The world’s slowest horse race is back in the spotlight in Japan.
The Banei Keiba races, part of a more than 100-year tradition in the country, are held in the city of Obihiro in the north of the island of Hokkaio.
Banei Keiba’s popularity soared again during the pandemic, with many people watching the races and placing bets on websites thanks to promotional efforts.
According to French news agency AFP, the races generate 55.5 billion Japanese Yen (about 11.5 billion Turkish liras) a year from tickets. This is five times more than in 2011, when revenues were at their lowest level.
This race, unique to Hokkaido, emerged on the island in the 1900s. People living on the island, known for its harsh climate, used horses called “banba” to plow fields and transport goods. The islanders would race these horses against each other in tug-of-war games at local festivals.
Banba horses are twice as heavy as the thoroughbreds used in racing and pull iron sleds weighing up to a ton in competitions.
The horses pull these sleds over ramps placed on the 200-meter track and move slowly through the course, while jockeys whip the horses to speed them up.
On the other hand, the organization has also been criticized for animal cruelty. However, banba breeder Yoshiyuki Hattori argued that the sleds of these strong horses are not loaded with more than they can pull, and that the animals are very well cared for.
There are 750 horses, 21 jockeys, 28 breeders and 150 officials helping them.
“It’s a form of interaction between humans and animals,” said 27-year-old Taichi Yamada, who moved to Hokkaido last year and has been following the competition with interest. I hope it will continue as a part of history.”