Japan's $22.5 billion passion for horse racing

Story highlights

  • Japanese wagered over $22B on horses in 2015
  • Betting has helped make the sport so popular
  • Japan Cup now has $5.25M purse

(CNN)Horses, bikes, powerboats and motorbikes all have one thing in common in Japan -- they're part of a small selection of sports that members of the public are legally able to gamble on.

And in the case of horse racing, the Japanese people certainly make the most of it. In 2015, the total wagered throughout the country totaled at $22.5 billion.
This year has been the first time the Japanese have been able to bet on foreign races, and they've certainly leaped at the opportunity.
    For October's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, more than twice the value of bets were made in Japan than in France, which hosted Europe's richest race.
    Naohiro Goda, a Japanese horse racing analyst, says gambling has helped the sport blossom in his country.
    "We have only four subjects that we can bet on in this country, so this is quite a rare opportunity for us to enjoy gambling," he told CNN's Winning Post show.
    "This is one reason why horse racing is so popular here ... The Japanese are very much enjoying placing their money on foreign races."
    The profit created by betting is reinvested into racing prize funds by the Japan Racing Association (JRA), meaning its meetings are now amongst the most lucrative in the world.
    The purse at this year's Japan Cup, for example, stood at a mouthwatering $5.25 million. Gamblers in Japan wagered over $179 million on the race.
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    "Prize money in this country is very, very good -- I believe, the very best in the world," Goda says. "So this is another reason why the racing in this country is so competitive now. The quality of Japanese racing and the quality of horses will only keep improving."
    Last month's Japan Cup was won by home favorite Kitasan Black, whose jockey Yutake Take rode to a clear victory for the $2.5 million first prize and his record fourth win in the event.
    Britain's Ryan Moore, recently crowned the 2016 Longines World's Best Jockey, was fifth on Real Steel as Japanese horses filled the first six placings in the 17-strong field.