Michael Cox



Life in the Hanshin moshpit

Space was at a premium at Hanshin as more than 40,000 fans crammed into the track to watch Titleholder dismantle a quality field in the Takarazuka Kinen. Michael Cox was trackside.

If you want the best seat in the house for next year’s Takarazuka Kinen then bring your camping gear and pack your runners. 

Then, once you have found a comfortable camping spot on the concrete footbridge that leads to Hanshin Racecourse’s front gate, you need to decide: do you want to be in the front row, as close to the finishing post as possible, or up in front at the parade ring? You can’t have both. 

The opening race of the day will be you, in a sprint, against a field of fans so committed they were also willing to camp out on said concrete walkway. 

Once inside, there is nothing like the meritocracy of a lung-busting footrace to create atmosphere. The general admission rate is only 500 yen (Around AUD$5), but if you want the front row then it’s on you to show a turn of foot akin to Lord Kanaloa, when gates open in the morning. 

You could call it ‘engagement’, a word marketing types love to throw around these days, on social media too, a word that seems to have become a big part of the lexicon of racing administrators. 

Here’s some old fashioned statistics we can use to describe the ‘engagement’ at Hanshin yesterday. A crowd of 43,297, that felt like many, many more. Betting turnover on the day of ¥ 32,365,717,800 (north of AU$340million). 


The surging Titleholder was the 'people's pick' in the Takarazuka Kinen. (Photo by JRA).

The numbers are one thing but they don’t describe what it is like to be among this heaving mass of humanity on race day. 

Osaka walks to its own, different, style. Japanese culture is distinct, but the port city sets itself apart again. In a country full of rules, start with the fact you stand on the right side of the escalator and go from there. It is the edgy, rough-hewn cousin of the nearby ancient capital Kyoto. 

An hour before the Takarazuka Kinen and people are leaning on any available flat surface to fill in betting tickets. Newspaper form guides are everywhere. There are no ‘Super Sundays’ in Japan, just big days with one big race. Everything builds towards the feature late in the day, which will hold close to two thirds of the meeting’s tote handle. 

There is a youthful intensity to the crowd. Getting a good spot for a Japanese G1 on a sweltering spring day is a young person’s game. The overall vibe is of a 1990s music festival, but with 18 incredible horses instead of rock bands, and trifecta tickets instead of illicit drugs. 

Flat surfaces upon which to fill-in betting slips were at a premium. (Photo by Asian Racing Report)

Every balcony surrounding the parade ring is packed. A fan lifts his girlfriend onto his shoulders so she can catch a glimpse of the field. Smartphones in the air.  

On the crammed walkway between the parade ring and track, old school friends Tomoya, Kouga and Kazuhiro, all 20, and all Takarazuka locals, are using an angled wall to lean on and fill in tickets while they discuss trifecta strategies. 

They are relative newcomers to ‘keiba’. “We weren’t into it in high school but last year we came to this race and saw this horse,” Tomoya says, pointing to the front of the official form guide and last year’s winner Chrono Genesis. “We think Efforia will win today.”

Twenty minutes before the jump and the public area in front of the grandstand is sealed off with humans. 

Another 20-something-year-old fan hums the pre-race fanfare and starts slapping his form guide on his hand before the distinctive pre-G1 rev up has even begun. 

Soon enough it will, but not before murmur of consternation ripples through the crowd: Authority is shown on the big screen being vetted, then withdrawn. 

A hype video then plays on the screen, the theme, ‘I was there’ featuring great moments of big races past. 

There was no doubting the commitment of this fan as he helped his girlfriend get a better view of the field in the parade ring before the G1 Takarazuka Kinen.

Space was at a premium at Hanshin as more than 40,000 fans crammed into the track to watch Titleholder dismantle a quality field.

To gain a front row in the parade ring takes real commitment, and fans camp outside the gates in the lead-up to G1 races in the hope of gaining a coveted position.

Fans didn’t just cheer and take photos though, they bet up big, with turnover on the day topping ¥30,000,000,000 (AU$340m).

Photo by Asian Racing Report.

The 2200m start is right in front of the main grandstand and Titleholder jumps fast for Kazuo Yokoyama and finds the rail. 

The field heading past the post for the first time draws a cheer, and soon the crowd are reacting to every move. 

Many Japanese G1s can be a crap-shoot tactically – horses aren’t held to run patterns by stewards, let alone jockeys and trainers – but there are no surprises when Yutaka Yoshida presses forward on Panthalassa, attempting to reprise his last start all-the-way win in the Dubai Turf. 

The aggression is eyebrow raising though; up in trip, and Panthalassa is ripping along, through the first 1000m in 57.6s. Titleholder – denied his front-running spot – is tracking. There is nothing like a tearaway leader to animate a crowd and the sectionals are relentless. 

Behind, Damian Lane has also found the fence, four pairs back on Hishi Iguazu, before the first turn from barrier 10. The Australian seems to be seeing races unfold like he is watching from a helicopter and steering via remote control. The favourite, Efforia, is back behind him in midfield.  

Titleholder is the people’s pick in the people’s race – he received 91,394 of the 2,232,089 votes – and as the second favourite in betting sets his sights on Panthalassa the crowd lifts with him. 

Lane has ridden a perfect race on Hishi Iguazu and closes. Efforia chugs away but isn’t in it. Titleholder is dominant. A new track record of 2:09.7, on a good rather than firm surface, sits on the semaphore board like a closing statement.

The performance brings the usual hysteria but the drama isn’t finished. A photo for third; Half of the monstrous betting pool is made up of trifecta (first three in order) and trio (first three any order) and the crowd are hanging on this one. Fourth pick Daring Tact has edged the third favourite Deep Bond and there are cheers and groans. 

The Osaka masses have a new hero – the first horse to complete the Tenno Sho (Spring)/Takarakazuka Kinen double since Deep Impact – and trainer Toru Kurita tells press that Titleholder is bound for the Prix de l’arc de Triomphe. 

Get there early, Japanese fans are planning their trips already.



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