Michael Cox



Tiny prospects – the unique charm of Japan’s foal sale

The foal session of the JRHA Select Sale remains like no other sale in the world. Michael Cox reports from Hokkaido.

Two-hundred and thirty-six of the finest pairs of thoroughbred mares and foals in Japan stand in the shade of the pines at Northern Horse Park in Hokkaido. 

It is 8am on Tuesday and final inspection time for day two of the JRHA Select Sale and the task for buyers for the next 90 minutes is finding a future champion from prospects, some just a few months old, that are not-yet-weaned. 

This isn’t the only chance buyers get to assess the foals; farm visits in the weeks preceding the sale afford another opportunity, but sale morning out under the pines is still a must-see event. 

Some foals revel in the attention. By 9am the colt out of Mosheen, tipped to be the one of the top lots, has probably already broken an unofficial record: appearing in the most selfies by a foal in one hour. He handles the new situation like a professional and strides to the ring with purpose.


The colt foal by Epiphaneia out of Australian Group One winner Mosheen (Photo: Asian Racing Report)

But by the end of inspections some of the rapidly growing foals lie in the sun with legs outstretched, taxed by the experience. Almost all are incredibly well behaved, given the unique scenario. 

The scene is serene and surreal but once the auction starts – as it does, by tradition, with an unreserved lot from Northern Farm – it is clear that the infancy of the prospects does not dent buyer confidence. 

For the second straight day bidding is fierce. The average price for yearlings was up 12.6 per cent on day one, and a record gross amount for that section, and it is clear early on that the babies will hit similar levels. 

After Monday’s bidding war for the Maurice colt out of Mosheen that went to 450 million yen (A$4.8m), the focus fell to his little half-brother early in the foal session. 

Three buyers are ‘on’ the colt, one from each end of the auditorium, and in the middle is Deep Impact’s owner Makoto Keneko, wearing a white Sodashi cap, a tribute to his latest star. 

At the back of the room is Yoshito Yahagi, whose hatted head looks like it is on a swivel as he scans the room from bid-to-bid, left to right, and back to Keneko. 

The colt goes for more than 400 million yen (A$3.2m) to a new mystery player in the market listed as Ver Co Ltd.

It's all a bit too much for Lot 468. (Photo: Asian Racing Report)

Lot 363, a Saturnalia foal colt, and his dam, Contessa Thule. (Photo: Asian Racing Report).

Teruya Yoshida, active chairman of Japan Racing Horse Association and Shadai Farm boss, said it was the depth and diversity of new buyers that pleased him most.  

“I am very happy to see so many people are interested in enjoying ownership of racehorses,” he said, pointing to the increased interest from women in racing as an underlying market influence. 

“I am very glad to witness they are very keen to make big investments in the bloodstock market. I am very impressed with the depth of buyers.”

That depth was bolstered by overseas buyers including Yulong Stud principal Yuesheng Zhang, who had already purchased a Duramente filly on day one, and a Lord Kanaloa filly from Northern Farm on day two. Yulong stands a son of Lord Kanaloa, Tagaloa, at its Victorian base.  

Zheng was helped by popular Australian-based and Hokkaido-raised bloodstock agent Satomi Oka, who said the two horses purchased would remain to race in Japan.

Teruya Yoshida, active chairman of Japan Racing Horse Association, addresses the media (Photo: Asian Racing Report).

Covid had reduced international participation in last year’s sale to zero but this year there were 13 registered foreign buyers, five of whom bought foals on day two after two others had purchased yearlings on the opening day. 

The sales figures on day two, and overall, were stunning: the average sale price was up 11.7 per cent for foals and 12.2 per cent overall over both days. But perhaps the greatest figure is the 95.3 per cent clearance rate. 

Transparency around reserve prices is the key to the high clearance rate, according to another Australian buyer, Michael Kent Jnr. 

“As I inspected each horse, all of the reserves were open and public knowledge, they had been set for weeks and they set well below what you want to make. You feel very confident you are buying at absolute market price,” he said.

2022 JRHA Select Sale results

Yearling SessionFoal Session
Gross¥12,870,000,000 (AU$138.9 million)¥12,892,500,000 (AU$139.1 million)
Average¥57,972,973 (AU$625,000)¥57,300,000 (AU$618,000)
Year On Year Growth12.6 per cent11.7 per cent

Throughout the day there are reminders of what could have been for Duramente, who died in August 2021 and whose oldest crop are four. He has already produced three-time Group One winner Titleholder and a dual-classic winner in Southern Stars. He also produced the sales topper in the foal session, Lot 393, who sold for 320,000,000 yen (A$3.5m). 

Like the top lot in the yearling session, this colt is out of a mare imported by Northern Farm, American Graded winner Champagne Anyone.

In the search for Japan’s new king of sires it would seem Epiphaneia’s popularity has him in front: 15 of his 16 foals sold for an average of 111,100,000yen (A$1.2m). 

It seems a lot to pay for a horse you cannot take home, even if the payments are split: one up front and one upon receiving the horse. The foals stay with the farm until weaned, insured, and at the seller’s expense. 

Like many aspects of Japanese racing, offering foals for sale, especially so young,  might seem different, but in the 25th year of the Select Sale – and judging by the names of the graduates and the results on the board – it clearly still works. 



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