Racetracks in Japan

Author: Jana Nemeckova, published: 19th November 2018

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Although Japan is located so far from the center of the thoroughbred breeding world, it has both quite a long history of racing, and the passion for the sport. British residents brought this sport into the country as early as in the 1860s, and 150 years later, it holds more than twenty thousand races every year.

Japanese racetracks are owned either by the Japan Racing Association (JRA) or by local governments. In the latter case, the authority for racing is the National Racing Association (NAR). All Japanese graded races take place on the JRA racetracks. "NAR tracks" host the so-called domestic graded races, which are, in many cases, a familiar part of the Japanese racing season.

Quick links for particular racetracks:

Classic racesG1, G2 racesG3 racesNAR tracks

Tokyo

Tokyo racecourse is considered to be the top among Japanese racetracks. The track opened in 1933 and has dirt, grass, and jump course. Grass course has two chutes and its length is about 1 1/4 miles. Dirt course is about half-furlong shorter.

Tokyo stages two main races of the year: Japanese equivalents of the Derby and the Oaks, which are called the Tokyo Yushun and the Yushun Himba in Japan. The course also holds their trials - the Flora Stakes and the Aoba Sho, respectively. Other G1 races include the autumn edition of the Tenno Sho, Japan Cup, or Yasuda Kinen. Important G2 races are the Meguro Kinen, Mainichi Okan, and Copa Republica Argentina.

Kyoto

Kyoto racecourse is located on Honshu, west of Tokyo, and was opened on 1 December 1925. It has two turf courses, an inner dirt course, a jump course and also two chutes for all three major courses.

Kyoto is the home of other two classic races. The St. Leger equivalent is called the Kikuka Sho. Fillies' Triple crown is closed with their own race, the Shuka Sho, and it's worth saying the racecourse also holds its predecessor, the Queen Elizabeth II. Commemorative Cup, which lost the position in the fillies' Triple Crown in 1996, when it opened to older females.

Other major races are the autumn edition of the Tenno Sho and the Mile Championship. G2 races include the Kyoto Kinen, Kyoto Shimbun Hai, Kyoto Daishoten, and the Swan Stakes.

Hanshin

Hanshin racetrack was built in 1949, on the place of former combat planes manufactury. The track originally had two turf ovals with a length of about one mile. Hanshin underwent major reconstruction in 2006 when old chutes were removed, and the new turf oval was built instead. The new length of the course is about 1 1/4 miles.

Hanshin hosts Japanese equivalent of the 1000 Guineas, the Oka Sho, as well as its trial, the Fillies' Prevue. The course also stages a pair of the most prestigious races for two-year-olds, the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, and the Asahi Hai Futurity. The latter one has been moved to Hanshin from Nakayama in 2015. Other major races are the Takarazuka Kinen, and classic trials the Rose Stakes and Kobe Shimbun Hai.

Nakayama

Nakayama racecourse has quite unique architecture. It has two grass courses, with the length of about 9 and 8 furlongs, respectively. The inner dirt course just shy of one mile, and jump course can have various different configurations.

Nakayama is the home of the last classic race - the Two Thousand Guineas equivalent named the Satsuki Sho. It has local trials in the Yayoi Sho and the Spring Stakes, and the course also hosts valued St. Leger trial, the St. Lite Kinen. Nakayama provides many graded races in the spring and stages one of the most prestigious Japanese races, the Arima Kinen, in December.

Chukyo

Chukyo is a very young racetrack. Its outer turf oval measures 1 mile and has several chutes. The inner dirt course measures only about 7 furlongs.

Chukyo holds a pair of G1 races: the Takamatsunomiya Kinen in March, and the Champions Cup, formerly Japan Cup Dirt, in December. Important G2 races are the Tokai Stakes and Kinko Sho. Chukyo also severaů G3 races of lower importance.

Niigata

Niigata has two turf courses. The inner oval measures about one mile, and the outer one is about three furlongs longer. The turf course is also used for jump races, with fences simply put on the course.

Niigata stages only G3 races as the top level..

Sapporo

Sapporo, another very old Japanese racetrack, is located on the island of Hokkaido. The track has both the inner dirt course and the outer turf oval. The latter one measures about 7.5 furlongs.

All graded races in Sapporo take place in August or surrounding weeks in July and September. The Sapporo Kinen is the only Japanese G2 race, and also the most prestigious race at all, which takes place during summer months.

Kokura

Kokura racetrack is the only major Japanese racetracks located on the island of Kyushu. Kokura has two courses, the outer turf oval with the length of 1 mile, and the inner dirt course.

Kokura is the home of several minor graded races.

Ohi

There are five racetracks located near the city of Tokyo, and Ohi is the closest one to its center. The track is also known as Tokyo City Keiba, or sometimes even 'Oi racetrack' from Japan original name 'Oi Keiba jo'.

Ohi racetrack has two dirt ovals, with a length of about 1 mile and 7 furlongs, respectively. Ohi's biggest race is the Tokyo Daishoten in December, which is a one-off international grade race on the NAR track. The Teio Sho, a valued race for the four-year-olds and older horses, was opened to the JRA horses for a part of its history too. Ohi often hosts the Japan Breeding Farms' Cup, commonly known as the JBC Classic, Distaff and Sprint, and also a preparation race for the Distaff, the Ladies' Prelude.

Ohi racetrack has a partnership with Santa Anita Racecourse. In the summer there's the Santa Anita Trophy run in Ohi, while Santa Anita racetrack holds the Tokyo City Cup.

Kawasaki

Kawasaki is one of the oldest major racetracks in Japan. It has only one simple dirt oval with a length of about 6 furlongs.

Kawasaki is the stage of the very first J1 race of the year, the Kawasaki Kinen, and one of the last J1 races of the year, the Nippon Nisai Yushun for two-year-olds. Kawasaki also holds the Kanto Oaks in June.

Funabashi

Funabashi is, as well as Nakayama and Ohi, another racetrack located near Tokyo. Funabashi has two dirt tracks and is specific for their shape with different angles of turns. The length of the outer dirt course is only about 7 furlongs.

Funabashi is home only to the J1 Kashiwa Kinen in May. The domestic G2 Diolite Kinen is a familiar name to racing fans too.

Nagoya

Nagoya, often dubbed the "Donko Racecourse" after a surrounding district, is located near the city of Nagoya, about 7.5 miles northwest from the Chukyo racetrack. It has a simple dirt oval with long corners, and the circumference is about 5.5 furlongs.

Nagoya stages three domestic grade races, including the J2 Nagoya Grand Prix in December.

Urawa

Urawa is the sixth racecourse surrounding Tokyo. It has only one simple dirt oval, with a length of only 6 furlongs.

Urawa hosts two domestic G2 races: the Sakitama Hai at a distance of 7 furlongs in June, and the Urawa Kinen at 1 1/4 miles in November.

Morioka

Young racetrack Morioka is situated in the northern part of Honshu island. Unlike the most of Japanese racetracks, the Morioka lies well outside the city. The track itself has three courses: the outer dirt course with a circumference of 1 mile, the inner grass course, and one more small inner dirt course.

Morioka has a G1 race in the Mile Championship Nambu Hai, which takes place in October. Other domestic graded races are the J3 Mercury and Cluster Cups.