Bobby Zen

HOKKAIDO, Japan–Expectation rather than trepidation. Pre-JRHA Select Sale nerves are different to the ones we go through back in Europe, that’s for sure. 

A quick scan through the over 500-strong catalogue of foals and yearlings will remind you just how small the world is with many familiar names cropping up on any given page. 

However, a morning spent in the company of JRHA chairman and Shadai Farm boss Teruya Yoshida followed by a trip to Northern Farm, which will consign a massive 180 lots at the sale, pegs into light what the Japanese are doing better than most.

Perhaps Yoshida, who dominates Japanese racing along with his brothers Katsumi and Haruya, has reason to be confident. After all, he approaches the sale, which kicks off with yearlings on Monday, with reason for optimism given the Japanese Derby winner Danon Decile (Jpn) (Epiphaneia {Jpn}) is fresh in everyone’s mind.

“This spring time, horses bred by Shadai Farm have won four Group 1s, so it is not just about Danon Decile,” Yoshida rightly corrects the interviewer! “For example, Jantar Mantar (Jpn) (Palace Malice) won the NHK Mile Cup so it has been a very good spring.”

He added, “We are expecting a lot for this sale. So far, this has been a very good sale and a lot of good horses have been sold here. As you said, the Japan Derby winner was sold at this sale a couple of years ago. We have had many, many lookers visiting the farm in recent weeks so I am expecting good things.”

Last year’s JRHA Select Sale was a behemoth and flew somewhat in the face of what many people were experiencing in Europe and even to a certain extent in America when the words ‘polarised’ and ‘market correction’ didn’t miss a sales report. But Japanese racing is in a very different place to the rest of the world right now. 

Prize-money is soaring, as is betting turnover, owner-incentives give people a proper chance of recouping their losses and the quality of the stock being presented to the sales has never been stronger. It’s this perfect storm, according to Yoshida, that has Japanese racing in such a healthy state.

“I expect the market to be strong,” he continued. “But last year’s market was a record-breaking market so we don’t know if it will be as strong as it was last year. It should be very strong, though. There are a lot of new owners who want to spend money. I think there are many people ready to spend ¥100 million. There are always new people wanting to get involved with Japanese racing. 

“It is good circulation. Prize-money is good, many new people are coming into the industry and they invest a lot of money in the yearling market. That provides breeders with an opportunity to reinvest that money in mares and stallion fees.”

He added, “The quality is on the up. And I am very confident in the quality of our horses. There are so many good horses with good pedigree and nice conformation. Those horses should attract good buyers. No problem. And we have buyers coming at every level. 

“Also, we have seen a lot of good runners bought here for a reasonable price. For example, Derma Sotogake (Jpn) (Mind Your Biscuits), who finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, cost less than $100,000 at this sale. This year, his full-brother will be more expensive, no problem! My son Tetsuya’s father-in-law bought Derma Sotogake. He is a lucky man.”

Yoshida stands proud with Carina Mia and her Epiphaneia colt foal | Brian Sheerin

When it is put to Yoshida that luck has been his friend in life as well, mainly when it came to finding the breed-shaping Sunday Silence, the backstory of which was excellently laid out by Emma Berry in these pages almost exactly 12 months ago, he agrees. 

“Not just Sunday Silence but Northern Taste as well. Both of them, we have been very lucky. When we bought Northern Taste at the Saratoga Sale, he cost us $100,000. He would become the champion sire in Japan 11 times. That was the very beginning of our luck. Even at that time, Nijinsky (Can) had run already and was the Triple Crown winner. We saw many sons of Northern Dancer in the sale. When they had run already, we knew we couldn’t afford them, so that’s why we decided to buy as a yearling. Very, very lucky.”

He added on Sunday Silence, “We had a farm in Kentucky and Arthur Hancock was our neighbour. One day, our horses got loose and got out on the road. Arthur helped us catch the horses and put them back in the field. From that day, we became friends.”

But is Yoshida lucky or good? How Zenya Yoshida and now his sons Teruya, Katsumi and Haruya have transformed the ownership model throughout the past couple of decades to drive fan engagement has proved to be one of Japanese racing’s secret weapons. 

Okay, large-scale ownership groups are not exactly a new phenomenon in this game. But where else in the world have genuine superstars like Almond Eye (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}) and more recently Equinox (Jon) (Kitasan Black {Jpn}) raced for multi-share racing clubs? Lest we forget that, of the five Japanese-trained winners on Dubai World Cup Night in 2022, four of those were successful for similar clubs. Such is the importance of racing clubs and syndicates in Japan, they are understood to make up 70 per cent of the entire ownership pool in the country. 

“Maybe not a secret weapon but a weapon,” Yoshida laughs. “It has been very popular. Many racing fans like to get involved and it fuels future ownership. The purse system in Japan is very good, so that is one reason why it is possible. The other is that horse racing is very popular with the people here and there are a lot of racing fans. Many people come to the races to see the horses. Naturally, they would like the feeling of owning a horse and getting that experience. It’s like supporting a team. Europe has the same thing–like the Highclere Syndicate for example. But because of our purse system and the amount of racing fans we have, it is much better than in Europe.”

