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Everything you need to know about Japanese horse racing
Jan 25, 2023, 1:03:00 AM

Everything you need to know about Japanese horse racing

Horse racing became an increasingly popular sport that turned a lot of punters into fanatics. This allows for a more impressive betting scene during races, particularly in Japan, where it is one of the most popular sports in the country.

Before you start betting, you must first know about Japanese horse racing. Here is your ultimate guide to the world of Japanese horse racing! 

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History of Japanese horse racing

In Japanese history, the horse has played a significant role from the earliest days of the country's existence. The ability of one's horse is frequently a factor in determining one's place in a clan. Gifts of horses were frequently exchanged between nobles from the mainland and Japan's old court.

As early as the 6th century AD, horsemen in Japan started competing against one another during religious rites and festivals for the sport of horse racing (kurabeuma). Every year, the Imperial Court and numerous temples hosted races. 

Races were held as part of the festival's prayer for a bountiful harvest. In the 1860s, Yokohama was the first racetrack in Japan to offer Western-style racing.

These days, Japanese people see horse racing as a fun and healthy pastime for the entire family to enjoy. Throughout the week, Japan's contemporary racetracks welcome a wide range of Japanese culture. The profits from horse racing considerably aid the enhancement of local livestock and societal well-being.

Races involving Japanese horses and riders are becoming more common. In fact, Japan is one of the world's leading horse racing nations because of the emergence of international races like the Japan Cup and a strong domestic breeding programme.

What are Thoroughbreds?

If you think just about any horse is equipped with the right strength and conditioning to go horse racing, then you'd be mistaken. Race horses have a special type of breed in them and are often regarded as Thoroughbreds. 

Thoroughbreds are trained and conditioned for them to race. Therefore, they are built differently compared to regular horses. They are often bigger and have more muscles than the average horse. Thoroughbreds are noted for their agility, speed, and energy, making them 'hot-blooded' horses.

Types of races 

There are three main types of races in Japan horse racing. These are: 

Flat racing 

Jockeys must know when to restrict and when to push their horses in flat racing, which is a test of speed, stamina, and jockeys' decision-making abilities. This is also the most straightforward type of race. The first to finish is declared the winner. There are also no hurdles, and they are held on a flat surface. Most of the time, on turf, dirt, or synthetic surface race track. 

Jump racing

Jump racing, also known as steeplechasing, focuses on a horse's ability to traverse various obstacles rather than its speed.

The prize money in Japanese jump racing sets it apart from the rest of the globe. More than 120 million yen in prize money is up for grabs at the Nakayama Grand Jump, Japan's biggest of its kind. 

In addition, only a small percentage of the horses competing are steeplechase specialists, while the vast majority have flat racing expertise. 

Ban'ei racing

Draft racing, often known as horse racing, is a completely separate sport. It isn't so much a race as a marathon of equestrian endurance in the frigid Tokachi area of Hokkaido's northern island of Obihiro. 

The horses have to carry a large sledge for the whole distance. Comparatively massive to standard thoroughbreds racing, Ban'ei horses weigh an average of 1,000 kg. That's more than double the weight of the typical racing horse.

Bet on different horse races

What are the different types of horse racing bets?

When it comes to horse racing, there are also different types of horse racing bets you can make to keep the market interesting. To get started, here are some of them that will make your experience in horse race betting more fun:

Straight bets 

There are three types of straight bets as you can see below::

  • Win bets - It's the most straightforward type of bet you can make since you only need to pick the winner of the race.

  • Place bets - Similar to winning bets, place bets are wagers you make to horses you think will finish a race at a certain place; whether they be the first or second of any order. 

  • Show bets - Show bets are bets you make when you think a horse finishes first, second, or third place in a single race. 

Exotic bets 

In horse racing, 'exotic betting' refers to a collection of bets in which you must bet on many horses. In one race or throughout a series of races, this may occur. 

Many punters like exotic wagers because they allow you to earn money quickly. There are two exotic bets with different wagering mechanics, as seen below.

Horizontal exotic bets 

Horizontal wagers are like parlay bets. You must choose the winner of two races in succession to win a Daily Double, three races in a row to win a Pick 3, four races in a row to win a Pick 4, five races in a row to win a Pick 5, and six races in a row to win a Pick 6.

Vertical exotic bets 

With a vertical wager, you're betting on which horse will cross the finish line first at the race's end. In the context of several bets, exotic boxing bets are a strategy rather than a single wager. If a bettor wants to box the horses' order, they may do so, but the horses must finish in the top two, three, or four positions.

  • Straight exactas - Straight exactas require you to predict who will come in first and second place in a race.

  • Straight trifectas - To win a straight trifecta, you must correctly predict the winners, runner-ups, and third-place finishers.

  • Straight superfectas - A winning consecutive superfecta ticket accurately identifies the top four places in a race.

Quinella bets

When it comes to a quinella, you can place it in either the vertical or boxing exotic categories, depending on your perspective.

Quinella and exacta boxes are identical in terms of handicapping for two-horse races. The sequence in which the two horses finish one-two is not important. Handicapping all sorts of wagers may employ the same strategy, albeit under somewhat different circumstances.

