Loading Nationalism Part 2: Unfolding a Democratic Horse Race

American horse racing could adopt fruitful foreign practices.

Updated: Nov. 23, 2018 • 11:30 AM ET


Japanese horse racing has a storied tradition in the country.

As Saturday gives way to Sunday in America this weekend, the Japan Cup will take center stage at the Tokyo Racecourse.

I remember the first time I watched a Japanese horse race on television. I was supremely frustrated, thinking to myself, this is ridiculous. Once they broke from the gate, the leaders began pulling away with about 20 lengths "covering the lot," to borrow the oft-used moniker by the famed California track announcer Trevor Denman.

Then, the camera did something I wasn’t expecting. Unlike American horse racing where you see the entire field throughout the race, the pan began to focus on the leaders. Then, it methodically moved from left to right, zooming on each horse.

What? Each horse? Really?

There was my 12, yup, and there she went. What happened to her? Where is she? I can’t see her!

You have to remember that most Japanese races have what we in America call, full fields. When it comes to horse racing, this is a bit of a novelty. Regular American races don’t have 14 to 18 runners. Americans just run too much in the states, so our field sizes get severely truncated. But, that’s a topic for another piece, so I digress.

I had to think about this style of race watching, because we’re talking about the art of the simulcast, which has happened for quite some time. Horse racing is an old sport, always on the cusp of every technological innovation over the past 125 years. If you don’t believe me, read Holly Kruse’s finely-crafted work on this subject.

Kruse reminds us that we, as a group of cultures, express our ideas about networks through the ways in which we have constructed our horse racing outlets. Racing has brought bettors and industry people together in formal and informal spaces.

This made me think and ask, have I looked at this “pan” during the Japanese simulcast incorrectly? Maybe I am the one who needs to think differently!

First, I went back to my Japanese history, which over the past 100 years has transformed itself from a modernized state that wanted to compete with the Western Powers, to a proto-fascist regime still possessing a dynastic emperor, and finally to a Democratic powerhouse that emerged from the embers of a war-torn existence remade. Japan has seen and experienced so much.

Their love of sport and competition goes back thousands of years — it’s sacred. Everything in Japan seeks a balance and can be linked to food, culture, politics, architecture and its people. To the Japanese, horses are important not only because wagering on them is accepted, but more importantly because they’re majestic creatures that are intimately tied to notions of history and spirit.
That’s the link I was missing. Japan, as a democratically constructed state, values the ideas of equality and is sensitive to the fact that everyone watching its racing would want to see every horse.

The Japanese remind us that a horse race can be won by anyone. So, early on in a race, as a simulcast participant, you want to be able to see how your horse is firing, how they are rating against others, and how they’re being handled by the jock. Of course, when the race reaches the top of the stretch, it’s time to focus on the leaders; but until then, we need to remember that just because you are in the lead, doesn’t mean you are going to win.

Maybe what I should have done from the beginning was have the patience to recall my history and that like life, a horse race takes time to unfold.

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