WHILE racing is of course a hugely popular sport across the world, there a few more impassioned racegoers than those in Japan, writes KRISTEN MANNING.
They sleep overnight outside the track on the eve of feature race days, sprinting through the gates to get a prized position. They queue at souvenir stands to purchase plush toys of their favourite horses, they hang banners of support over the parade ring fence and they take photos … lots of them.
When champion Australian jockey Darren Gauci rode Shaftesbury Avenue in the 1991 Japan Cup, the first thing that struck him as he mounted the big chestnut was the light … from the flashes of thousands of cameras. “I felt like I was in a scene of Star Wars!” he laughed.
The connection to the horse is such that there is genuine mourning when a much loved horse passes away. This writer was at the Dubai Cup won by Singspiel in 1996 during which the Japanese mare Hokuto Vega broke down badly. I returned to the press tent to see rows of Japanese journalists and photographers in tears, their heads hung low, some inconsolable.
When superstar stallion Deep Impact died aged 17 in late July, bouquets of flowers appeared at tracks and totes. Recently at Fuchu racecourse a tribute to the great horse was erected while those who loved him spoke of him in such emotional terms, staff at Shadai Stallion Station, where he stood, declaring themselves “extremely heartbroken”, while his jockey, the great Yutaka Take cancelled a scheduled trip to make his way to the farm to pay his respects.
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Photo: Getty Images.