Ikuru Kuwajima (University of Missouri)
International Picture Story
Draft-horse racing, called Banei Keiba in Japanese, only exists in Obihiro City, Hokkaido, an island located in the north of Japan. Draft horses are twice as big as thoroughbreds and drag more than 1,000 pounds of sleighs along the 218-yard dirt course during a race. This unique horse racing started about a hundred years ago while the horses were primarily used for farming. Over years, producers developed the draft horses exclusively for races. Today, about 10,000 individuals are involved in the draft-horse racing industry. However, changes in peopleâ€™s leisure time activities and decline in the population in the surrounding towns almost led draft-horse racing to close its history. However, the large oppositions from fans saved the draft-horse racing, although its future is still uncertain. All the photographs were taken in March 2007.
A draft horse rests in front of a barn located by the Obihiro Racetrack in Obihiro City, Hokkaido, Japan. Most of the jockeys, trainers and staple keepers live in the barn area with draft horses.
A jockey, Hiroaki Hosokawa, sleeps before the beginning of races in the jockeys waiting room at the Obihiro racetrack.
Steam comes out of horses during the morning training at the Obihiro racetrack. Staffs start morning training as early as 4:00 a.m.
A bettor carefully looks toward draft horses at the paddock from the inside of a building at the Obihiro Racetrack.
A jockey Atsushi Kudo whips the horse while it climbs up a hump during a race.
Draft horses stride during a race. As many as 10 horses run the 218-yard/200-meter straight line dirt course for 2-3 minute, dragging more than 1,500 pounds of weights on sleighs.
Fans cheer horses while running the stands to follow the race. Since horses drag more than 1,500 pounds of weight rather slowly, fans can run and follow the horses unlike other kinds of horse racing.
Thrown tickets lie on the ground after the end of the final race. Many fans throw away tickets in the end of of each race if they lose betting.