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The JRA

The Japan Racing Association (JRA) runs meetings over 10 race tracks;

  • Chukyo
  • Fukushima
  • Hakodate
  • Hanshin
  • Kokura
  • Kyoto
  • Nakayama
  • Niigata
  • Sapporo
  • Tokyo

As for races and race days;

The ordinances of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries stipulate that race meetings may be held no more than 36 times a year, with a limit of 12 days per meeting and 12 races per day. This makes a cumulative maximum of 288 race days per year over the ten JRA racecourses.

As a general rule, races are held on Saturdays, Sundays and Japanese public holidays. In 2019, there were 36 race meetings, 288 race days and 3,452 races in total.


Betting

For Australians, betting on Japanese racing is quite limited. In the past, corporate bookies have offered high margin fixed odds markets on all races on Saturdays and Sundays with no vision available.

For all Group 1 race days and one Group 2 day in November, TAB and Sky Racing will now show all 12 races from that major meeting (This Sunday 29/3 Sky will show all 12 races from Chukyo for G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen Day).

In Japan all betting is done via the tote, with no fixed odds markets if you’re a local. However, in Australia most bookies will offer fixed odds markets for all races, varying from 15 mins before to the morning of the race. All betting in Japan is done on track or in betting shops.

The JRA has produced an English PDF on how to bet when in Japan. Click here for the guide.

Pools over in Japan get to mind-boggling amounts in their market. For example the 2018 Arima Kinen (which is the biggest betting race of the year, this is the race in which the All Star Mile copied its formula with fan voting).

100,189 attended the meeting.

Betting turnover on race ¥43,664,039,500 (£310m / €345m / US $392m)

Betting turnover on meeting ¥ 56,146,520,600 (£400 / €444m / US $505m)


Race Tracks

As previously mentioned, the JRA races on 10 tracks over the 12 months of the year and races are mixed between the turf and the dirt tracks, as well as the occasional jumps race.

Two Group 1 races are contested on the dirt in the JRA with the remaining 23 on the Turf tracks (Not including the two Group 1 jumps races).

You can find info on all 10 tracks, with starting positions, circumferences, undulations and so on.


Rail Positions

This is a weird one, as the rail, most of the time is fixed in the true position on the turf and it is up to the jockeys to find the best going, which is why you will usually see the track fairly worn in the back straight and into the turn. On a very rare occasion, the rail will be moved to the B or C position, with some courses only having a B rail and others having a C rail. The dirt is always in the true position.

Turf Track

In Japan they love rock hard, which is conducive to running fast times. In monsoon / typhoon season you get the odd wet track thrown up, but they do tend to drain quite well and it is very rare to see a supremely wet track. Winners do tend to come from all over the place, they do not run as tight as they do in a Hong Kong and Australia, so all horses do get their chances.

Dirt Track

Best to be on speed out of the kickback here, it is not unusual to see a horse sit 2-3 wide out of the dirt kickback and win. You need to give big advantages going forward to horses who are able to sit behind the speed and make ground in the run / in the finish.

It is a big momentum track, if you cop any checks or prats when winding up, it is basically race over, unlike on turf where it is somewhat easier to overcome those issues. When it rains on race day, the surface tends to “slick” up and you see your faster times being run there.


Trainers/Owners

All JRA racehorses must be registered and be trained at the Miho or Ritto Training Centre. Horses running in a race are transported to the racecourses by float from the respective training centre and are returned to their facility after the race.

The top 3 trainers of the 2019 season in Japan were;

Takayuki Yasuda (Lord Kanaloa), Yoshito Yahagi (Lys Gracieux), Noriyuki Hori (Maurice) just to name a few with trainers such as Yasutoshi Ikee and Sakae Kunieda (Almond Eye) also in the top 10.

It is the ownership groups that are more well known outside of Japan due to the colours that the horses wear. Sunday racing would be the most famous colours to come out of Japan, given the achievements of Gentildonna and Orferve.

Carrot Farms colours in recent times carried by Mer De Glace and Lys Gracieux in the Melbourne Spring are another big name, as is the Silk Racing Co which owns Almond Eye and 2yo G1 winner Salios.


Jockeys

In 2019 the JRA had over 190 individual jockeys ride at their racecourses, although not all held contracts and had come in for either the JRA International Jockey challenge, one off G1 days or short-term contracts.

Of the full timers, Christophe Lemaire is the dominant jockey, winning the champions jockey title by 12 wins with 164 in total from Yuga Kawada, Yutaka Take was a further 41 wins behind on 111.

