Japan Part I
Photo:
Ray Paulick
Editor-in-Chief
The Society of International Thoroughbred Auctioneers is employing a classic carrot and stick approach with the Japan Racing Association, acknowledging through official recognition of 60 graded stakes that the JRA's racing quality is high, but warning the organization that no further advancements will be recognized until non-Japanese owners are licensed to compete in that country.

SITA, acting on recommendations from the International Grading and Race Planning Committee and the International Cataloguing Standards Committee, recently promoted Japan to Part I of the International Cataloguing Standards book. The promotion means that 60 of the JRA's stakes races will be designated as graded in sale catalogs that formerly recognized them as black type only.

Part I countries include the United States, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, most European racing countries, and Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru. Japan has been included in Part II of the book, along with Hong Kong, India, Macau, Panama, Puerto Rico, Scandinavia, Singapore/Malaysia, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Fifteen countries are categorized in Part III of the book and their races are not recognized or given black type in sale catalogs adhering to SITA guidelines.

What does elevation from Part II to Part I mean?

Here's an example. Invasor, winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I) and the probable North American Horse of the Year, raced in Uruguay five times in 2005. Among his victories were the three races in the Uruguayan Triple Crown -- the Gran Premio Nacional, Gran Premio Jockey Club, and Gran Premio Polla de Potrillos. None of those victories will be recognized in a sale catalog or in reports from The Jockey Club Information Systems as being in grade/group I races even though they are designated as such in Uruguay. That is because Uruguay is a Part II country, as Japan has been.

(Note: The Blood-Horse recognizes grade/group designations made by host racing associations as well as "stakes" races, as opposed to "black-type" races as defined by the International Cataloguing Standards Committee.)

The promotion of Japan to Part I came after a tortoise-paced opening of JRA racing to foreign-based horses, beginning with the Japan Cup and one other race in 1981. Twenty-five years later, 70 of the JRA's graded and 11 non-graded stakes are open to foreign-based horses; next year, half of the JRA's black-type races will be open to international competition. It might be argued that Japan's reluctance to open its rich stakes program to foreign horses was unfounded. This year's Japan Cup (Jpn-I) and Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I), offering a combined $7 million in prize money over the weekend of Nov. 25-26, attracted just two international horses, Ouija Board and Freedonia, both from Europe.

It's not just horses that the JRA has kept out of its racing program. With rare exceptions, only Japanese citizens have been licensed to own horses that race at the JRA tracks.

Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed has made an effort to change that, but his initial attempts have been shot down by the JRA. The sheikh started breeding mares in Japan in the late 1990s, then subsequently purchased several farms there under his Darley banner and expanded the operation. Recently, it was announced that champion Fantastic Light would stand at the Darley Japan stallion complex.

Dr. Riki Takahashi, Sheikh Mohammed's key representative in Japan, applied for an owner's license earlier this year in the name of Darley Japan Farms, but that application was denied by the JRA, whose president, Masayuki Takahashi, said it "did not meet the qualifications for ownership registration as defined by JRA rules."

That may be why the committees that define catalog standards stepped in with a stick, after dangling a carrot in front of the JRA and moving them into Part I of the International Cataloguing Standards. A terse press release from SITA said: "A condition of the promotion is that no new races will be upgraded as long as the ownership criteria in Japan have not been radically changed."

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