At the horse race on Japan’s Hokkaido island, winning horses don’t necessarily have to run the fastest.
According to Oddity Central, Ban’ei racehorses, also known as Banba, are very different from the fast-bred thoroughbred breeds often seen in horse races. They can weigh up to 1,200kg and are twice the size of the small horse breed Dosanko in Hokkaido. Ban’ei was a crossbreed horse imported from France and Belgium in the late 19th century and is now considered a Japanese breed.
In the Ban’ei horse racing, the horses required to pull sleds weighing 450kg to 1 ton through a sand race with at least two slopes.
Horsemen also play an important role in this race, but they do not need to try to let their horses go fast. In fact, they did not need to use the whip, but simply encouraged their horses to move forward. Horsemen can even ask the horse to stop between the two obstacles so they have a chance to rest because the winning horse is the horse that can pull the sleigh to the finish.
The Ban’ei horse race dates back to 1887 but it was not until the mid-20th century that the sport became popular throughout Hokkaido. At its peak, in 1991, the Ban’ei horse race was held in Obihiro, Asahikawa, Kitami, and Iwamizawa cities, and ticket sales amounted to 32 billion yen. However, the Japanese economy fell into recession soon thereafter, by 2006, only the race track at Obihiro was operating.
In 2012, the Ban’ei horse race was recognized as an important cultural heritage of Hokkaido and many donors were willing to spend money to preserve this heritage. In fiscal 2017, revenue from the race increased by 21.9 million yen (4.6 billion), up 36.1% compared to 2016.
According to Japan Racing, the Obihiro Racecourse is a 20-minute walk from JR Obihiro train station. The entrance fee is 100 yen. The race is only held on weekends and Mondays. On these days, guests can take a “backstage tour” to visit the stables. There is also a zoo and a horse museum.