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Retired Racehorse Becomes Best Friends with Meto the Cat

The retired racehorse sanctuary in Hokkaido is home to legends like Meisho Doto. There, Meto is winning the hearts of many fans, including this photojournalist.



Meto the cat and Meisho Doto at the Northern Lake ranch. (©Sankei by Shuji Ozaki)

Northern Lake ranch is a sanctuary for retired horses in Shikabe Town, Hokkaido. It houses six horses and a cat named Meto. Estimated to be around five years old, Meto is often seen snuggling up to a racehorse and has become almost as famous as the thoroughbreds themselves, thanks to social media.

Opened in July 2020 by Yasuyuki Kawagoe, a former stable hand of the Japan Racing Association, and Sachie Sasaki, a horse-racing writer, Northern Lake was established on land that had been abandoned for about five years. The ranch required extensive work, including clearing overgrown fields.

Meto the cat isn't shy around horses or people. (©Sankei by Shuji Ozaki)

Meto's Arrival

Three days after the horses moved in, Meto appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Friendly from the start, it quickly adapted to ranch life, forming a strong bond with the horses. Meto's closest companion is Meisho Doto, a 28-year-old retired horse entrusted to the ranch by the certified NPO Retired Horse Association. Meisho Doto is celebrated among horse racing fans for a distinguished career, including victories like the 2001 Takarazuka Kinen (Grade 1) and five other graded wins.

Meto and retired Grade 1 racehorse Meisho Doto. (©Sankei by Shuji Ozaki)

I was captivated by the heartwarming videos of Meto and Meisho Doto on social media. What intrigued me even more was the ranch's announcement at the end of 2023 that it would welcome the racehorse Neko Punch ("Cat Punch"). As a cat lover and photographer, I couldn't miss the opportunity to capture the interaction between Meto the cat and Neko Punch the racehorse.

Having covered horse racing in the 1990s, I knew I had to be sensitive around thoroughbreds given their nervous nature. Contrary to my apprehension, both Meisho Doto and Neko Punch were friendly and cooperative during my photoshoot. Of course, I couldn't have done it without Sasaki's guidance.

Meto relaxes next to horse-racing writer Sachie Sasaki. (©Sankei by Shuji Ozaki)

A Successful Photoshoot

Following Meto on patrol in the grazing area, I captured its interactions with the horses. When I approached Meto, it looked at me with an expression that seemed to ask, "Are we done?" before returning to the stable. I was amazed at the cat's intelligence. My respect for Meto increased further after learning that one of the lawnmowers at the ranch was purchased with proceeds from Meto's photo book, created by its fans.

Meto with racehorse Neko Punch, which retired and joined the Northern Lake ranch in December 2023. (©Sankei by Shuji Ozaki)

I was also impressed to see how all six horses had been groomed to a stunning, glossy shine. They were clearly lovingly cared for. Kawagoe, a former stable hand, had received a Best Turned Out Award in Britain. The award evaluated the quality of grooming and training of horses that walked the paddocks, as well as the harmony between the horse and handler. This recognition strongly conveys how sincerely and carefully he interacts with and cares for the horses.

Meto and retired Grade 1 racehorse Meisho Doto. (©Sankei by Shuji Ozaki)

Challenges and Future Plans

Kawagoe and Sasaki laughed, saying, "We never expected a cat to attract this much attention." They added, "Without Meto, we wouldn't be where we are today." Their love for the ranch's residents is clearly creating a virtuous cycle.

Meto "checking" the hay. (©Sankei by Shuji Ozaki)

Four years since opening, maintaining the vast grounds and repairing deteriorated stables and fences pose challenges. Financial support and donations for retired horses are insufficient, but Sasaki remains optimistic. "I'm thinking about holding events where visitors can get more involved in ranch activities. Details are still confidential," she said with a smile. "We're also planning special services for members of the Northern Lake Club [tentative name]."

Their meticulous management of the farm left me humbled. I hope to continue supporting Kawagoe, Sasaki, Meto, and the six horses in my own small way.

Meto patrols the stable. (©Sankei by Shuji Ozaki)


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Shuji Ozaki, The Sankei Shimbun