Bet on horses who are next to jump in harness racing 

Major Japanese horse racing events to bet on

When you get the chance to make a horse racing bet, it's best to find the greatest Japanese horse racing events or leagues. Here are the top events in Japanese horse racing that you should pay close attention to:

Japan Cup 

The Japan Cup, held in November annually, takes the top spot. As a way to promote Japanese racing and foster international cooperation, the Japan Cup was founded by the JRA in 1981 as an invitational international event, inviting local victors to compete against the world's best racehorses.

Initially, membership was limited to a few large countries, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

The race takes place in Tokyo over a 2,400-metre track at the Tokyo Racecourse in Fuchu. The 476 million yen ($6 million) payout makes the Japan Cup one of the most lucrative horse races in the world.

Japanese Derby 

The Japanese Derby, or Tokyo Yushun, is a Grade-1 flat race like the Japan Cup. Usually open to three-year-old fillies and colts, it is held at the Tokyo Racecourse in Fuchu, Tokyo, over the same 2,400-metre distance. It is usually held in late May or early June.

The Tokyo Yushun is one of three events that make up the Japanese Triple Crown, the country's version of the English Derby. 

Tenno Sho 

There are two Tenno Sho races a year: one in spring and one in fall. They're the most prestigious in Japan. The Spring Tenno Sho is the longest horse race on our list, clocking in at over 3,200 metres. The Spring Tenno Sho is the longest G1 race in Japan and is held at the Kyoto Racecourse in Fushimi-ku.

Yasuda Kinen 

The 1951 race was previously known as the Yasuda Sho in honour of JRA chairman Izaemon Yasuda before being renamed the Yasuda Kinen following his death in 1954.

One of Japan's most prestigious races, the Yasuda Kinen, takes place each year at the Tokyo Racecourse in June. Yasuda Kinen is also included in this list of Grade 1 races contested by horses three years of age and up.  

More than 40 years after the first Yasuda Kinen race was held, the race was upgraded to an International G1 race. In 2005, it was included in the last leg of the Asian Mile Challenge.

NHK Mile Cup 

In Japan, the NHK Mile Cup is the fifth-largest race and also one of the most anticipated. The NHK Mile Cup, which takes place every year in May at the Tokyo Racecourse, is funded by the preponderance of broadcasting organisations.

The NHK Mile Cup was the only Japanese event that allowed horses who were not born in Japan to compete until 2001. As a result, the NHK Mile cup became notable for its use of foreign-bred horses, even after limitations were relaxed in 1900. 

Bet on different races in harness racing

Top horse racing betting tips

What's great about sports betting is that you'll earn a lot of money if you correctly guess the right team, player, or horse. However, you first need to learn how to bet and the tips you will use to win your wagers. So, here are some that will help you: 

Reading the odds when betting on horses 

The most important aspect of betting is reading the odds. They both give you the likelihood of the horses' place by the end of the race. Not only that, but the odds also give you the payouts you will generate for every winning bet you place. 

Diversify your betting markets 

Betting markets allow punters to bet on the horses they think will win. That means you don't need to bet on which horse will win the race but on who will take second, third, or fourth place. 

Each betting market is unique. The more you know the markets, the better your understanding of the betting scene will be. 

Manage your bankroll 

Bankroll is the sum of money you will set aside for betting. Managing this is crucial to avoid losing all your wagers at once. Therefore, getting to know the tips mentioned earlier is best, like understanding the odds and exploring other markets when betting. 

Most asked questions about horse racing

Here are the frequently asked questions about Japanese horse racing: 

When and where is the JRA racing held? 

The Japan Racing Association (JRA) is held every Saturday and Sunday except for a few holidays. During the racing day, races are held at 2 pm and sometimes at 3 pm during racecourses. 

What direction does the horse run— is it clockwise or counter-clockwise?

Horses run in a counter-clockwise orientation once the races begin. However, some racecourses have horses run in a clockwise direction. 

What do the colours of the jockeys' cap mean?

There are 'brackets' in races, which are groups of one to three horses competing in the same event. Japanese racing has a unique bracket system.

The horse's bracket number determines the colour of the jockey's headgear. For example, 'white' for bracket No. 1, 'black' for bracket No. 2. While watching the race on television or in the stadium, spectators can quickly discover their favourite horses.

Two horses will be in bracket No. 8 if there are nine competitors, while the other brackets will have a single horse in each. All except bracket No.1 will feature two horses in the race.

It's also mandatory for the jockeys to wear the racing colours of their respective owners. JRA mandates jockeys to wear a two-coloured cap if there are two or more horses belonging to the same owner placed in the same bracket in a race so that spectators can easily recognise and differentiate between the horses. 

Off to the races in!

Are you ready to bet on the best horses in Japan's famous racing competitions? If so, visit Sportsbet for the best crypto-betting site! With great betting markets and a ton of other sports available like football, basketball, and ice hockey, you will always have things to do. 

On top of that, there is a myriad of casino games like blackjack, slots, and live dealer games. Find out how they play here! 

For more horse racing and sports updates, visit Sportsbet 

Words: Vonn Consul 

Image: Alamy 


The information provided by the blog above on is for general information purposes only. All information on the site is provided in good faith, however we make no representation, warranty, or guarantee of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, adequacy, validity, reliability, or completeness of any information or betting tips on the site.