Arc Proves Japan A Rich New Frontier For International Simulcasting

by | 10.03.2016 | 11:58am
A young Japanese racing fan takes in the Arc de Triomphe (from France Galop video)

Horse racing fans in Japan bet approximately $40 million on Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe from France in Japan's first imported simulcast since a new law went into effect this year.

That bodes well for the upcoming Breeders' Cup and, possibly, the 2017 Kentucky Derby.

According to Paulick Report features editor Natalie Voss, who is attending Monday's International Federation of Horseracing Authorities Conference in Paris, IFHA chairman Louis Romanet said the $40 million wagered in Japan on that one race exceeded the total handled in France on the entire Arc de Triomphe program from Chantilly. The pools between the two countries were not commingled.

Post time for the Arc de Triomphe was shortly after 11 p.m. Sunday night in Tokyo.

As first reported here last year, the new law lists 24 races of international significance that can be simulcast into Japan. The list can be amended by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the branch of Japan's government under which the Japan Racing Association operates.

Currently, the Breeders' Cup Classic and Turf are on that list, but officials are hoping to add the Filly & Mare Turf because 2014 Japanese Oaks winner and 2015 Hong Kong Cup runner-up Nuovo Record is being pointed for that race this year. The daughter of Heart's Cry is the only Japanese-trained runner currently being pointed to the 2016 championship races, according to Dora Delgado, Breeders' Cup senior vice president of racing and nominations.

Though post times have not been announced, the Filly & Mare Turf would be run very early on Sunday morning in Japan (3 p.m. Saturday in California is 7 a.m. Sunday in Tokyo). If wagering is conducted in Japan on the Filly & Mare Turf (which likely would be televised on the JRA's Green Channel, available throughout Japan), it would fall well short of the total bet on the Arc de Triomphe, but it's a start.

At any case, the Breeders' Cup would benefit from Japanese participation, and not just because wagering has flat-lined since the championships were expanded from one to two days in 2007. Last year's two-day total of $130.4 million on 13 races from Keeneland was less than the last one-day Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs in 2006 when $134.4 million was bet on eight races.

Any additional revenue from simulcasting would be welcome, along with ticket sales to Japanese fans attending Santa Anita Park this year (and Del Mar in 2017) and merchandise sold to them. When Japanese horses show up for big events, the Japanese media follows, and that builds awareness and interest.

Churchill Downs recently announced a “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby” that opens one berth in the starting gate for a Japanese horse that accumulates the most points in one of two JRA races – one late this year for 2-year-olds and another early in 2017 for 3-year-olds. While Churchill Downs officials said nary a word about simulcasting when the announcement was made last month, there can be no mistaking that the opening of the Japanese betting market represents a new frontier to grow not just the wagering on America's most famous horse race, but the brand itself.

The Kentucky Derby was not put on the original list of 24 eligible international races for possible import to Japan. As noted, that list can be amended, and if Japanese horsemen take aim at the Kentucky Derby the way they have at other major races in the last 20 years – winning Group 1 events in Europe, Dubai and Hong Kong – this could get very interesting.

Japan has its own classic races for 3-year-olds, all of which are on the turf, but the Dubai World Cup and UAE Derby have made dirt racing more important within Japan, as had the addition of the JRA's Champion Cup in the fall (formerly the Japan Cup Dirt). The addition of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby will build on that growth of interest.

The astonishing $40 million said to be wagered in Japan on Sunday's Arc de Triomphe was not something that happened overnight or by accident. Interest in that race has been building significantly within Japan since American-bred but Japanese-trained El Condor Pasa finished a strong second to Montjeu in the 1999 Arc. As Will Hayler pointed out at SportingLife.com, Japanese runners have had three seconds in the Arc since 2010 (Nakayama Festa in 2010 and Orfevre in 2012 and '13).

Press coverage of the Arc in Japan, where racing is still considered a major league sport, has been substantial. Thousands of Japanese fans have made the trek to Paris to support their country's racing stars. Those who can't travel overseas can watch the JRA's Green Channel, a cable network that shows many major international races. Fans surely were disappointed when 2016 Japanese Derby winner Makahiki could do no better than finish 14th behind Found in this year's Arc.

In 2015, the JRA handled $21.5 billion on 288 days of racing and 3,454 races. That's almost $75 million wagered on each day and $6.3 million on each race. Only 3.5 percent of the total was wagered through on-track pari-mutuel windows, so the balance was bet at OTB shops or through personal computer and telephone betting accounts with the JRA.

By comparison, the U.S. handled $10.675 billion in 2015 on 38,941 races, an average of $274,132 per race. The per day projection is $2.5 million based on an average of nine races per day. (A projection is necessary because the total number of race “days” is not available in statistics from The Jockey Club Fact Book.)

The take-home message is this: Japanese fans bet twice as much money as the U.S. on less than one-tenth the number of races.

Who wouldn't want a piece of that action?

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