All about Japanese horse race betting culture

While setting up land-based and online casinos remains illegal, Japan is one of Asia’s gambling paradises due to their remarkable sports betting industry. Aside from bikes, powerboats, and motorboats, horse racing is certainly the citizens’ all-time favourite. In 2019, the total wagered throughout the country reached $27 billion.

Become part of Japan’s exciting and lucrative sports betting industry through the definitive guide of the Sportsbet horse racing section. Here we give you everything you need to know about its ‘what’, ‘why’, and ‘how’, giving you more reasons why many analysts and trend reports are focused on the fast-rising horse racing culture in Asia, especially in Japan, Hong Kong, and Macau. 


About JRA and NAR: The highest governing bodies of Japanese horse racing

Several factors contribute to Japan’s impressive horse racing culture. However, they all boil down to the unique joint system between the country’s highest governing bodies: the Japan Racing Association (JRA) and National Association of Racing (NAR). Their close ties have paved the way for Japan to be the home to some of the world’s richest races and racehorses. In total, more than 21,000 events take place every year. 


Formally founded in 1954 under the Japan Racing Association Law, JRA is a government-owned company responsible for Chūō Keiba (central horse racing). 

Meaning, JRA serves as the core centre for a countrywide horse racing network, handling 10 main horse racing events held at 10 major racecourses, 45 off-course betting facilities known as 'WINS,' and other JRA-affiliated entities. If, however, you are more interested in trying Bitcoin horse racing betting, Sportsbet Japan has multiple betting markets and profitable but reliable odds to offer to you. 

According to Japanese horse racing analyst Naohiro Goda, gambling has helped horse racing blossom in the country both culturally and economically. True enough, that is because the law states that JRA is compelled to give 10% of their gross betting revenue and 50% of surplus profits at the end of the budget year to the National Treasury. 

Since JRA is the central horse racing body, it oversees Japan’s four largest and leading racecourses. Two of them are considered the world’s biggest tracks, often serving as the hosts to global horse racing tournaments. They are as follows:

  • Tokyo Racecourse in Fuchu City
  • Hanshin Racecourse in Takarazuka City
  • Kyoto Racecourse in Kyoto City
  • Nakayama Racecourse in Funabashi City


The NAR was formed in 1962. Akin to the JRA, they administer racetracks, betting systems and facilities, and horse training centres. Furthermore, since they are also under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, they also make a comparable financial contribution like the former. Their main distinctions are that they operate on a smaller scale and do not hold horse races.

The NRA plays a crucial role in Japan’s horse racing industry by setting standards like licensing authorities for local racing trainers, jockeys, and Thoroughbreds. In other words, they are the first door for local talents to reach globally — firmly strengthening the equine culture than ever before. Here are some of the following racecourses they handle:

  • Urawa Racecourse
  • Ohi Racecourse (Tokyo City Keiba)
  • Kawasaki Racecourse 
  • Kochi Racecourse 

About Japan’s three horse racing types

Japan’s 21,000 and more annual horse races are generally categorised into three types: flat, jump (steeplechase), and Ban’ei (draft) racing. 

  1. Flat racing: Everyone’s favourite

Flat racing is, without a doubt, the industry’s most popular horse racing type. Known as the race of speed and endurance, thoroughbreds run around oval-shaped flat racing tracks. Then, whichever of them crosses the finish line first becomes the winner.

Out of JRA’s 10 major racecourses, eight of which are both for flat and jump racing, whereas the remaining two are solely dedicated to flat racing. Listed as follows are Japan’s distinguished grade 1 (G1) flat races:

  • Japan Cup
  • Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby)
  • Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks)
  1. Jump racing: The battle of strength and balance

Known as steeplechase, or ‘National Hunt racing’ in Ireland and the U.K, jump racing is where thoroughbreds race over obstacles. Hence, it is the battle of strength and balance. The following G1 races are the highly anticipated events. As of 2021, Nakayama Racecourse’s purse of more than ¥142,660,000 (or US$1.3 million) makes it one of the world’s richest jump races. 

  • Nakayama Daishogai
  • Nakayama Grand Jump
  • Pegasus Jump Stakes
  1. Ban’ei (draft) racing: The test of a real horsepower

Ban’ei is one of the world’s fewest one-of-a-kind horse races — a cultural heritage unique to Hokkaido. Its course distance is relatively shorter than flat and jump races because massive draft horses haul large and heavy sledges over sand ramps.

While Ban’ei is Japan’s ultimate test of stamina, balance, and speed, it has actually been experiencing a gradual decline in recent years. As of yet, the only race where you can witness and enjoy its great sporting actions is at Ban’ei Kinen — a G1 pull race for four-year-old Thoroughbreds and up at Obihiro, Hokkaido racecourse’s 200-meter dirt track. 

Guide to the 8 betting types at JRA races

Here are the eight betting types available at JRA races. Take note that not all of them are subject to all kinds of race types, events, and field sizes. 

Betting typeAccording to the field’s sizeDescription
Win3Pick one horse to win.
Place3, 16, and 14Pick one horse to win, or finish second or third, but if the race only has five to seven runners, select only one horse to either win or finish second. 
Bracket Quinella2 to 8This is Japanese racing’s unique betting type because it allows you to pick two brackets to either finish first and second. 
Quinella3 to 16Pick two horses to finish first and second in random order.
Exacta 3  to 16This time, pick two horses to finish first and second in the correct order. 
Quinella Place3 to 163 to 1414 to 16In any order, pick two horses to finish either of the following:
First and secondFirst and thirdSecond and third
Trio3 to 14 to 16Also in any order, pick three horses to finish first, second, and third.
Trifecta3 to 16 to 14In the correct order, pick three horses to finish first, second, and third. 

While it is true that Bitcoin horse racing is topping off the charts in the iGaming industry, you can as well place your stakes at JRA’s betting systems and facilities. Either way, what’s more important is you experience what Japanese horse race betting culture is about.