Japan captures the beauty and the bet

by | 12.29.2011 | 6:42am

When I see a video like the one produced last weekend in Japan showcasing the retirement ceremony for Horse of the Year Buena Vista, it makes me want to strangle some of the self-absorbed, closed-minded people who occasionally comment on this site and in other public forums, saying that racing is a form of gambling and nothing else, and that the industry would be wasting its time by attempting to sell it as anything but gambling.  Unfortunately, we have people in leadership positions in the horse industry who buy into this self-defeating line of crap.

On Sunday at Nakayama racecourse in Tokyo, 60,000 fans from the original on-track crowd of 115,065 stood outside, shoulder to shoulder, in freezing temperatures and icy winds, long after the last race of the day, to say farewell to this wonderful Thoroughred mare.

The pageantry of the retirement ceremony was breathtakingly beautiful.

Oh, and by the way, these people bet, too. On the Arima Kinen alone, Buena Vista's final career race, a total of $484.5 million was wagered. On that day's program from Nakayama, a total of $618.7 million was bet throughout Japan. No, those are not typos.

By comparison, on the two days of the 2011 Breeders' Cup, on 15 races, there was a total of $140.1 million wagered. The single biggest race of the year, the Kentucky Derby, handled $112 million in 2011.

For the entire month of November in the United States, fans bet a total of $874.4 million on 392 separate racing programs. In other words, Japanese fans bet 70% of that amount on just one afternoon's program from one racetrack.


Appreciating and marketing the beauty of the sport and the magnificence of the Thoroughbred is something the Japan Racing Association has done for decades. It does not have to be mutually exclusive from the recognition that money wagered through the pari-mutuel pools is what keeps this business going.

Is Thoroughbred racing a sport or is it gambling?

The answer is a resounding “Yes.”

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