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The story of Haru Urara, the greatest loser in racing history

When discussing the great horseracing streaks, the conversation will usually come back to some familiar names. Horses such as Winx, Black Caviar and Frankel will usually be mentioned as each retired at the end of illutrious careers with perfect records. A name which doesn’t usually crop up though is Haru Urara, who gained notoriety for a very different kind of streak.

Foaled in 1996, Haru Urara is a Japanese bay mare whose name translates to ‘Glorious Spring’. When her stable couldn’t find her a buyer, they decided to train and race her themselves and her debut arrived in November 1998 at the Kōchi racetrack. Unfortunately it didn’t go to plan and she eventually finished last in a five-runner race.

Fast forward to 2003 and Japan was suffering the after-effects of what later became known as ‘The Lost Decade’, a sustained period of economic uncertainty following a stock market crash and subsequent debt crisis. For over ten years economic expansion in the country effectively halted, a marked contrast from the 1970s and 1980s when the Japanese economy was among the most envied in the world.

During the prolonged depression, the story of a horse in the fifth year of her career was picked up by the press and captured the public’s imagination as, during that time, she had run on 80 occasions and failed to win once.

Wearing her distinguishing pink Hello Kitty mask, Karu Urara’s plight won her the heart of a nation who were in the grip of an extended period of misfortune. They viewed her continued participation despite constant failure as a symbol of a never-say-die attitude, a call to keep going no matter how bleak things seem.

She was dubbed ‘The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere’ and quickly became a national icon, a phenomenon which was known as ‘The Haru Uraru Boom’. Losing betting slips with her name were collected as lucky charms and known as o-mamori. It was said that they would ward off further misfortune.

The boom peaked in March 2004 when Karu Urara was scheduled to return to the scene of her debut, Kōchi racetrack, for her 106th outing. The course hadn’t escaped the recession and was plagued with financial difficulties but with the news that she was to be ridden by Japan’s most famous jockey, Yutaka Take, 13,000 fans showed up to watch the pair try to claim her first win.

In fact demand for tickets was so fierce that a special ‘Haru Urara Commemorative Ticket Booth’ was set up the night before the meeting, with scores of people patiently waiting overnight to ensure that they didn’t miss out.

The Japanese racing public were happy to overlook the fact that she had already failed to win 105 times and wagered ¥121,751,200 (£881,400) on Hara Urara finally landing her maiden victory. However, unfortunately it wasn’t to be and she ultimately finished tenth out of eleven.

However, the income generated by that day kept Kōchi afloat and remains open today. She ran a further seven times before unofficially retiring in September 2004 with a glorious record of zero wins and 113 losses.

Haru Urara’s direct impact on Kōchi racetrack paled in significance to the cultural effect she had on Japan during one of the darkest economic periods in its history. For that reason, although she could never be considered a great racehorse, she must surely be regarded as the greatest loser in the sport’s history.

 

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