The New York Racing Association has announced a $1 million bonus to any Japan-based Thoroughbred who competes in and wins the 149th running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1) June 10 at Belmont Park.
The entire $1 million bonus would be awarded to the winning horse's connections in addition to the $800,000 winner's share of the purse for the 1 1/2-mile "Test of the Champion," the last and longest leg of racing's Triple Crown. In the event of a dead-heat for the win, the bonus will be $600,000.
In 2016, Koji Maeda's Lani became the first Japan-based horse to contest all three Triple Crown events. He ran ninth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), fifth in the Preakness Stakes (G1), and third in the Belmont. Maeda's Sunday Break also hit the board for Japan in the Belmont, running third in 2002.
Since a 2015 law change that allows Japan to simulcast a limited number of international races each year, Japan took simulcast wagering on a race from the United States for the first time in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1T), which featured Japanese-bred multiple graded stakes winner Nuovo Record. Japanese horseplayers wagered approximately $7.68 million on the single race, according to figures reported by the BloodHorse, despite the race being run locally at 4:43 a.m. on a Sunday morning.
Japanese racing fans also wagered close to $40 million on the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) from Chantilly Racecourse, Japan's first imported simulcast race after the new law went into effect.
"With Japan opening their simulcast markets to the world on a limited basis, we believe this has the potential for incredible growth for racing here in the U.S.," said Martin Panza, NYRA's senior vice president of racing operations. "In NYRA's talks with Japanese officials, they have conveyed to us that races with Japanese horses would be preferred for simulcasting.
"Japan has some of the most enthusiastic racing fans in the world and we've been working on this with Churchill Downs officials, who have implemented the 'Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby' this year, as a way to help attract these horses to the United States, enhancing the entire Triple Crown program."
To qualify for the bonus, a horse must have made at least three starts in Japan prior to starting in the Belmont Stakes and be nominated to the Triple Crown series. The deadline for early nominations for the Triple Crown is Jan. 14. Late nominations will be open through March 20.
Panza noted that ongoing efforts to attract Japanese horses could result in additional entries in prestigious New York races such as the Grade 1 Belmont Derby and Oaks during the Stars & Stripes Racing Festival on July 8, the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational (G3) June 9 and Metropolitan Handicap (G1) June 10, among others, during the spring/summer meet. NYRA will be adding traveling incentives to further entice Japanese horses for these races.
"The New York Racing Association is one of the few organizations in the U.S. that has the ability to offer racing on an international level," said Panza. "NYRA has done a good job of attracting European runners and now we will make a concerted effort to bring horses from Japan to both Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course. We look forward to working with the Japan Racing Association in these efforts."