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A former operator of a racehorse breeding farm in Hokkaido was found guilty Friday of shooting dead two thoroughbred horses, in a case highlighting the financial struggles facing many breeders in a region known for its racehorses.

The Sapporo District Court’s Urakawa branch sentenced Akihiko Sakaki to one year in prison, suspended for four years, for violating animal protection and gun control laws in shooting the horses with a rifle at his farm on Feb. 27.

Judge Kyohei Okawa ruled the 61-year-old former operator of Keiyu Farm in the town of Niikappu directed his frustration at the animals after receiving a court summons for bankruptcy proceedings, criticizing him for being “self-centered” and taking the animals’ lives lightly.

Prosecutors had sought one year in prison, but the court decided on the suspended sentence, deeming the defendant had already been “socially sanctioned” as he can no longer take animal-related jobs.

Sakaki’s farm is known for producing Takeshiba O, a stallion that joined the Japan Racing Association’s hall of fame in 2004, but it had been suffering financially in recent years.

Many of the small, family-run racehorse breeders in the same Hidaka region of the northernmost main island have faced financial hardship.

The price of foals has declined amid falling demand as many locally run racing tracks have closed, while the stud fee of famous stallions has surged amid a growing preference for purebreds.

A 2010 JRA survey of 35 farms in the country showed the average cost of raising a racehorse was about ¥5.4 million while its sales revenue stood at ¥4.3 million.

The number of racehorse breeding farms in the region peaked at roughly 1,500 in the early 1990s but had halved to about 750 in 2015.

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