Five Graded Stakes victories in all 7 Japanese horse races at the stellar Dubai World Cup meeting at Meydan last week, including the Gr1 Sheema Classic and the Gr1 Dubai Turf, confirmed something we already know: the country of the rising sun is becoming a dominant force in the world. racing and breeding.
Robin Bruss writes only four wins in the Saudi Arabian Cup tie last month – grass and earth – plus two of four Gr1 races at Hong Kong’s biggest meeting in December and two Breeders Cup wins the previous month on America’s showpiece day, making it 13 international Stakes wins over the past 3 months, which once again confirms: Japan is a major player.
“These Japanese breed incredibly tough horses,” British champion trainer John Gosden remarked to Meydan on the evening of the Dubai World Cup.
“We in the international race now have to respect them, because they kick us for a Six!” he told Andrew Bon in an interview with 4Racing.
“I just wish our races in England were part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, like those in Japan,” he said, “and we had a total monopoly and he could reinvest In Japan, the prize money they run for is just another league – and Japan really shows us what this sport is all about.
“The quality of the Japanese horses is remarkable and the trainers don’t spare them, they’re not crazy in their training, it’s old school spartan. In England we have become a bit soft because our breed is not as tough as it used to be,” he continues.
“Maybe the horses are tough in South Africa as well,” he said, “but what happened in Europe and North America is that we started breeding horses for the sales ring, not for the racetrack.Now our horses can’t bear the hard work we used to give them before, and that’s a problem for us.
“The Japanese show us how to do it”.
Sky Sports specifies by way of explanation that the 7 biggest Gr1 races in Japan are all between 2000m and 3200m. The two richest are run for Y400m (R47 million) each over 2400m. The other five (2000m., 2000m, 2200m, 2400m and 3200m) are worth 200m Y (23.5m R) each.
There are 23 Gr1 races and only two of them are for 2 year olds and both are over 1600m.
The breed is therefore built on the back of later maturing endurance. And why is that?
Because of the admirable characteristics that a horse must have to be able to run long distances: Robustness, solidity, durability, great cardiovascular system. A horse cannot run for long without being in top form. And the super fit requires a lot of mileage, a good breathing system, and a big motor inside the chest.
Breeding for yearling sales rewards commercial breeders with more advanced muscular sprinter types that will run early and reduce waiting costs to get to races. The yearling market generally does not reward types that remain.
This does not mean that Japan does not breed Gr1 class sprinters as well – they do, due to the quality and class of the mares they use which, infused with endurance stallions, proves that the speed may come from endurance individuals, which is generally not recognized. by breeders or owners.
Take the 2021 champion filly Gran Alegria who was by Champion Triple Crown winner and 10 times Champion Sire Deep Impact – who won 7 Gr1s from 2000m to 3000m – and the mare Tapitfly (USA), winner of the Gr1 Breeder’s Cup Juvenile S. and Gr1 Just a Game S, both at 1600m and through the influence of Tapit endurance.
Gran Alegria won the Gr1 Nakayama Sprinter S. over 1200m against the best sprinting colts. But she also won 6 other Gr1 races up to 1600m, and earned over a billion yen (147 million rand) in stakes.
Japan has had a deliberate 50-year policy of breeding and racing for the qualities needed to preserve endurance and toughness.
Besides the distance of their main races, they also pay appearance money to each runner and therefore the more often a horse can run, the more a horse can win, even if it runs unplaced. The tracks have firm ground and the medication rules are very strict.
Horses can only be trained at official training centers and each horse is numbered so that every training is religiously recorded and timed. This information is published so that any member of the public wishing to take a bet has as much information at their fingertips as the trainer and owner. This is a case of radical transparency.
It follows a second deliberate policy: putting the bettor first.
Charles Faull, who has campaigned for punter sovereignty in South Africa for decades, points to the speech given at the 1995 Asian Racing Conference held in South Africa by Masayuki Goto of the Japan Racing Association on the philosophy of racing in Japan.
