Anglo-Arabian horses once saved Japan’s horse-racing industry from oblivion and gave ranchers a steady income. But the days are numbered for Anglo-Arabians on the Japanese racing circuit simply because they are too slow.
The Anglo-Arabian is a crossbred between the Thoroughbred and the Arabian, with at least 25 percent Arabian blood.
Four decades ago, more than 10,000 Anglo-Arabians ran on racecourses across the country. But they have now been overwhelmed by the speedier Thoroughbred. Japan currently has only six active Anglo-Arabians: one at a local horse-racing organization in Hokkaido and five in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture.
The breeding of Anglo-Arabians has already ended.
The Japan Association for International Racing and Stud Book, which handles pedigree registry of race horses, said that after World War II, successful races could not be organized without Anglo-Arabians due to a shortage of Thoroughbreds.
Unlike Thoroughbreds, Anglo-Arabians are tough, have mild tempers and can survive on poor feed.
The association said Anglo-Arabians provided horse ranchers and owners with a steady income because their running ability can be predicted through their bloodlines.
“Many horse ranchers made profits with Anglo-Arabians and took a risk for a high return with Thoroughbreds,” said Takahiro Otsuki, a folklore professor at Sapporo International University who is well-versed in horse racing and also owns Anglo-Arabian horses.
In the 1950s, about 30 percent of the horses that entered races of the country’s largest organizer (now the Japan Racing Association) were Anglo-Arabians. The number of Anglo-Arabians registered with local racing organizers was around 12,000 until the early 1970s, outnumbering Thoroughbreds.
But racing fans have increasingly favored the faster Thoroughbred. In 1995, the Japan Racing Association abolished races featuring only Anglo-Arabians, and local organizers followed suit.
The last race for Anglo-Arabians only was held in Fukuyama on Sept. 27, 2009.
In Hokkaido, the last Anglo-Arabian is competing against around 840 Thoroughbreds. The 7-year-old chestnut-brown horse is aptly named The Last Arabian.
In the final race of the June 6 meet at the Monbetsu Racecourse in Hidaka, Hokkaido, The Last Arabian finished last among 13 horses.
“(The Last Arabian) ran out of breath in the end,” jockey Chihiro Ito said after the race.
The horse was born in Hidaka in 2005, and made its debut in Fukuyama, where Anglo-Arabians were still the mainstream horse. The Last Arabian has won 15 of the 61 races it has entered. It won its last race against Anglo-Arabians in 2009. The Last Arabian made a great spurt down the stretch and won in a dead heat.
The Last Arabian later picked up two more wins in races mixed with Thoroughbreds. But a leg injury led to two winless years.
The owner, Nobutoshi Toriyama, said he named the horse The Last Arabian in hopes that it would become the strongest among Anglo-Arabians, which have been fading.
“Old horse-race fans who remember the prime of the Anglo-Arabians cheer for The Last Arabian with a sense of nostalgia,” Toriyama said. “I hope it will run in races as long as possible and be remembered by the fans.”
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