Places to Go
A Day at the Races

A Day at the Races

Added In: Places to Go › Other

Address: Various race tracks around Chubu

Joe Sichi

There is a warm winter sun on my face, a powder-blue sky above, and a field of winking-white snow expands before my stretched out legs. I am not doing anything so energetic as skiing -- perish the thought -- but there is energy here. The remarkable driving force of the horse races beckoned again, and found me all too willing to make a day of it. Best of all, because it snowed the day before, it’s a mudder’s track, and I like nothing better than picking a mudder on a day when a horse at 12 to 1 actually has a shot. The track is Kasamatsu and it’s less than half an hour to get there from Nagoya Station, even closer to Gifu.

As soon as you rattle across the Kiso-gawa, lovely in its own right, the grandstands and the infield pop up on your right, offering a day at the races. Equally remarkable about the experience, in my opinion, is that the whole foreigner issue seems to disappear at the track. The horses and the money that could conceivably be won are the highlights. If you’re noticed at all it will be because you’re standing, pumping your fist and crying, “C’mon Five, I know you’ve got it. C’mon now. C’mon Five!” That’s not to say this isn’t Japan; it is and most noticeable in the circling of the horses just prior to entering the gate. I’ve been to the track in three other countries, so grant that my experience is limited. I don’t know what they do before entering the gates in France for example, but I doubt if the continuous fluid circle of horses and jockeys just before the start of the race anywhere could match the harmony witnessed in the last minutes before the mud starts flying at tracks in Japan.

There is no shoving at the windows either, people wait patiently and there is hardly even a last minute rush to get bets in, punctuality carried in on its importance. The crowd is and isn’t what you’d expect. There are a ton of older guys, sipping beer and sake, but they’re out in force with friends – the neighborhood izakaya’s Sunday at the races. They’re laughing and having a good time. Young families are out too, the kids running around, mom shouting after them, dad studying the racing form. Some university age couples dotted here and there, the young ladies’ attitudes seem to be slightly embarrassed: “It’s his hobby, nothing I can do about it.” That doesn’t stop them from running down to the wire with everybody else as the horses pound into the home stretch. I have spent days at the track without placing a single monetary bet. It’s a great place just to watch people and enjoy a spectacle. On this most recent outing however, I did bet (see sidebar) and if you’re planning to do that there are a couple of things to know before you go. The minimum bet is 100 yen, which can make for an exhilarating day even on a tight budget.

The best way to bet is to do a bit of research before you go. That’s easily done on-line at Although I went to Kasamatsu, as I like the small quiet feeling of the track and the countryside surrounding it, there are plenty of bigger tracks in the area to choose from, with all their offerings listed on the site above. Nagoya Keibajo and Chubu Keibajo are also easily accessible. The site above not only lists which track is running on any particular day, but also the entered horses and their past outings, times, finish places as well as the level of the race. Information is available up to weeks ahead and access maps are clear as well. Although the site is in Japanese, if you can read an excel file you’ll have no trouble navigating through and getting a bit of research done before you head to the track, imperative if you’re planning to bet above the one hundred yen minimum. Standing at the rail before the finish line as the horses thundered home in the ninth race, I pulled an old trick. With the horses four or five lengths away, I whirled suddenly and looked into the face of the pulsing crowd.

There was truth written and human longing displayed like nowhere else outside of the movies, and you’ve rented enough of those recently, haven’t you? My results for the day: COSTS Train fare 490 x 2 = 980 yen Entry 100 yen 2 draft beers x 500 = 1000 yen 1,000 yen bet per race 5 through 10 = 6000 yen Total Costs: 8080 yen. WINS Race 6: exacta 2/9 5,900 Race 6: 123 any order 7,600 Race 9: 6 to win 1700 Total Wins: 15,200 yen. (Unfortunately I spent most of the 7,120 yen in foolish celebration at Misfits that evening. Perhaps I can get Avenues to back my next outing...)