“We see racing as a business. This business generates revenue through fans. They are our consumers,” Goto said.
“Where does the prize money come from? Our consumers are paying the price. Our first duty, then, if we want to run a successful business, is to make our fans happy to keep them coming back.”
“It’s the fans’ right to be the first to be considered. Everything else is secondary.
“Fans are where we need to look to grow our business. Not the owners. Not the breeders. If we are not successful with our consumers, we will all go bankrupt”.
This sense of customer focus has created a level of fan devotion for Japanese racing that is similar to that of Hong Kong, and is the envy of all other racing jurisdictions where fandom is on the decline. Their 7 Grade 1 races draw crowds of between 100,000 and 150,000 fans.
This unique devotion to a common fan ethos is reflected in their singular faith in the long-term development of the breed and its interaction with the racing program. From race to race. Race to race.
Similarly, yearling auctions have not been the main way to sell their stock. Japan’s giant racing clubs are generating farm sales in syndicates with fractional shares offered to racing fans for as little as $1,000 a month for 10 months.
It works because there is a legion of happy fans out there who want to expand their involvement beyond punting and own a slice of horse as well. Their participation is enhanced. As a result, horses get the time on the farm they need to become athletes.
Japan’s focus on satisfied consumers has generated long-term success – for the sport – for the quality of the horses – and for the soundness and tenacity of the breed. Now it’s demonstrated to the world in the quintessentially Japanese mantra: perfect the product locally, release it to the world.
The game-changer for Japan is said to have started with one horse: American Sunday Silence, who was Horse of the Year 1989 after winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Breeders Cup.
A $17,000 yearling with imperfect conformation and a weak female line, Sunday Silence had two major attributes: a stellar record with 9 wins from 14 starts and earnings of $4.9 million, and a pedigree filled with influence. Bieber-Jacobs on both sides of his pedigree. . In hindsight, that made him a perfect fit for Japan.
His sire Halo was a Gr1 winner who raced 31 times over 4 seasons for 9 wins. His mother Wishing Well had a plebeian pedigree, but was just as tough, running 38 times in 4 seasons, winning 12 races including the Gamely S. (that year Gr2, then Gr1).
Halo’s sire was Champion Bieber-Jacobs Hail to Reason (18 starts at 2 for 9 wins), a son of their bred mare Nothirdchance (93 starts, 2-8 for 11 wins).
Wishing Well was by Bieber-Jacobs out of Understanding (87 starts, 8 wins) who was by Promised Land (77 starts, 21 wins) and a daughter of Stymie (131 starts, 28 wins).
All strong, healthy, durable and hardworking horses.
American breeders shunned syndication of Sunday Silence, fearing he would produce $17,000 yearlings like he himself had been. But Zenya Yoshida of Japan stepped in and got the horse for his Shadai farm in Japan, a move that would revolutionize Japanese breeding and turn the Yoshida family into racing queens.
Sunday Silence became Champion Stallion 13 times, sired 165 SW and 41 individual Gr1 winners.
His best son Deep Impact succeeded him and was Champion Sire for the last 10 consecutive seasons.
To date, Deep Impact has sired 184 SWs and 53 individual Gr1 winners. It’s estimated that more than half of every SW in Japan these days has Sunday Silence in the pedigree.
Of the 13 international Graded Stakes wins in the USA, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and Dubai over the past 3 months, no less than 12 of the winners can be traced to Sunday Silence. His influence is now legendary around the world.
In conclusion, I remember the take-home messages from Japan’s successes:
- The business behind Sport depends on consumer happiness.
- Everything else is secondary.
- Solidity, tenacity and endurance are very important for the breed.
- The racing program should reflect the breed we aspire to develop.
- In the long run, breeding for the winning position is more important for auction breeding.
- A unified, long-term philosophy is what makes a winning nation.