While the scratch of Epicharis impacted the amount of money wagered, the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G1) June 10 at Belmont Park still became the first United States classic simulcast into Japan.
New York Racing Association officials, as well as Churchill Downs officials, hope additional U.S. classics are simulcast into Japan in the future, as it expands interest in their races, increases sponsorship and television opportunities, and provides added wagering revenue.
Since a 2015 law change, Japan now allows a limited number of international races to be simulcast into the country for wagering. The separate Japanese wagering pool for the 2017 Belmont saw handle reach $4,698,525.
With Japan-based Epicharis pointing to the 1 1/2-mile classic, NYRA officials projected wagering to reach anywhere from $10 million to $20 million. But Japan interest in the race declined after the UAE Derby Presented by The Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2) runner-up was scratched the morning of the Belmont when he still had heat in an ailing right front foot.
Attracting a Japan-based runner increases a race's chances of being picked up for a simulcast in Japan, in an arrangement that is approved by the host racing association, Japan Racing Association, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Japan.
In an effort to attract a horse from Japan, this year NYRA offered a $1 million bonus, in addition to the winning purse, to any Japan-based horse who could win the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes. Churchill Downs attempted to attract a Japan-based horse to this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) by offering for the first time a separate qualifying route for horses from the country. That Derby spot was earned by U. Carrot Farm's Epicharis but his trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara said racing in the Derby didn't fit as well with the horse's schedule as the Belmont.
The efforts to attract a Japan-based horse to the U.S. classics follows success of separate-pool wagering on a Breeders' Cup race for the first time in 2016. Last year, when Nuovo Record ran in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1T), Japanese players wagered $7.7 million on the race, which went off at 4:30 a.m. there.
NYRA will receive a percentage fee from the JRA for the nearly $5 million wagered on the Belmont.
"NYRA will get half that fee and the horsemen will get half, so it helps our purse account for the horsemen," said NYRA senior vice president of racing operations Martin Panza. "It's a percentage of what's bet over there. So we're growing our business for NYRA; we're helping our horsemen; and we're trying to get into more international markets. It really doesn't matter that much what the final number is, because we're just getting started with this."
NYRA sees enough potential in the JRA simulcast that it already announced that the $1 million bonus will be offered in 2018. During Derby week this year Churchill officials said it's likely the Japan Road to the Derby not only will return but it probably will see more than the two points races offered this year.
To qualify for the 2018 NYRA bonus, a Japan-based horse must make at least three starts in the country prior to starting in the Belmont and must be nominated to North America's Triple Crown series. In the event of a dead heat, the connections will receive a $600,000 bonus.
In 2016 the Japan-based Lani competed in all three legs of the Triple Crown. His best showing was a third-place finish in the Belmont Stakes.
Lenny Shulman contributed to this story.