Japanese racing fan Yoshino Matsumoto does whatever it takes to see the big races.

Japanese racing fan Yoshino Matsumoto does whatever it takes to see the big races.

Bill Selwyn

Japanese Fans Camp Out for Weeks to Get Best View of the Races

Yoshino Matsumoto is willing to do just about anything to get a spot on the rail at the finish line for major races at Japan Racing Association tracks -- including camping out by the front gate for as long as a week.

Matsumoto, a 30-year-old horse crazy fan from Tokyo, laid out her blanket by the admission gate of Tokyo Race Course Nov. 20 so she could have first run when the gates opened at 9 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 27 for the 25th running of the Japan Cup.

"I've been doing this since I became a horse racing fan in high school," the Tokyo native said.

Matsumoto doesn't remain at her post 24 hours a day. Working with a group of about 10 people, she sets up a rotation schedule throughout the week so there is a minimum of two people camping out -- day or night -- to maintain their position. The Yutaka-tei restaurant, a traditional Japanese yakatori pub just across the street from Tokyo Race Course, serves as the group's headquarters when they need some food or drink to warm them on a cold night.

She does it all for her love of the horses. Matsumoto tries to photograph every Japanese grade I race for her personal collection. "I'm just an amateur -- not a professional photographer," she said. "I just love being close to the horses."

Matsumoto calls Smile Tomorrow -- winner of the 2002 Japanese Oaks -- the favorite of all the horses she's photographed from her railside location. "She was cute," she said. "I first saw her at a farm in Hokkaido when she was a foal. Then I followed her throughout her career." Like many Japanese fans, Matsumoto makes annual pilgrimages to various farms in the northern island of Hokkaido where Japan's Thoroughbred breeding business is based.

For this year's Japan Cup, there were at least 20 other groups who spread blankets out at the admission gate days in advance of the race. That number will grow when Triple Crown winner Deep Impact faces older horses on Christmas Day in the Arima Kinen at Nakayama Race Course. Some fans camped out for as long as three weeks to claim their spot along the rail when Deep Impact ran earlier this year.

Matsumoto will be there for sure. "I can't wait," she said. But she will -- for days and days.