Christmas brings betting opportunities on top-class racing overseas

December 20th, 2022

As always, Christmas can get fairly quiet in terms of opportunities for playing. No Thoroughbred racetrack in continental North America will race on Christmas Day — the only one offering any racing is Camarero in Puerto Rico — while Christmas Eve isn’t much better, with live racing scheduled only at Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park in addition to Camarero.

However, that doesn’t mean there are no opportunities at all. Time zone differences mean that Australia, New Zealand, and east Asia will have great betting opportunities over the festive period; in particular, the Christmas Day racing in Japan and South Korea (where Christmas is not a holiday) comes in at night on Christmas Eve U.S. time, while Christmas Day U.S. time is already Dec. 26, or Boxing Day, in Australia and New Zealand, and full cards are available both days.

Here's a sample of what to expect from international racing on both days.

Christmas Eve, Saturday, Dec. 24

If you think Christmas Eve — or Christmas Day as it will already be in some parts of the world — is not a big betting day, you’re wrong. Indeed, it features the biggest betting race in the world!

That race is the Arima Kinen (G1), held at Nakayama Racecourse in the eastern suburbs of Tokyo over 2,500 meters (about 1 9/16 miles). At 864 million yen (about $6.48 million) it’s the equal-richest race in Japan along with the Japan Cup, and it’s much more popular among the local public.

Part of that is because of the highly original method used to select the field — by popular vote. The top 10 horses are selected by votes from the public, with the remaining six runners selected mainly on prize money won by entrants. It’s a format later picked up for the Takarazuka Kinen (G1) in June and in Australia since 2019 for the A$5 million ($3.3 million) All-Star Mile in Melbourne in March.

These have helped make the Arima Kinen the race in Japan for once-a-year punters, the way that the Kentucky Derby (G1) is in the U.S., the Grand National in England, and the Melbourne Cup in Australia. But punters take to it in spectacular numbers: it attracted bets in 2021 of around $430 million, the most in the world for a single race by a long, long way.

It’s also a race that can decide Japanese Horse of the Year, and this year’s field is exceptional, looking set to include Japan Cup hero Vela Azul, Takarazuka Kinen winner Titleholder, Tenno Sho (Autumn) (G1) victor Equinox, and defending champ Efforia.

The race will be listed on TwinSpires as being on Christmas Eve, though the actual start time will be the very early hours of Christmas Day U.S. time.

Earlier in the day, along with the aforementioned cards at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs, there is harness racing at three domestic venues. Internationally, there is Thoroughbred racing at Turffontein in South Africa, at two Korean venues, the Laurel simulcast from South America, and other Japanese tracks, as well as two harness race meets in Sweden.

Christmas Eve racing (all times ET)

5:00 a.m. – South Africa, Turffontein; Sweden, Eskilstuna (H); Sweden, Skive (H)

11:00 a.m. – Cumberland (H)

11:30 a.m. – Laurel simulcast

11:55 a.m. – Freehold (H)

12:00 p.m. – Harrah's Philadelphia (H)

12:10 p.m. – Gulfstream Park

12:15 p.m. – Tampa Bay Downs

7:35 p.m. – Japan Racing

8:45 p.m. – Korea, Seoul

10:15 p.m. – Korea, Busan

Christmas Day, Sunday, Dec. 25

You’ll have to wait until 7 p.m. ET to get your chance to play the races on Christmas Day, but in terms of quality it’s worth waiting for.

Once you get to 7 p.m. ET, it’s 1 p.m. on Dec. 26 New Zealand daylight time and 11 a.m. Sydney daylight time, and it’s a big day of racing.

Sydney’s meeting is at Randwick and is highlighted by the Summer Cup (G2) over about 1 1/4 miles. It’s set to have a good field, many of which contested either the Ingham (G2) or the Christmas Cup (Listed) Dec. 10. Expect a big field and a good price about the winner.

Other Australian races are at Newcastle, New South Wales, and the Queensland venues of Warwick and the Sunshine Coast.

However, the most important race day in that part of the world is in New Zealand. Dec. 26 is traditionally a huge day at Ellerslie Racecourse in Auckland, but with that track being renovated, the race day switches to nearby Pukekohe. But all the big races are still on: the Zabeel Classic (G1) for three-year-olds and up at about 1 1/4 miles, the Eight Carat Classic (G2) over about a mile for three-year-old fillies, the Hallmark Stud Handicap (Listed) for six-furlong sprinters, and the Uncle Remus Stakes (Listed) for three-year-olds of either sex over about seven furlongs.

Good luck!

Christmas Day Racing (all times ET)

7:00 p.m. – Australia: A (Randwick), B (Newcastle), C (Sunshine Coast), D (Warwick)

7:00 p.m. – New Zealand, Pukekohe; New Zealand, Wingatui

8:30 p.m. – Japan, Urawa

11:59 p.m. – Japan, Tokyo City