Lemaire had such a good season in which he rode 164/650 (25.23% strike rate) with 365 from that 650 running in the top 3. An utterly phenomenal season.

Note, Damien Lane who came in on a short term contract in the middle and latter parts of 2019, rode 38 winners and finished 31st in the rankings, but had the best strike rate of 30.4%.

Plenty of European and Australian jockeys do tend to turn up in their offseasons and on big days to ride. In recent years; Ryan Moore, Hugh Bowman, William Buick, Oisin Murphy, Brenton Avdulla, Joao Moreria have ridden on short term deals amongst others.


The Horses

In 2018, 7242 horses were foaled in Japan, 7081 was the number in 2017. When it comes to the sales, there are weanling and yearling sales during the year.

When it comes to importation, a few are usually bought from some of the more famous sales around the world and bought across to race, whereas a Northern Farm may send their mares to a stallion around the world.


Trackwork

Given all horses are trained out of the two centres, there is information about regarding a horse’s efforts at trackwork. But this is where the closed-ness of Japanese Racing is. In all my years working in Japan racing and studying it, I have never been able to find one website with all the information available to me. Twitter is usually the best resource for that information.

Vet Information/Stewards Reports

The same goes for vet information and the Stewards reports. I have only been able to get information that is released via social media in the form of an interview or searching a horse’s name in the twitter search function and having google translate readily available.


Handicaps and Ratings

As mentioned, the JRA holds two types of races: thoroughbred flat races and thoroughbred steeplechase races. The races are further categorized according to earnings, as a measure of a horse’s racing performance. With the aim of matching horses with similar ability and thereby enhancing competition.

In the case of thoroughbred flat races for example, spring races are divided into those for three-year-olds and four-year-olds and up, and races from summer onwards are divided into those for two-year-olds and three-year-olds and up.

In each category, race classes become more advanced as earnings increase, from newcomers and maidens → 1 win class → 2 wins class → 3 wins class → open class.


Form Overview

There are a few different websites to use. The best to use is Netkeiba (make sure you set up auto google translate, note the spelling is sometimes off on horse names) and you can navigate through that website for their past performances.

Here you can see almost anything you need regarding that horse and its performances in each race they have run in. If you click on the race name, it will take you to the race page and give you the breakdown of the race with the in run sectionals down the bottom of the page (you will have each horse’s L600 in their specific column too). Pre-race, the race page will update the horse weights and the odds too.

Also for when fields come out, Japan Racing is a great tool to use as well.

But also, we do have the “closed off-ness” of Japan here, as it is extremely hard to hunt down replays unless you are a local with an account (need to be a resident). A few of the good races pop up on YouTube, but that is about it.

When it comes to “new horses” literally every horse is on debut and has not been exposed to race day conditions. Personally I avoid betting in these races. Way too many unknowns and in most races, you do get a real shortie, due to breeding, jockey, and connections. Easier to sit back and learn from those races for the future.

Barriers

These are also the horse’s number in the race, as well as the colour of the cap they will carry depending on the size of the field, which can vary from 6-18.

Barriers aren’t as much of a big deal on the turf as they are in an Australia or in HK, given they do not race as tight and every horse seemingly finds a position. At a tricker track such as Nakayama where it is a short run to the first turn at some start points as is the Tokyo 1800m, that’s where it does become important.

However, on the dirt, it is more important given you don’t want to be a backmarker drawn 3 who gets buried on the fence 4-5 pairs back copping all of the kickback.

Scratchings

This is just a quick one – once acceptances have been submitted, you cannot scratch your horse for any reason other than injury or illness to the horse. No such thing as track downgrade scratching here.

Betting Favourites

Punters in Japan do like to follow a jockey when they are on a hot streak / a leading rider. In recent times; Lemaire, Moore, Lane and Moreria have been over-bet on certain horses which does give you an excellent chance to collect some overs.

Most Australian punters do not have the proper knowledge of the racing over there and see one of these names on a $2.50 chance and will charge in with no thought, especially in maidens.


Social Media

These are some of the Twitter accounts we recommend to follow for information on Japanese Racing:

Graham Pavey

Horse Racing in Japan

Shai. B

Homan


Useful Links

The following websites below are some of the resources we recommend to help you even more when doing your form for Japan Horse Racing:

Netkeiba: Number one source for everything Japan Horse Racing.

Racing and Sports: A good source for updated news, races, and results.

Japan Racing: Find results along with historical odds, stats on trainers and horses.

A clear and easy to read schedule of the Japanese Racing Calendar can be found here.


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