Saturday, July 7, 2012

Japan's Final Frontier

--Gary King

Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost island and could be regarded as the country’s final frontier. While the mainland has a reputation for being densely populated, Hokkaido seems to confound expectations at every turn. The landscape is expansive and sparse, with agriculture and fishing playing key economic roles. Hokkaido experiences sub-zero temperatures during winter months, but the summer is usually extremely pleasant. 75 degrees (F) makes a welcome change from the intense heat that New Jersey has been enjoying over the last few weeks.

Harry Sweeney (owner of Paca Paca Farm) could not speak more highly of the local people, and was extremely complimentary of their work ethic. On a personal note, the locals have offered me a warm smile despite my poor attempts at Japanese, which is greatly appreciated. To be brutally honest, I usually just stick to the tried and tested method of talking a little louder, offering some hand signals, and relying on the able Mick Buckley (general manager of Paca Paca Farm) as a translator.

I had the pleasure of visiting Darley Japan yesterday, which is located about 30 minutes drive from Paca Paca. It probably shouldn’t take that long, but speed limits on the island are a little cautious, for want of a better word. Darley Japan had been an assortment of smaller farms until recently, but they are currently renovating a 900-plus acre piece of land. Danny Mulvihill, a fellow Kildare native, has been at the helm for the last two and a half years, and has done a tremendous amount of work in a relatively short space of time. The farm is really taking shape, and will give the operation much more flexibility and room for expansion going forward. It has not all been plane sailing for Darley in Japan, and the operation has had to overcome some well-publicized problems. Saying that, Sheikh Mohammed, Sheikh Hamdan, and HRH Princess Haya have now all secured restricted JRA licenses--with the restrictions set to lapse next year. Being able to fully compete on the prestigious JRA circuit is critical if Darley Japan is to evolve, and start developing home grown stallions. The global breeding superpower would like to expand its current roster, and having 150 horses in-training will give them ample firepower to realize this. Admire Moon, Deep Sky, Pyro et al. should expect some company in the not too-distant-future.

Deep Brillante
Despite the incredible success of Sunday Silence, horses that built their resumes on racetracks outside of Japan are viewed with some degree of suspicion. This philosophy is true in many regions, including America and Europe, but is even more applicable in a risk-averse culture. The bigger domestic entities like Shadai Stallion Station (including Northern Farm), and Big Red Farm have the ability to source unproven stallions from other jurisdictions. This was highlighted by Big Red Farm’s recent acquisition of GI Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness S. winner, I’ll Have Another. These operations have substantial broodmare bands, which can be leveraged to support stallions that might need a helping hand initially.

On a final note, the Paca Paca yearling consignment arrived at the Select Sales late Friday evening. Harry and Mick leave nothing to chance, and the farm should reap the benefits of some top-class pedigrees/physicals. A full-sister (foal) to the Japanese Derby winner, Deep Brillante, and a Sea The Stars half-brother (yearling) to Mastercraftsman should create some fireworks. Watch this space...

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