Thursday, July 5, 2012

Initial Thoughts on Japan

by Gary King

Spending time in Japan over the next week promises to be a fascinating experience. After arriving in Sapporo late last night, I can’t wait to explore some of the major farms. It was great to be picked up at the airport by the ever punctual Mick Buckley, who has been general manager at Paca Paca Farm for the last two years. In the year of all things Triple Crown, it should be pointed out that Mick has the unique distinction of having completed the Irish National Stud course, the Kentucky Equine Management Internship, and Darley Flying Start. Not a bad foundation for future success. Paca Paca Farm, owned by Irishman Harry Sweeney since 2000, has made significant inroads over the last few years. This is particularly impressive in a country often bound to tradition, where foreign ownership/participation can be extremely tricky. Harry has overcome numerous obstacles and established Paca Paca as a major player, highlighted by breeding this year’s Japanese Derby winner, Deep Brillante.

Paca Paca yearlings greet the rising sun. Gary King photo.
On the arduous plane journey eastwards, Newark-Tokyo-Sapporo, some of the country’s finer racing moments came to mind. I found my mind reminiscing back to many of Japan’s equine superstars over the last 15 years or so. El Condor Pasa’s exploits in 1999 will live long in the memory, where he claimed the G1 Grand Prix de Saint Cloud and ran a gallant second to Montjeu in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Flash forward to 2006, and we witnessed an epic one-two in the G1 Melbourne Cup with Delta Blues just getting the better of compatriot Pop Rock. The Japanese came, saw, and conquered in what can only be described as a remarkable achievement. Many more fancied international raiders have failed to excel in Australia’s most famous marathon.

Perhaps, Japanese racing’s finest hour came last year when Victoire Pisa and Transcend dominated a competitive renewal of the G1 Dubai World Cup. Seeing a JPN duel at Meydan, just weeks after the country experienced a devastating earthquake, must have been extremely emotional for all concerned. It was poignant when jockey Mirco Demuro touched the black band on his right arm as he crossed the line.

The facilities at Paca Paca.  Gary King photo
The Japanese industry will continue to reap the dividends of its substantial investment in international breeding stock, coupled with top-quality domestic bloodlines. I plan to elaborate further on this over the coming days. Anyway, it’s time to get out and experience the rich culture that Japan has to offer. With Harry and Mick as my hosts that shouldn’t be a problem.

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