Being First or Only Nothing Unusual for Dr. Harry Sweeney.

 By Michele MacDonald

Being the first or the only is nothing unusual for Dr. Harry Sweeney

The Irish-born veterinarian from Dundalk admits he never imagined years ago that he would find both success and happiness in the faraway land of Japan.

Shown with a Deep Sky filly from his JRHA sale consignment
Photo: Michele MacDonald

Fate and chance joined with his undeniably adventurous spirit in guiding him along a path that led him to become:

•    The first foreign-born person allowed to acquire agricultural land in Japan, which he did in 2000 while establishing Paca Paca Farm about a decade after he moved to the Land of the Rising Sun for what he thought would be a six-month job managing Taiki Farm;

•    The first foreign-born person approved to join the Japan Bloodstock Breeders Association, and

•    The first non-Japanese approved to hold a coveted Japan Racing Association owner’s license, allowing him to race his horses for the world’s most lucrative purses beginning in 2001.

Paca Paca Farm Landscape
Photo: Courtesy of Paca Paca Farm

     Now, a dozen years after he founded his farm, he has claimed another first as a non-native Japanese, which is, in the scheme of racing and breeding, the most important accomplishment of all: raising and selling a winner of the largest racing prize in the Far East, the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (Jpn-gr. I).

     “This is the big one—the one that everyone wants,” said the blue-eyed Sweeney, 51, while relaxing on the deck of his office on the island of Hokkaido. The lush, clover-dotted fields of Paca Paca—named with the Japanese term for the sound of horses galloping, as Sweeney says, “past the winning post”—and some of the farm’s 50 resident mares stretch out in all directions while Pacific Ocean waves sparkle in the gentle afternoon light on the horizon.

     It has taken “enormous” resources for Sweeney to get to this point, both of the financial and personal kind. So it’s no wonder he likes to re-live the Derby.

     Sweeney said he had a premonition that the colt Deep Brillante, who he sold as a foal to Katsumi Yoshida’s Northern Farm at the 2009 Japan Racing Horse Association Select Sale for ¥31 million ($326,315), might win the classic.

     “But I didn’t let myself believe it was going to happen,” he said. When Deep Brillante—a member of the second crop by Sunday Silence’s phenomenal Japanese Triple Crown-winning son Deep Impact—unleashed a strong stretch drive and prevailed by a nose, Sweeney was overcome by tides of people in the crowd of more than 100,000 congratulating him.

     “It was a very, very special moment,” Sweeney recalled. “But the greatest thing was waking up the next morning and thinking, ‘We won the Derby!’”

     Deep Brillante, who has been sent to England to run next in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-gr. I), crossed the finish line of the 2400-meter (about 1 ½-mile) Derby in the third fastest time in history, 2:23.80.

     The horse business doesn’t allow too much time for celebrating, and Sweeney soon left Tokyo to return to Hokkaido and his normal routine; he drove a mare to a breeding engagement the next day.

     But it didn’t take him long to think of ways to try to maximize the Derby achievement. Well known in Japan for his audacious marketing techniques in the typically low-key culture, he acquired a large white tent emblazoned with the Paca Paca logo and the words “Derby Breeder” in Japanese and stationed it outside the barn where his horses are stabled for the 2012 JRHA sale that begins on July 9.

      His consignment includes a colt by Sea The Stars, bred by SF Bloodstock, who will become the first offspring of his champion sire to sell at public auction as a yearling.

Sea The Stars Colt/Hip 89 at the JRHA sale

      But Deep Brillante could be the horse that will always matter the most to Sweeney. The colt’s success “increases the chances we’ll survive,” said Sweeney, who has teamed with his indefatigable wife Anne to raise four sons—Colm, Kevin, Cathal and Eoin—in Ireland while also raising horses in Japan.

      Being apart much of the year might be the “perfect recipe” to keep their marriage together, said Anne Sweeney with a mischievous smile while visiting Hokkaido for the JRHA sale. Their friends, however, point out that the Sweeneys are a “tremendous team,” navigating through the layers of bureaucratic issues endemic in Japan and the pressures of a bi-continental lifestyle with children and horses.

      “I once said you need the courage of 100 lions and the patience of 1,000 saints,” Sweeney said, reflecting on what it has taken for him to create his unique niche in Japan.

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