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Japan’s hopes for 2012

On March 11, 2011, one of the most powerful earthquakes in the world affected the northeastern region of Japan. It was also the biggest earthquake ever to have hit Japan, and it triggered a tsunami that left around 19,000 dead or missing.

Fifteen days after this devastating disaster, one horse managed to provide much-needed joy and happiness to the country, where morale was low and people were unsure of what the future held. That horse was Victoire Pisa, who claimed the world’s richest race a half-length ahead of compatriot Transcend.

Victoire Pisa’s winning achievement 8,000km away from his home gave encouragement and hope not only to the horsemen but to racing fans and the general Japanese population. All the stable staff, connections, media and racing fans who came from Japan banded together as “Team Japan”.

This year, “Team Japan” has seven horses running in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup meeting. Transcend, Smart Falcon and Eishin Flash for the Dubai World Cup, sponsored by Emirates Airline; Dark Shadow for the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free, sponsored by Dubai Duty Free; Genten for the Group 2 UAE Derby, sponsored by The Saeed and Mohammed Al Naboodha Group; A Shin Virgo for the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint, sponsored by Emirates NBD and Makani Bisty for the Group 3 Dubai Gold Cup, sponsored by Al Tayer Motors.

Transcend, the six-year-old son of Wild Rush, is currently the most well-known of the group, having completed the 1-2 line up of Japan in the world’s richest race last year.

Transcend was bred and is owned by Koji Maeda. Maeda, one of the most prominent owners and breeders in Japan, is a founder of North Hills, where is located on south-east of Hokkaido, the north island of Japan.

The facility has an 800m dirt track, 900m uphill course, 300m inside track and six walking machines. The 2002 Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) winner No Reason, the 1998 and 2000 JRA champion filly and mare Phalaenopsis, the 2005 Group 1 Tenno Sho Autumn winner Heavenly Romance, and the 2011 Group 1 Grand Prix Takarazuka Kinen winner Earnestly were all bred at North Hills.

Maeda also set up his latest training operation, Daisen Hills, in 2003 in the Tottori Prefecture, alongside the Japan Sea in mainland of Japan. Maeda is known to be very meticulous, and when one of his horses are running in a Group 1 race, he usually sends staff to the racecourse to study and learn as much as they can about the track and venue.

Last year, 30 cheering people from North Hills and Daisen Hills flew to Dubai to support and cheer Japan’s contingent.

While some debris has been cleared, the roads have been repaired, and people have begun the slow process of rebuilding their lives, the scars are still left by the disaster.

Despite these circumstances, the Japanese remain optimistic and once again hope to notch another victory in the name of their country.