In Japan there are some unique ,indeed tehy are heavy draft horse races, the largest and most powerful horses in the world, which pull heavy sleds urged by a driver who uses only the reins and not a whip.It happens in Obihiro, in eastern Hokkaido, in the center of the Tokachi agricultural region. The pioneers of the late nineteenth century who colonized the region used these horses – well before mechanization – for agricultural work, as the numerous testimonies preserved in the museum attached to the hippodrome explain, but their races soon became part of popular festivals. A real competition circuit (“Banei”) soon developed, but today it is limited to Obihiro. Until 2007, three other locations in Hokkaido were involved, whose plants were forced to close due to the decline in revenues. Obihiro also took a big risk: he resisted thanks to a providential intervention by the telecommunications giant Softbank, which saved an important rural tradition in the country. Horses weigh about a ton, twice as much as racing thoroughbreds (and iron sleds can weigh as much). They are specimens that derive from crosses of European races: French (Percheron and Breton) and Belgian. “About 500 horses are used in these races, 90% bred in Hokkaido”, explains Tetsuya Sato, the municipal official in charge of the sector – The decline of recent years has begun to stop. The Internet, for example, offers new opportunities for promotion, even in the field of betting. And there is a slight increase in spectators ”. However, the situation of the agricultural sector in Hokkaido remains difficult: there are attempts to revive in new directions, but the future entry into force of the multilateral free trade agreement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the local level is seen as a bugbear. Cartels against the TPP are also heading to the racecourse. The Banei Horse Racing races (which do not take place directly under the aegis of the Japan Racing Association) are staged on Saturday, Sunday and Monday on a 200-meter course with two obstacles (i.e. two steep hills, the first one meter high and the second 1.6 meters). Whoever crosses the finish line first with the entire sled wins. The atmosphere at the racecourse is mostly that of betting, but entire families with children also come: around there is an amusement park where some ponies stand out among the attractions.
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