Annnndddd they're off!
Horse racing gaining popularity in Japan
July 31, 1997
Web posted at: 2:16 p.m. EDT (1816 GMT)
TOKYO (CNN) -- Japan has a new attraction -- or rather, an old one with an upscale facelift.
Horse racing is on the rise in the Pacific island nation, fueled by a new, positive marketing campaign and a major push to upgrade facilities in order to draw more and better crowds.
"I think the dirty image of horse racing has disappeared," said one fan. "It's a lot cleaner and better for female fans."
Just 10 years ago, most fans were older men, and most race tracks were hurting for attendance. The sport was in danger of dying out, but times have changed. Attendance is hitting record numbers -- with a new breed of fans.
"My family comes all the time," said another fan. "We adults gamble, and the kids play on the playground."
Faster horses, more money
The increase in attendance has come hand in hand with an increase in purses paid to winners, like Taiki Blizzard, who tore ahead in the recent Yasuda Memorial and took home almost $1 million -- par for the course in Japan.
Analysts say the growing import of faster horses from outside Japan -- such as Taiki Blizzard -- has added excitement to the sport.
"I have a farm in America and a training facility in Ireland," said Taiki Farms owner Yoshiki Akazawa. "Seventy percent of my horses are foreign-bred horses."
Faster horses, more money, cleaner new faciltiies -- all have turned the sport from its steady decline.
Step up to the window
While the racetrack may have all the excitement, the real action is at off-track betting centers, which pull in almost 90 percent of Japan's total racing proceeds. And at a record $36 billion last year, that's a greater financial pay-off than all the tracks in the United States and Europe combined.
And it adds up to record earnings for Japan's top trainer, Kazuo Fujisawa, who made more than $10 million last year. But there's one thing Fujisawa says that money still can't buy.
"One day, to bring nice horses to the United States," he says. "One big race. That's my dream."
It's the dream of many in Japan, who have yet to see a Japanese horse win a major race abroad. But the lack of international wins doesn't detract from home stretch victories.
Correspondent Pamela Burton contributed to this report.
Note: Related sites will open in a new browser window.
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
A Time Warner Company
All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this
service is provided to you.