Busan Re-Opens After Park Jin Hee Laid To Rest

Suicide note blamed competition and treatment by trainers

Busan Race Park will re-open on Friday, the first time since the suicide of jockey Park Jin Hee last week. A funeral service for Park took place at the track on Tuesday.

Earlier in the week, Park’s handwritten suicide note was made public. In it, she wrote of the stress she was under following a lean year, but also singled out the harsh treatment she felt she had received from trainers – naming one in particular (the name was redacted from the released copy of the note).

This is an issue that is well-known in Korean racing circles. Many are shocked to witness the way in which trainers interact with jockeys at trackwork, at race-trials and after races. Extreme verbal abuse is accepted as the norm and an authoritarian culture dominates. Some ascribe it in large part to the fact that it has always been that way. Today’s trainers were jockeys ten or twenty years ago and went through the same thing. Instead of ending it, they feel as though the roles have reversed and finally it is their turn.

This is something that has surprised visiting overseas jockeys (and indeed visiting trainers) and has contributed to some of them leaving soon after their arrival, including some from countries not known for its trainers refraining from jockey chastisement. The local jockeys do not like it, but accept it and indeed, it would be wrong to say that all trainers behave in the same way. They do not. Meanwhile, Stewards do their best to intervene when they can – as seen in this report from February– but what they see is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg.

The Korea Racing Authority (KRA) has said that it will respond to the tragedy by taking steps to improve working conditions for jockeys. However, the KRA, while ostensibly administering racing, has very little power over what actually happens. That power lies with the licensees and the Unions. Of the licensees, the Trainers are Kings. For all the strength of the Jockeys’ Union against the KRA, they cannot stand up to the trainers.

The tragedy has appeared in the mainstream Korean media over the past week, including the the English language Korea Times.

While according to the Times, Korea’s poisonous “netizens” have turned their bile onto the KRA’s homepage, the online racing community has paid its own respects this week. See tributes from Korean bloggers Shaka and Chulgigi. Chulgigi has put together a number of galleries of Park Jin Hee in happier days which can be viewed at his website here.

Notably there is a picture of Park with Lee Myoung Hwa, the jockey who also committed suicide in Busan in 2005. It is a stark fact that of the eleven Korean women granted jockey licenses, two have now taken their own lives.

Included in Chulgigi’s tribute is a music video Park appeared in for the Korean band SoBangCha. The video is also on YouTube:

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