International Connections

I am writing this as I head to the Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan. I was here these last few days for the 30th annual Japan Cup as a guest of the Japan Racing Association (JRA). It was the first time I ever had sushi for Thanksgiving dinner.
The Japan Cup drew more than 106,000 patrons to Tokyo Racecourse, a magnificent structure that comfortably hosted the large crowd. It was completely renovated a few years ago and may be the finest racetrack in the world - think Belmont Park only longer and several stories higher; think Arlington Park with even more amenities; think Churchill Downs with even more priority seating; think Keeneland with an even nicer barn area.
Total handle on the day was 27.4 billion yen. Ninety yen equal one U.S. dollar. Thus, total handle for the day was more than $305 million, an astronomical figure by U.S. standards. I was informed that one off track facility in downtown Tokyo usually handles $100 million (U.S.) on Japan Cup Day.  That one facility, therefore, handles more than the entire U.S. bets on Breeders' Cup Day.  Only about 5% of Japanese handle is wagered on track. Most betting is done at OTBs or on mobile devices. And Japan Cup day isn't even their biggest attendance day at the track. The Japan Derby, a springtime race for three-year-olds just like the Kentucky Derby, draws up to 200,000 people.  This country loves horse racing.
Like the U.S, Japan is seeing some decline in handle due to a rough economy and expansion of other forms of gambling, but you couldn't tell that on Sunday. It was an amazing crowd that cheered thunderously for the favorite, Buena Vista (JPN), a beautiful filly who won the race but was disqualified to second for interfering with Rose Kingdom (JPN) who was declared the winner. It was an unpopular decision by the stewards and one that Japanese fans will no doubt be debating for years to come.
Also in Japan were racing officials, association heads, owners, trainers, breeders and jockeys hailing from Hong Kong, Singapore, Italy, Australia, France, England, Canada and elsewhere.   It was another reminder that horse racing is a global enterprise that thrives in many parts of the world because of a common bond with the horse.
The future of U.S. horse racing depends in large part on our ability to link ourselves with the rest of the horse racing world.  The world still comes to the U.S. to buy bloodstock (the winner's broodmare sire was Sunday Silence). There is a global market for wagering on our races.  But we have to be here in person to build the relationships that will make it possible for us to connect and grow internationally. There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction even in this Internet-driven era.
This past week in Tokyo, we traded the usual business cards and e-mail addresses.   More importantly, we also cemented some real bonds internationally—bonds that hopefully will pay dividends worldwide in years to come.
What do you think the future is for racing, internationally? Let me hear from you.

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