoculars. Having one will allow you to watch the warm up or parade ring even from afar. It would also be best to bring an umbrella or a light jacket for races occurring during spring and autumn as the weather can get cooler as the day wears on.
- Know your way to the race tracks. Before the race, research on what kind of transportation you can take to get you to the racecourses. It should be relatively easy since most racetracks are near train stations. Some racecourses are even directly connected to the train stations through underground pathways. Those that are a bit far from the stations have shuttle buses that bring visitors to and fro the two spots. It is not advisable to bring a car because of traffic and limited parking space.
During Race Day
- Once at the gate, guests can buy their tickets at the gate. Ticket prices vary depending on the racecourse. For Chukyo, Hanshin, Kyoto, Nakayama, and Tokyo Racecourses, the ticket price is 200 Japanese yen or about US$2. For the Fukushima, Hakodate, Kokura, Niigata, and Sapporo Racecourses, the ticket price is 100 Japanese yen.
- Inside the racecourse, guests can spot an Information Desk. This is where they can grab a copy of the English Racing Programs and Betting Guidelines, which will help provide vital information about the types of wagers and the process of buying race tickets. There are also available booklets that will help in purchasing tickets as these have English translations of markcards written in Japanese.
- Each racecourse differs in the number and type of seats but all have free seating, grass area for seating, and reserved seating. Reserved seats, which can be purchased at the entrance gate, allows visitors to get the best and close up view of the horse prior to betting. Bettors can check the horse’s condition at the paddock as they circle around the track during the parade before they go to warm up at the track.
- Once the horses have warmed up, the betting starts. Bettors can choose their winner by buying their tickets as they look up the odds screen. Tickets are usually sold until two minutes prior to post time. After post time, ticket buying is closed and this is the time when the racecourse will get noisy as the race is about to begin. Horse owners decide on the colour of the jockey. Their cap colour will represent the horse’s bracket number – their distinguishing feature from afar. The racecourses also have panoramic screens or Turf Visions to allow fans to keep track of their horses during the race.
- After the race, the result will be posted on the big screen. Those who have winning tickets may proceed to the Payoff machine within the racecourse. Payoffs are given through automated machines and are valid for 60 days. Payouts can be claimed by simply inserting the winning betting tickets into the slot of the machine. Winnings will be automatically issued.
- Oftentimes, a racecourse will conduct a Main Race. It is a graded race that includes top-ranked runners and is usually held at 3:30 pm. It is followed by a Final Race from 4pm to 4:30 pm.
- Most of the Japan racecourses offer more than horse racing as a form of entertainment and leisure. There are also numerous restaurants surrounding the track. Some even have playgrounds and horse racing museums.
Betting Types in Japanese Horse Racing
For beginners, betting on Japanese horse racing can be quite confusing since there are many different betting types that are available. Bettors are not required to know all. They can do away with knowing one or two as long as they are comfortable with it. Here are some of the betting types for Japanese horse racing:
- Win (tanshou) – choosing the horse that will finish first.
- Place/Show (fukushou) – choosing the horse that will finish second or third.
- Win, Place or Show (tanpuku) – choosing the horse that will finish first, second, or third. Bettors usually place this kind of bet if they want to bet Win or Place/Show, as this is like betting for both outcomes. Ticket price is still for two bets, though.
- Frame (wakuren) – choosing the frame of the first and second place horses in any order. Horses are divided into frames of two horses that share the same color. For example, frame 1 is horse 1 and 2, frame 2 is horse 3 and 4, and frame 3 is horse 5 and 6, and so on.
- Quinella (baren) – choosing the two horse that will finish in first and second place, in any order.
- Exacta (batan) – choosing the two horses to finish in first and second place, in exact order.
- Wide – choosing the two horses that will finish in the top three.
- Trio (sanrenpuku) – choosing the top three horses, in any order.
- Trifecta (sanrentan) – choosing the top three horses, in exact order.
The amount of payout is dependent on the specificity of the bet and the odds of the horse. The minimum bet for races is 100 Japanese yen.
Japan Horse Racing Facts
Bettors must be at least 20 years of age when placing a bet. Kids are allowed to enter the race track provided that they are with their parents. Some racecourses have playgrounds to entertain kids while their parents enjoy the races. Those under 15 years old can enter the racecourse for free.
Horse racing under the JRA is held every Saturday and Sunday, except on national holidays. During racing days, about two or three racecourses have racing events, with at least one race from an eastern (Niigata, Tokyo, Nakayama, and Fukushima) and one from any western (Kokura, Chukyo, Hanshin, and Kyoto) regions.
Normal operating hours of racecourses are from 9 am to 5 pm but they may open the gates earlier during Grade 1 racing events. Japan hosts 26 Grade 1 racing days (24 flat races and 2 steeplechase races) every year, with most events held in autumn and spring. For instance, four consecutive Grade 1 race days are observed in mid-November. The Japan Autumn International series is made up of the Champions Cup, Japan Cup, Mile Championship, and the Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
A race day may have 12 races from 10 am to 4:30 pm. But there can be days with fewer races, particularly during any major race days.
Tokyo, Niigata, and Chukyo Racecourses have tracks that run counter-clockwise, while the other remaining racecourses all have tracks that run clockwise.
Horses in Japan races are loaded into the gates in this order: odd number barrier, even number barrier, and outermost barrier (independent of the odd-even barrier number). So, if a race has 15 runners, horse number 15 is loaded last even if it is not in an odd-even barrier. Some exceptions may occur, though. Instances such as difficult horses are loaded first regardless of their number.
Japan has three types of horse racing. This includes Flat Racing, Jump Racing, and the Power Race.
Flat Racing is the most common type of horse racing. Horses run on a flat track and the first one to cross the finish line is the declared winner. Also known as Steeplechasing, Jump Racing is an obstacle race for horses. It puts emphasis on the ability of the horse to cross varying obstacles. Aside from running longer distances, horses also need to navigate fences, water, and hedges. This event holds large purses. The Nakayama Grand Jump has a prize pool of more than 120 million yen.
Power Race is the draft racing in the equine world. This unique horse race is held only in the city of Obihiro located in the Tokachi region of Hokkaido. Horses run short distances of about 200 metres but their power is tested as they run while hauling a heavy sledge. Horses in power racing are usually huge, averaging about 1,000 kilograms.