From Saudi Arabia to Dubai: Japan’s Horses Make Their Mark on International Racing


For several years, it has been claimed that Japan is one of the world’s emerging horse racing countries. However, it could be argued that Japan is no longer an emerging country and instead is poised to establish a stronghold over some of the most prestigious races in the world. In the early months of 2023, there were examples of this throughout the international meetings with Japan claiming notable victories in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

While dominating international races is an impressive feat, the true test of Japanese runners will be their performance on home soil against American and European competitors. The betting markets at already appear to believe that the runners from Japan could be talented enough to achieve that.

Japan’s Derby Hope

Of the Japanese runners that claimed victory in the Middle East, it is Derma Soto Gake that appears to have the most predictable next stop. The three-year-old was sensational in the G2 UAE Derby, picking up 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, which will be run at Churchill Downs in early May. The runner traveled like the winner from an early stage, and eventually finished over five lengths clear of Dura Erede, completing a Japanese shutout in the first four places. The run achieved a staggering RPR of 121, which firmly puts him among the best three-year-old performers on the dirt anywhere in the world this year.

Transferring that performance to American soil is now the big question, but it’s easy to see why he is being touted as Japan’s best chance of being a Kentucky Derby winner. But, there will be increased competition at Churchill Downs, with long-time favorite Forte being the horse to beat.

Equinox Dazzles In Sheema Classic

There was little doubt surrounding the performance of the night in Dubai, as Equinox confirmed his status as the best racehorse on the planet. The four-year-old for trainer Tetsuya Kimura ripped apart a talented field of runners in the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic to finish over three lengths clear of Westover.

The manner of the performance was staggering, as jockey Christophe Lemaire barely moved on the horse. Equinox was asked no questions coming down the stretch, meaning that there could yet be plenty more improvement in store. Japanese dreams could see him line up in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, but questions surrounding his ability over soft conditions would be a concern.

However, he looks almost certain to present a bold showing in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf later in the year at Santa Anita.

Japanese Win In Dubai World Cup

A historic night in Japanese racing was capped off in the Dubai World Cup, as Ushba Tesoro was an unlikely winner in a star-studded field. The six-year-old boasted plenty of solid form in the book before the race, including a victory over T O Keynes, who went off at a shorter price than the eventual winner.

It was an excellent training performance by Noboru Takagi and one that has firmly put the six-year-old among the contenders for notable prize pots in the United States later in the season. However, many believe that the draw played into his hands with many of the leading contenders drawn in the widest positions.

Therefore, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Algiers, who finished second, overturn the Dubai World Cup form if they were both to line up again in the same race later in the season. But, nevertheless, it was a huge moment in Japanese racing, as they landed just a second victory in the prestigious race, with the only other win for the country coming in 2011 with Victoire Pisa.

Attention Switches To Standout Races

While victories in the Middle East should be celebrated by the Japanese, it is by no means the meeting that is targeted by the best horses in Europe and the United States, meaning that they will need to continue to improve if they are to best the nations on their home turf. All attention for the Japanese trainers will now switch to the first big international meeting in June, as Royal Ascot is likely to entice several global runners over the five-day meet. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is a race that Japan has carved throughout history, and it will be fascinating to see which runners end up traveling down that route. But, all roads will lead to the prestigious end-of-season Breeders’ Cup in November, as Santa Anita will boast some of the deepest fields of the season.