2009 – The Horses

Dongbanui Gangja ran seven times in 2009 and won seven times. Among those wins were an Owners’ Cup and his second Grand Prix. Currently untouchable at Seoul, he comfortably saw off those from Busan who dared to challenge him. By some distance, Dongbanui Gangja is our horse of the year.

Three year olds have had another mixed year. On the domestic front, Nice Choice eventually came good after a disappointing start to the year, his President’s Cup win over older horses the highlight. For the second year running, however, it was Busan horses who dominated the generation.

Namdo Jeap was second in the KRA Cup Mile and Korean Derby before going one better in the final leg of the Triple Crown. Like Nice Choice, Yeonseung Daero started the year with big expectations but only started living up to them late on in the campaign. In 2010, he more than others, will be the one to watch.

And then there was Sangseung Ilro. Overlooked by most before the Classics, the filly stormed to victory in the KRA Cup Mile at 16/1. Bizarrely, she remained unfancied for the Derby, which she proceeded to romp with ease.

Then it all went wrong. Sent off odds-on for the Oaks, she seemed all set for victory with a furlong to run, but tired to the extent that Pangpang managed to catch her. Diagnosed with a shin problem, she didn’t reappear until October when she made her bid for the Triple Crown in the Minister’s Cup at Seoul. Again she tired but bravely ran on for third place behind stablemate Namdo Jeap and Nice Choice.

With a disappointing reappearance last week, whether Sangseung Ilro returns in 2010 or follows 2008’s top filly Jeolho Chance, another plagued by injury, into the breeding shed, is still in doubt.

Those to have already had their careers prematurely ended by injury include Gangho and most notably, Playing Politics. The four-year old won six of his seven races and was considered a potential late season challenger to Dongbanui Gangja before he came back lame after easily winning what proved to be his final race in February.

Some old friends faded in 2009. Subsidy, Gayansanseong and Daiwa Arazi were retired while Golding, a stalwart of Busan since the track’s opening four years ago is in the way out. Meanwhile Subsidy’s great sparring partner Bally Brae was victorious early in the year but by the end of 2009, it was clear that his best days were behind him.

Feelgood story of the year is Baekgwang. Now six years old, the grey was champion three-year old in 2006 before suffering an injury that decimated his four-year old season and then flared up again in his only appearance in 2008. Following stem-cell treatment and a long period of recuperation, he came back in the SBS Cup in August. He ran fourth but went on to win two handicaps and finished second in the President’s Cup. In the unsentimental world of Korean racing, the sight of Baekgwang launching his home straight charge from the back of the field, just as he did three years ago.

Then there is the future. Seonbongbulpae, Northern Ace, Money Car and Night Moves caught the eye in the two-year old ranks this year. Will they push on in 2010? Who are those that we don’t know about yet but will have forced themselves into the Classic reckoning come May?

The road to the Derby is just days away. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at the four Classics of 2009:

1: The KRA Cup Mile – Busan, April 5: Sangseung Ilro stuns the colts by winning the first Classic:

2: The Korean Derby – Seoul, May 17: Sangseung Ilro again takes the honours to set up a possible Triple Crown:

3: The Korean Oaks – Busan, August 9: It’s Sangseung Ilro’s turn to be upset as Pangpang reels her in over the final furlong on a hot night in Busan:

4: The Minster of FAFF Cup – Seoul, October 12 – Namdo Jeap finally makes it to the Winners’ Circle, ending Sangseung Ilro’s hopes of emulating J.S.Hold in winning the Korean Triple Crown:

All these equine athletes become a year older on January 1. We will no doubt say goodbye to some in 2010 and meet a whole host of others for the first time. Wherever a horse is running next year, may it come home safely.

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