He added, “If we have a superstar in sport, regardless of the sport, they become so popular here in Japan. In baseball for example, we have a guy in America doing many home runs called Shohei Ohtani. He earns $700 million for 10 years. Ninety per cent of American people know his name and he is super famous over here. He gave free baseball gloves to every elementary school in Japan. That’s a big number of gloves.”

The point being drilled home by Yoshida is that Japanese people remain infatuated with stardom. A quick walk through the Northern Farm Horse Park, which is open to the public, confirms as much with an entire shop dedicated to selling racing-related merchandise. 

One cannot help but notice the countless teddy-bear sized horses bedecked in famous silks. From Almond Eye to Deep Impact (Jpn), you can purchase your very own superstar. The fan-driven syndicate model is a step above that level of transaction but it speaks to the same principal. 

“We have produced many [individual] horse owners after they had a good feeling owning a horse [at a smaller level]. When they get older and richer, they might decide to own a horse of their own. Do you know that 70 per cent of the entire owners in the JRA are made up by our racing clubs? Amazing. This is very important and JRA knows this. At first, the JRA may have been a little bit suspicious of our system, but now they are great believers. When we decided to do this, we decided to do it right. We do everything correct and we present good, quality horses. This is also very important.”

Northern Farm will offer 180 lots at the JRHA Select Sale, including this handsome Flightline colt .

Lot 419 is one of only three Flightline foals in the sale and is out of Tan Gritona, a champion 2yo filly in Argentina. pic.twitter.com/Gn8hIWi5mA

— Brian Sheerin (@BrianSheerin91) July 6, 2024

And with this, a brochure featuring 88 exquisitely-bred yearlings that will soon be put on the market and syndicated under the banner of Shadai Race Horse Co Ltd is opened up. There is a guide price beside every horse and Yoshida reveals that the expectation is that each share will be filled within a fortnight of those 88 yearlings being put on the market. 

The ownership model is a simple one, in that syndicate members are only signing up for the racing experience and, if the horse becomes a stallion prospect or a potential blue hen broodmare, she can be circulated back into the Shadai breeding operation. Ingenious really. 

But when this ownership model is providing people with up-close and personal experiences with this year’s leading three-year-old miler in Japan Jantar Mantar, for example, and other recognisable forces like Sol Oriens (Jpn) (Kitasan Black {Jpn}), Stars On Earth (Jpn) (Duramante {Jpn}) and more, the relationship works both ways.

Those horses being offered for syndication in that brochure are obviously completely separate to the ones who will go under the hammer at the Select Sale on Monday and Tuesday. Having scouted through the barns at Shadai Farm followed by Northern Farm, it’s hard to disagree with Yoshida’s prediction that another blockbuster sale could be in store. But then again, you reap what you sow. 

“We have spent a lot of money on our broodmare band down through the years,” Yoshida says. “We just look for what everybody else wants-high-class mares. We bought a lot of broodmares all over the world in the past 20 years and in Europe especially as the Japanese Yen was so strong. We could afford to buy them. Also, your market [the European market] was not strong. Even Deep Impact’s mother, [Wind In Her Hair (Ire) (Azao)] was second in the Oaks and we bought her.”

And last year Japanese buyers were very active at the December Mares Sale at Tattersalls.

“Yes, because we are still rich–we still can buy,” Yoshida says, before erupting into belly laughter. This may be serious stuff but nobody seems to get bogged down about anything here. Yoshida himself has time for a laugh and a joke just as much as anyone else on the tour of the barns and sits through each show as if it were his first.

One sire that pops up more than most is Contrail (Jpn). It is clear from visiting both farms that the hope is that the Japanese Triple Crown-winning son of Deep Impact can be spoken of in the same glowing terms of his father. 

It was at this sale 12 months ago when Contrail really announced himself as a sire to take serious note of when a colt of his topped the foal session at ¥520 million [$3.7m]. 

Lot 367: a Contrail colt foal at Shadai Farm | Brian Sheerin

Lot 377, a Contrail colt out of Argentinian 1,000 Guineas heroine Joy Nikita (Arg) (Fortify) is being tipped by Shadai’s Tsubasa Sato to fly the flag for the stallion once again. 

Then you have lot 364 at Northern Farm, a Kitasan Black (Jpn) colt foal out of German Oaks winner Serienholde (Ger) (Soldier Hollow {GB}). He’s a half-brother to Schnell Meister (Ger) (Kingman {GB}) and his reserve–which is completely transparent in Japan–has been set at ¥70 million, the highest reserve set by Northern Farm in the sale. 

Add that to Shadai’s Epiphaneia (Jpn) colt foal [lot 384], who clearly holds a certain amount of sentimental value to Yoshida, as he didn’t need to be asked twice to pose for a photograph with the mare Carina Mia (Malibu Moon) and her offspring. 

Shadai forked out $2.6 million on the Grade I winner at Fasig-Tipton in 2021 and, with a cracking Epiphaneia colt foal at foot, is now happily reported to be in foal to Equinox. Not to mention Northern Farm offering the only Gun Runner foal in the sale and one of three foals by Flightline as well. 

With such quality everywhere you look, perhaps Yoshida’s confidence is well-placed. 

The post Yoshida: ‘There Are A Lot Of New Owners Who Want To Spend Money At The Select Sale’ appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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