Horse racing guide to Japan Cup

Every sport has the biggest event that fans anticipate and for  Japanese Thoroughbred racing, that would be the Japan Cup. Only the best 3-year-old horses and up may enter for a shot at the number 1 spot. The stakes are high and the competition is always intense thanks to years of careful development to make the Japan Cup one of the best horse racing events in the world.

If you’re looking to start betting on the Japan Cup, then you can find it at almost every bookmaker online. It’s one of the most prestigious events in sports in the world where only the best champion horses are invited to compete. How did the Japan Cup get its reputation and relevance? Here’s what you need to know about it:

History of the Japan Cup

Horse racing had a long history between when it was introduced to sports betting Japan. Traditional horse racing dates back to the feudal era but the sport is often considered more like a form of entertainment for the lords. The modern form of horse racing was adopted from the British colonisation of an area of Japan at the same time as Australia and America (now the United States). 

When Japan regained control over their territory, it remained isolated from the rest of the world. Sports were adopted, including Thoroughbred racing and breeding. Though the sport existed already, the Japan Racing Association (JRA) was founded only in 1954 to take over the management of its events. They also took over the two most important events in local horse racing such as the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) and the Emperor’s Prize. 


Japanese horse racing continues to grow with local farmers investing in breeding champion Thoroughbreds. The Tokyo Yushun and Emperor’s Prize remained the most prestigious events in the country until the JRA decided to welcome challengers from abroad. This opted for the inauguration of a much more prestigious event with the highest purse in horse racing that year. This is the Japan Cup, inaugurated in 1981 with a purse of a whopping ¥476 million. 

The first running welcome horses only from six countries:

  • Japan
  • United States of America
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • New Zealand
  • India

Exceptions were made for horses who are invited to join the tournament. The purpose of the Japan Cup at the time was to find foreign champions to potentially buy for breeding foals to be trained in Japan. This practice was successful at strengthening Thoroughbred bloodlines in the country because, at the 4th running of the event, they finally had three champion horses. 



The Japan Cup had minimal changes throughout history. It remained a 2,400-metre invitational handicap race held on the Tokyo Racecourse’s left-handed turf surface. Age range is still for 3-year-olds and up of any gender. The only major difference between every run is the size of the purse which is always bigger than the last. 

The Japan Cup also had minor classification changes during the introduction of the United Kingdom’s grading system. JRA hasn’t adopted the system yet so the tournament remained as simply a prestigious event. It was officially known as an International Grade 1 race in 1984 and is the only horse race in the country where foreigners can be invited for. The JRA officially adopted the grading system in 1999, giving Japan Cup the official G1 status. Besides that, there were no other major changes to the tournament. 

Its influence in Japanese Thoroughbred racing

As previously mentioned, the Japan Cup was meant to scout for foreign champion horses and get their foals to be trained under the JRA. A handful of investments were made for champions from the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland. 

Three of the best Japan trained horses participated in the 1984 running of the tournament. Two of them are Triple Crown champions of separate years, Symboli Rudolf and Mr C B. The champion of the event is Katsuragi Ace who was unfavoured at the time. 

Almost every champion bloodline in Japanese Thoroughbred racing comes from foreign champion winners. Among the most popular in terms of number of progenies were Sunday Silence, Symboli Rudolf, and Northern Taste. Their foals soon became champions in their own right. 

In the early 2000s, every country recognised Japan for having some of the best locally trained Thoroughbreds in the world. This gave the JRA many buyers and auctioneers of foals and studs. It greatly helped boost not only local horse racing events and farmers but also the whole economy of Japan. To this day, the JRA is one of the biggest taxpayers in the country. 

Structure of the Japan Cup

The Japan Cup has a fairly straightforward structure with quick races. Thus, it doesn’t have any in-play markets like other sports at Sportsbet. The official event is always handled at the Tokyo Racecourse of Fuchu, Tokyo. It’s an invite-only event for 18 participants including 10 foreign-trained contenders while the rest are Japanese-trained. The Japan Cup is scheduled typically in late November after the autumn Emperor’s Prize.

Weight handicap is 55 kg for 3-year-old colts and 57 kg for 4 years and older. Fillies and mares get 2 kg allowances. 3-year-olds from the Southern Hemisphere get 2 kg allowances, as well. The purse is allocated to 1st to 5th place only with a chance to get bonuses if any of the top three qualifies for an award. Requirements for bonus prize money usually apply to the horse that won another Grade 1 event within the year like the Champion Stakes, Irish Derby, and Dubai World Cup.

Requirement to participate in the Japan Cup

Nominations for the upcoming running of the Japan Cup starts at any time of the year. However, it only ends as early as the 4th October. This nomination is free of charge and is only earned by winning some of the best competitions in Thoroughbred horse racing both local and abroad. Once nominated, the horses who wish to participate must be in Japan at least 10 days before the main event and they have to declare their intent to join at least 3 days prior. Horse owners also need to pay ¥300,000 declaration fee to get registered. 

How important is the Japan Cup in Japanese horse racing?

To say that the Japan Cup is important to its host country is an understatement because every country sees it as an international event rather than exclusive to Japanese horses. Not only because foreign Thoroughbreds are welcome to compete but also because it’s a highly sought-after title. 

Many compare it to the Breeder’s Cup, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and The Everest but Japan Cup is seen as the best of them. The only tournaments that are held in higher regard are the Dubai World Cup and the Kentucky Derby. These three horse racing tournaments and derbies are seen as the holy grail of Grade 1 stakes races where even qualifying is considered a great feat. 

The Japan Cup is where stars shine the brightest. Among Japan’s top home-trained Thoroughbreds earn their legendary status for winning this tournament more than their participation abroad. 

Among the greats include Almond Eye, the 9-time G1 record holder and dubbed as Horse of the Century who won the Japan Cup in 2018 and 2020. During her second attempt, she competed for the title against two Triple Crown winners, Contrail and Daring Tact, the former of which won in 2021. Another prominent name in the JRA Hall of Fame is the late Deep Impact, Japan’s top sire today. Four of his progeny are also Japan Cup winners, including Contrail.

Besides its high competitiveness for passionate horse racers, the Japan Cup is also a great source of income for the JRA. The event is covered by streaming services and bookmakers worldwide where every horse race fans tune in every year. Millions of yen are earned from tickets, declarations, royalties, and more for an event that could end in just under 2 minutes. 

As previously mentioned, the JRA is one of the country’s top taxpayers. They are also among the most prominent contributors to community services, providers of jobs in several prefectures, and donors to charities. There are hundreds of stables and breeding farms under the JRA, each staffed with thousands of professionals who were given education before they joined. 

If you are new to Sports betting Japan for horse racing events, then you can start with the Japan Cup. It takes place every year in November as a year-ender event for the sport. You can have plenty of data on every participating horse because only the best can fill its 18-starting positions. 

There’s also a guarantee to have a large community of horse racing fans or just punters in general who are willing to share tips on the current event. Professional tipsters are also present online, giving you insights on where to place your bet on Sportsbet. There is no better way to win a bet other than staking on one of the world’s most prestigious events.