Day: October 23, 2008

Weekend Preview

The racing world may have its eyes on the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, but there’s still plenty of racing in Korea this weekend. Here’s what’s happening:

Busan Race Park:
Friday October 24: Action begins at Busan with a ten race Friday card. As usual things get underway at 13:00 and Sinjin Gangja will carry top weight in the feature race. The four year old has either won or placed inhis last 17 outings and will have the likes of Yeongung Manse and Mirae Cheonsa for company when they come under orders for the 1800 metre handicap at 17:30.

Sunday October 26: Sunday sees the turn of the foreign bred horses to featire in the main event. Hwanggeumbit Taeyang hasn’t won since February but will carry top weight ahead of Dangdae Star. The first of six races is off at 12:40.

Seoul Race Park
Saturday October 25: Saturday is Gwacheon Citizen’s Day and a “Celebration Race” heads the card. The cat 2 KRW 53Million race has attracted 12 entrants including Wonju Jangsa, Dangdanghan and Samsimnyeonsarang and is the most valuable race of the weekend. Also on Saturday’s card when the first of 12 races is at 11:20, is a rare long distance race. The cat. 1 handicap over the Grand Prix distance of 2300 metres will feature the likes of Gamadongja and Baekjeonmupae and is off at 17:00.

Sunday October 26: There are 11 races on Sunday with the first at 11:20. The filly Top Point will go against Nujindo and Flying Cat in the day’s most valuable race. Perhaps the most intriguing race, however, is the last on the card. A field of 12 mostly 3 and 4 year old imports will go over 1800 metres. Supernatural makes his first outing since suffering his first defeat last month and the gelding will be up against the colt Last Dance Buddy and the filly Mexicali Blues who have spent much of the summer duelling with one another. Also going is Ecton Cat in the race which will need to run under lights at 18:00.

The midweek rain has signalled the end of the high autumn temperatures and the weekend is predicted to be dry with the temperature in the mid-teens. In addition to the cards at Seoul and Busan, Jeju Race Park holds cards on Saturday and Sunday. We will be keeping one eye on Santa Anita though where Korean born Owner/Trainer Cho Myoung Kwon saddles Palacio De Amor in the Juvenile Fillies on Friday and Street Hero in the Juvenile on Saturday.

What have we learned from Pick Me Up?

Pick Me Up’s American sojourn was always going to be interesting and although few held out much hope of the six year old taking the US by storm, his tailing off by an average field running a slow time at Charles Town last week has caused more than a little embarrassment for Korean racing fans. Pick Me Up’s stay in the US is part of the KRA’s “Internationalization Plan”. The plan was started in 2004 with the first International Jockey Challenge and the start of a number of Trophy races. This has evolved into a once a year weekend event which this year also saw two jockeys come over from Malaysia as part of a jockey exchange, however, other than that and Busan Race Park making its Stewards’ Reports available in English, there seems to be little progress in making Korean racing truly “international”.

Go to the KRA’s English site right now and visitors are greeted with a Pop-Up window inviting overseas jockeys to apply for a licence to ride full time in Korea. Several foreign riders have done that in recent years. At the opening of Busan Race Park in 2005, Australians Mark Newnham, Garry Baker and Nathan Day were signed up although only Baker managed to make a go of it, landing 89 winners in two years. However, Baker reported on his return to Australia that “it did seem as if they didn’t really want you there”. Danny Craven put in a creditable nine month effort first at Seoul and then at Busan, however, South African Chris Taylor only lasted a few weeks before departing.

More successful have been the Japanese with the remarkable Toshio Uchida dominating Busan in 2008 while Ikuyasu Kurakane and Nozomu Tomizawa more than hold their own at Seoul. There are two more Japanese riders at Busan while another is scheduled to join Seoul in November. Maybe Pick Me Up would have been better going to Japan.

Korean fans need not be too embarrassed. Pick Me Up’s trot round Charles Town was witnessed by a grand total of 900 racegoers in attendance with total handle – both on and off course – for the entire card being about the same as what is bet on the average pony race on Jeju Island. It seems an odd way to go about “internationalization”. Pick Me Up has been a solid performer at Busan but by no means a star. He’s won seven out of his forty starts and has picked up a lot of second and third placed finishes, despite suffering over the past two years from a restrictive handicap mark, but he’s not the best Korea has to offer and he’s not 80 lengths worse than those horses he finished behind on Friday.

But this just adds further confusion to the point of the exercise. There are hundreds of overseas bred horses running in Korea but in his forty races, Pick Me Up had never encountered one. They are not allowed to compete against Korean horses except on very rare occasions with the year-ending Grand Prix race the only really big race they are allowed to enter. The truth is that to be the best in Korea, domestically bred horses do not have to be very good.