Sunday, November 28, 2010

Japan Cup 2010

Almost every Monday night, I meet with Hiroyuki, my drinking buddy and Japanese conversation partner. And almost every time, he tells me about his "keba," or horseracing results. He is a regular goer to the Japanese national horse track in Fuchi, near Musashisakai, and an avid gambler. He seems to win more than he loses, or at least he says he does...

Last week, when he mentioned that the Japan Cup, one of the largest horse races in the world, was happening this Sunday, I invited myself and Joan along for the ride. We arranged to meet at the south exit of the Musashisakai station at 2 pm and parted ways.

So, on a beautiful, sunny day, we met with Hiroyuki and took the Seibu train line to the Koremasa station. A short walk through a quiet neighborhood led us to an unremarkable entrance, where we bought a 200 yen ticket to get in. It all seemed rather unimpressive.

We walked down and through a long tunnel, which opened into the center field where it seemed most of the population of Tokyo was gathered, looking at betting reports and filling out betting slips. The track can hold more than 200,000 people. It seemed pretty full to us.

Hiroyuki explained to us how the process worked and showed his research into possible winning
combinations of horses. We decided to go with his plan and bet on five horses of the 18 to finish in the top five. It didn't seem to matter what position, only that they be in the top five. So, one 1,000 yen later, we had our tickets in hand.

Then it was off to fight through the crowds to viewing ring to see the horses prancing around on
parade. Everywhere there were people pouring over papers and notebooks, peering at TV monitors, and squatting down to scribble on their forms. It was chaos but very cool.

Next, we pushed deeper into the crowds to find a spot on the slope in front of the stands to watch the big race. The tension grew as past race highlights were shown on the enormous video
monitor on the other side of the track. The noise increased as the horses came out to warm up and then enter the starting gates. The crowd roared as the gates opened, and the horses surged out. At 2,400 meters, the track is quite long, and it seemed to take a long time for the pack to thunder past us.

The crowd turned its attention to the video monitor as the horses turned the corner to the far side, becoming small moving figures. As different rider jockeyed their mounts into position for the final stretch, the crowd rose back to its feet and began to roar again.

In the last, long straightaway, positions changed quickly as horses faded or were given a free rein to run. The crowd become even louder, and after the pack crossed the finish line, all the racing papers were thrown into the air.

The winner was the expected one, but the surprise was that second and third place were taken
by other Japanese horses. Of our five picks, three were in the top five. Hiroyuki seemed pleased with the outcome and indicated that we had won. How much, he wasn't sure.

After we waited for the award ceremony, we decided to head out and collect our winnings. I eagerly put my ticket in the payout machine and reached...710 yen. Yes, technically, I did "win." However, since it was less than I bet, it didn't feel to satisfying. I think I would not really make a good gambler...

However, we drowned our sorrows back in Musashisakai at the Niko Niko 250 izakaya with spicy kimchee nabe and flasks of hot sake. All in all, it was a good day.

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