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Ban'ei horses in Obihiro Racecourse
|Country of origin||Japan|
|Equus ferus caballus|
Ban'ei (輓曳 or ばんえい?) is a form of horse racing, unique to the Tokachi area of Hokkaido, Japan. Powerfully built horses compete by pulling heavily weighted sleds up sand ramps while being urged on by jockeys sitting on top of the sleds.
Formerly held in a number of places, ban'ei races are now only held at the Obihiro Racecourse. The popularity of the races has waned in recent years and the Obihiro racecourse nearly closed before Softbank, a Japanese mobile phone company known for its tie-up with Apple and the iPhone, provided funds for the races to continue. Former racehorses are usually sold for meat rather than put out to pasture until old age.
Ban’ei has its probable origin in agricultural work, when horses were used to cultivate crops and pull sleds of wood. Eventually, the horses were tested for speed in festivals of the late Meiji Era.
The popularity of ban’ei grew, and in 1953, Hokkaido’s four cities (Kitami, Asahikawa, Iwamizawa, and Obihiro) began to manage ban’ei. They ran the races until three of them closed operations in 2007 due to declining revenues. Obihiro racecourse is the only one currently active and it has racing almost every Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
The course consists of a flat dirt track, 200 meters long. Two cants are in the course; the second one is called the “Ban’ei Point”, and rises very sharply. Horses run the course in their own tracks, separated by lines. Horses haul sledges which, including jockeys, weigh more than 400 kg or even 1 ton in big races like the “Ban’ei Kinen” (domestic Ban’ei Grade 1 (BG1)). Thus the winning time of big races is often slower than lower class races, where horses can be disqualified for not being fast enough.
There are some differences between a standard flat race and ban’ei. In ban’ei, a horse has not finished the race until the end of the sledge passes the finish line. Second, horses can stop after passing the first cant. Sometimes, jockeys make their horses stop to give them a rest before climbing the second cant. Third, jockeys do not ride the horse. They sit on the sledge. Fourth, jockeys do not have a separate riding crop or horsewhip. They use only the reins for control and to urge the horses.
Amount of weight which horse has to pull is determined by several factors: age (two-year-olds and mares get allowances), total money earned (determines both group and rating), group horse is in at the meeting (from 1-26) and "rating" of a group (Open, A1, A2, B1, B2, B3, B4, C1, C2 or D.)
In short, the system is very similar to allowance system in Japanese Thoroughbred racing. (Weight allowance of jockeys is counted either in 10 kg or 20 kg.)
Ban’ei horses are larger than other types of racehorses. They are bred by crossing some heavy or robust breeds: Percheron, Breton, and Belgian and their weight can surpass 1 metric ton; twice that of a Thoroughbred. Today, they are registered as Nihon Bankei Shu (日本輓系種) by Japan Equine Affairs Association.
Only a small amount of foals born yearly are registered for racing as two-year-olds. Horses that do not pass inspection are sold for human consumption. 
Horses with lifetime earnings exceeding 100 million yen.
- Kintaro (キンタロー) (1979 - 1986) won 32 races, winning 116,725,000 yen.
- Takara Fuji (タカラフジ) (1983 - 1990) won 27 races, winning 103,490,000 yen.
- Hikaru Tenryu (ヒカルテンリユウ) (1985 -1992) won 27 races, winning 104,611,000 yen.
- Asagiri (アサギリ) (1987 -1994) won 41 races, winning 102,512,000 yen.
- Maruzen Burgi (マルゼンバージ) (1988 -1996) won 22 races, winning 107,517,000 yen.
- Fukuichi (フクイチ) (1991 - 1999) won 30 races, winning 111,481,000 yen.
- Super Pegasus (スーパーペガサス) (1998 - 2006) won 42 races, winning 100,739,000 yen.
All except Super Pegasus became studs.
Races (Ban'ei grade race)
Currently all held in Obihiro, over 200 metres. Once there used to exist 44 races for Ban'eis.
- The Irene Kinen (イレネー記念)
- The Kuroyuri Sho (黒ユリ賞)
- The Nanakamado Sho (ナナカマド賞) (formerly for three-year-olds)
- The Young Championship (ヤングチャンピオンシップ)
- The Ban'ei Derby (ばんえいダービー)
- The Ban'ei Oaks (ばんえいオークス)
- The Ban'ei Kikka Sho (ばんえい菊花賞)
- The Ban'ei Daishoten (ばんえい大賞典)
- The Temma Sho (天馬賞)
- The Ginga Sho (銀河賞)
- The Hakurin Sho (柏林賞)
- The Queen Cup (クインカップ)
Three and Four-year-olds
- The Hamanasu Sho (はまなす賞)
- The Poplar Sho (ポプラ賞)
Three-year-olds and up
- The Ban'ei Grand Prix (ばんえいグランプリ)
- The Obihiro Kinen (帯広記念)
- The Ban'ei Kinen (ばんえい記念)
- The Ban'ei Tokachi Oddspark Hai (ばんえい十勝オッズパーク杯)
- The Iwamizawa Kinen (岩見沢記念)
- The Kitami Kinen (北見記念)
- The Heroines Cup (ヒロインズカップ)
- The Champion Cup (チャンピオンカップ)
- The Asahikawa Kinen (旭川記念)
- The Hokuto Sho (北斗賞)
- The Dream Age Cup (ドリームエイジカップ)
- Shiragiku Sho (白菊賞)
- Hokuren Sho (ホクレン賞)
- Seiun Sho (青雲賞)
- Tsutsuji Sho (つつじ賞)
- Ban'ei Fuzuki Sho (ばんえい文月賞)
- Ban'ei Princess Sho (ばんえいプリンセス賞)
- Taisetsu Sho (大雪賞)
- Souun Sho (層雲賞)
- Asahi okansho (旭王冠賞)
- Chiho keiba zenkoku kyokai kaicho Sho (地方競馬全国協会会長賞)
- Zen koei kaicho Sho (全公営会長賞)
- Asahi Silver Cup (旭シルバーカップ)
- Obihiro Daishoten (帯広大賞典)
- Onassis Kinen (オナシス記念)
- Hotarunohika Sho (蛍の光賞)
- All Stars Cup (オールスターカップ)
- Pegasus Sho (ペガサス賞)?
- Carnation Cup (カーネーションカップ )
- Valentines Cup (バレンタインカップ)
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