Some sports are specific to certain regions and thus gain a cultural cachet that those regions exploit. Ban’ei keiba, a form of racing that features large draft horses pulling heavy sleds over a straight course, is unique to Hokkaido, a by-product of agricultural life there since the island was opened to development in the 19th century.

With the possible exception of its central role in the award-winning 2005 feature film “What the Snow Brings,” ban’ei racing has attracted little attention outside of Hokkaido, and even within the prefecture its star has been fading. Once there were ban’ei race tracks in four cities, but now the only one active is in Obihiro. Since the pandemic started, however, the sport’s popularity has increased considerably, especially among people who like to gamble.

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