Japan Cup returns to Tauranga

Peter Silson reminisces the earlier days of the Japan Cup. Photo: Tracy Hardy.

The headlines read: ‘Stakes boosted'. Robert Silson had announced an extra $3000 to the stakes in the Japan-Bay of Plenty International horse race, making it the third richest 1600m event in New Zealand.

It was big news for Bay of Plenty Racing Club in 1973. Newspapers published the new 1974 stake will be $10,000 plus a $600 silver cup presented by the Japan Racing Association, Tokyo.

It meant the Bay's racing club had made the third wealthiest 1600m race in NZ after the Wellington Racing Club George Adams ‘Tattersalls' Handicap and the Auckland Race Day Easter Handicap.

“My uncle did that,” says Tauranga man Peter Silson. He was 22 years old when the Japan-Bay of Plenty International Race began. And he's reminiscing more than 40 years on, with the next Japan Cup scheduled as part of Tauranga's biggest race day of the year on Saturday, March 25.

“There's only one reciprocal race that's been going longer than the Japan cup,” says Peter. “I think that's between Japan and South America, so this race is pretty special.”

The race, which is now called the Group Two Windsor Park Stud Japan-New Zealand International Trophy, is the feature race in next weekend's Bayleys International Race Day.

Peter understands his uncle Robert – or ‘Bob' – visited Japan 12 times back in 1973 to make agreements for the race to go ahead in NZ. “With the Japanese, you've got to become friends before you do business.”

Peter says uncle Bob was heavily involved in racing and believed racing was one way of connecting Japan and NZ. So while in Japan on a business trip as part of the NZ Meat Board, he pitched the idea of a reciprocal race to Japanese racing hierarchy.

“He got the idea from a reciprocal race between United States Hollywood Park race course and Japan but they never sent anybody over during the races.

“That's one thing Bob insisted upon, he said: ‘If this was going to last, we always had to send somebody over'.”

That's when Air New Zealand came on board with an offer of two seats to Japan on race day.

“And they're still doing that today,” says Peter.

Then the reigns were handed to Peter. He made his first trip to Japan as vice president of the BOP Racing Club about 12 years ago. “I went five times as president and in the last three years as president we were invited back to the Japan Cup meeting, which is probably one of the most prestigious races in the world.”

Peter says BOP Racing Club is thought very highly of by the Japan Racing Association.

“We are treated extremely well…because we've had that history for so long.”

The Japan Cup has always been a Group Two race with quality horses, says Peter, who's raced many horses.

“There's only been one occasion when I had a horse that I entered in the Japan Cup. But that year it got rained out and the race cancelled. So we didn't get to race in the Japan Cup.”

But Peter's always hoping to enter the next one, just not next weekend. “We haven't got anything up to that quality yet.”

Described as Tauranga's richest and most glamorous sporting event, the Bayleys International Race Day features a 10-race programme which includes the Group Two Windsor Park Stud Japan-New Zealand International Trophy, the Drymix Cement Bay of Plenty Cup and the Triton Pacific Owens Plate.

Off-track activities include the prestigious Shiseido Fashions in the Field, live music plus free children's entertainment.

The event is at Tauranga Racecourse in Greerton on Saturday, March 25. Gates open 9.30am, with racing starting at 12.30pm. For more information, visit: racingtauranga.co.nz



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Beauty after the storm. Photo: Tracy Hardy. Send us your photos from around the Bay of Plenty. photos@thesun.co.nz