To those familiar with the breeding industry, it is no secret where the best thoroughbreds in the world are bred. Thinking outside of the box and purchasing the best mares suitable for broodmare duties have made Japan the dominant force in horse racing. Paired with self made stallions of many different bloodlines, these combinations always seem to produce winners.
Started by the late Zenya Yoshida in the 1970’s, a stallion’s paradise known as Shadai Stallion Station was the birth of Japanese equine greatness. Along with his sons Katsumi, Haruya, and Teruya, the family known as the Shadai Group have been revolutionizing modern thoroughbreds ever since. What is the secret one might ask? Katsumi Yoshida needs few words to explain it. From a NY Times article in 2015: “I buy the best and never sell” Yoshida explains that the United States and Europe are always willing to sell for the right price. “I only buy. I never sell except for some yearlings. I will never sell a good mare.”
That philosophy has been in place since the very beginning of the Shadai Group and so far it has always rang true. According to the same article from the NY Times, the Yoshidas have purchased over $100 million worth of mares from the United States and Europe. With the mares they have imported, the brothers have done more than just break even.
The Yoshida family has always had a keen eye and been great judges of horseflesh since day one. The two most important purchases ever made by Zenya Yoshida were Northern Taste and Sunday Silence. Northern Taste was the first real “large purchase” by the family. Purchased at the 1972 Saratoga Yearling sale for $100,000 by his son Teruya, Zenya would choose to campaign the horse in France rather than his native Japan. Northern Taste would go on to become a G1 winner in France and finish in the top 5 in both the English 2,000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby. At stud, Northern Taste became the most important stallion in the history of Japan at the time. He topped the stallion rankings a record ten times and covered the best mares that money could buy. Teruya Yoshida is famous for saying “The success of Northern Taste bought all of the stallions we have ever had.”
Once Northern Taste was pensioned, Zenya Yoshida set out to find the perfect replacement to take over his throne. He found the perfect horse in 1989 Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Sunday Silence. Yoshida purchased a 25% interest in Sunday Silence following the Breeders’ Cup Classic and eventually bought out Stone Farm following the horse’s retirement. Sunday Silence would have been overlooked and cast aside by American breeders due to lack of commercial interest. He also didn’t have the best confirmation or looks. Instead of being forgotten over time, Sunday Silence found the perfect gene pool for his pedigree and thrived. Sunday Silence topped Japan’s stallion rankings from 1995 to 2008, eclipsing a record set by his predecessor Northern Taste. Dollar for dollar, Sunday Silence is considered to be the most successful stallion of all time. His progeny have amassed a total of nearly $1 billion in earnings. Other successful stallions purchased by the Yoshidas to stand at Shadai include Real Shadai, Tony Bin, Dr Devious, Harbinger, and White Muzzle.
After Zenya Yoshida passed away in 1993, Shadai was divided up among his three sons. Katsumi, Teruya, and Haruya all had a special eye for mares and would weaponize Japan’s gene pool with the best mares in the world. Katsumi began Northern Farm, the most important home for broodmares on the globe. Teruya keeps his mares at Shadai while Haruya owns Oiwake Farm. In his final years, Zenya was excited to import mares from the United States and Europe to mix with the exotic bloodlines of the stallions they had bred and purchased. Due to health problems he was unable to fulfill that dream, but his sons have made it their mission ever since.
Their first important broodmare purchase was in 1992 when an unraced mare named Ballet Queen was purchased at the Newmarket December Sale. She was a daughter of Sadler’s Wells and Epsom Oaks heroine Sun Princess. She was a steal at $100,000. Ballet Queen’s first foal went on to become Japanese Derby winner Fusaichi Concorde.
The best and most successful mares to fit their breeding program have no doubt been from America. If the mare is successful in stakes company, the Yoshida brothers are interested. Pedigree or looks aren’t a factor for them as they consider the mare’s body of work on the track to be the most important. They routinely purchase the mares who are stars on the track, but not a super star such as a Songbird or a Zenyatta. American owners and breeders almost always offer these types of mares for sale following the Breeders’ Cup at the Fasig Tipton and Keeneland November sales. Every year the Shadai Group manage to snag a handful of incredible mares destined for greatness in the East.
The brothers own a staggering amount of star American mares. They own Breeders’ Cup winners Stephanie’s Kitten, Finest City, Wavell Avenue, Musical Romance, Dubai Majesty, Ginger Punch, Azeri, Ria Antonia, Awesome Feather, and Stardom Bound. A few Kentucky Oaks winners have also joined their broodmare band including Lovely Maria, Princess of Sylmar, and Proud Spell. Many other Grade 1, 2, and 3 winning mares have also been purchased by the Yoshidas. Their 2019 purchases include Fatale Bere, Thewayiam, Aurelia’s Belle, Callback, Chelsea Cloisters, Danuska’s My Girl, Eskimo Kisses, Escape Clause, Champagne Anyone, Photo Call, Secret Spice, and Vasilika.
Ria Antonia, Azeri, Princess of Sylmar, Stephanie’s Kitten, and Dubai Majesty have all produced a 2YO or 3YO with stakes potential in the past year. Dubai Majesty is also the dam of Classic winner Al Ain, who is still running as an older horse and targeting the Japan Cup later in the month. Fellow Breeders’ Cup winner Tapitsfly also went on to find success in Japan as a broodmare. Her first and only living foal is the filly Gran Alegria who captured this year’s Oka Sho and remains one of the top 3YO fillies in Japan. Tapitsfly sadly passed away in 2018 due to complications from foaling.
While the United States still retains most of its broodmares, any graded stakes winning mare up for sale has a huge chance of being purchased by the Yoshida family. American mares are extremely likely to cross well with Japanese based and bred stallions. Most Japanese stallions are free of Northern Dancer influence aside from one generation. The bloodlines provided by Sunday Silence and Halo are also uncommon in American bred mares, thus creating a desirable and successful outcross. These crosses have also proven to be exceptionally durable on the track. Japan has some of the lowest numbers of racehorse injuries in the world. While some of it can be attributed to a lack of race day medication and drugs, many experts claim the Japanese thoroughbreds are more sound all around. With many pedigrees free of inbreeding and firmer foundations, the Japanese thoroughbred has flourished around the globe. More than half of the thoroughbreds bred or owned in Japan come from the Shadai Group. Their value as a group complete with all of the horses they own is fast approaching that of Coolmore, which is estimated to be worth an excess of $4 billion.
Many farms around the world have been interested in modeling their breeding programs like the Shadai Group. Several farms have famed broodmare bands to rival the Yoshidas, such as Mandy Pope, Stonestreet, and Hill ‘N’ Dale. They all seem to follow the “breed to the best and hope for the best” unspoken rule of thoroughbreds. However, most American Farms fall short when it comes to broodmares and stallions on one specific factor. American breeders are the quickest at giving up on a horse during it’s breeding life. If a mare or stallion isn’t producing fast enough it is likely to be sold overseas or to a smaller farm. Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to living creatures involved in sport.
“I buy the best and never sell.”