Month: January 2011

Was Upstairs, Now Downstairs – Foreigner Info Desk

Not going to win any prizes for that headline, but it’s been nearly a year since the “Foreigner Lounge” at Seoul Race Park was closed. During that time, there has continued to be an information desk outside the old lounge – which is now opened to all punters – offering support in various langauges. However, as that was on the fourth floor, nobody actually went there, so the KRA has relocated it to a prime position next to the general information desk on the first floor of the Luckyville Grandstand right by that stand’s main entrance.

From A Distance: The new "Multi-lingual Information Desk"...that's what we're going to call it!

The KRA operated a lounge with reserved seats for any overseas passport holder for a number of years but decided to stop offering this service in April 2010. While it was well used, the regulars generally consisted of those who had no need of its services – mainly Koreans holding foreign passports while the visiting groups could often prove a substantial handful – Gyongmaman was, on more than one occasion, thoroughly ashamed of the behaviour of some large groups of young foreigners who would bring in and consume large quantities of alcohol (banned by law at the track) and proceed to abuse the infinitely patient staff when they asked them to calm down. And it’s not as if they ever bet anything so it’s no surprise that it was eventually shut.

With many automated betting machines around the track offering service in English, it was felt a designated room was no longer required, however, the information desk remained and has now been made much more prominent. The desk provides multi-lingual staff (English, Chinese and Japanese) as well as guides on how to bet in several different languages. Although when Gyongmaman stopped by to clumsily attempt to flirt with say hello to the staff on Sunday afternoon they had run out of English language racecards, these too are generally available.

The desk is located next to the main Korean language information desk by the main entrance of the Luckyville Grandstand.

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Cool Women

Park Jong Hyun Lands First Winner / Kim Hae Sun Wins Again

Today was the coldest day in Seoul for ten years but for Park Jong Hyun, it will be memorable for a different reason. At her fifty-third attempt and as temperatures plummeted to a painful -16C, the young jockey rode her first ever winner.

Head Down: Park Jong Hyun drives Cheonnyeonmama to victory

And how ever long she rides for, her first winner will be one of her easiest. Three year old filly Cheonnyeonmama had won her first race easily at the tail-end of last season and is one of this year’s most exciting prospects. Although Park had ridden her in her race trials, Jung Ki Yong rode her on her racecourse debut.

This time, Park was given the nod to partner the US import and they were sent off long odds-on favourites for the five furlong race 4. Park immediately sent Cheonnyeonmama [Toccet – Lady Lust (Lord Carson)] into the lead and there was never any danger of them relinquishing it as they strode away from the field for a professional seven length win.

Park Jong Hyun (also known as “Park Jong Mi”) gained her license in July last year along with Kim Jung Jun, Jang Chu Yeol and Lee Gang Seo. Until today, Park was the only one of them to have failed to have recorded at least one win. Today, she nailed her first real opportunity to get it. All new graduates of the KRA’s Jockey Academy are of a high standard and Park has every chance of making a successful career.

Another winner: Kim Hae Sun

One year ahead of her is fellow female rider Kim Hae Sun. Today, Kim scored the thirteenth winner of her own career with a typically smart ride of favourite Don’t Worry in race 1. While Lee Shin Young and Lee Ae Li have both made decent careers, Kim looks likely to eclipse both of them and although it is early days, she could very well go on to be the first woman to compete in the highest echelons of racing in Korea.

There were no class 1 races on the peninsula today but a couple of useful three-year olds were in winning form. Colt Gwangya Jeil won race 7 at Seoul to make it two wins from three starts while down at Busan, filly Useung Touch, third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup, got her three-year old campaign off to a winning start in race 2.

The most valuable race of the day was at Seoul as four year old Cheonhajangsa (Tactical Cat) saw off the rest of a fourteen-strong field by half a length to seal victory in a class 2, 1800 metre handicap. In Busan’s feature, five year old mare Real Winner (Red Sky’s) came through late to score her second consecutive class 2 victory. She’ll be mixing it with the elite next time out.

So ends a weekend which wasn’t really fit for racing. The track staff did a great job in ensuring that there wasn’t even the slightest chance of racing having to be called off. The horses, as they always do, took everything in their stride and gave their all. A word too for punters as although the queues at the betting windows were slightly shorter than on a normal Sunday, 35,000 still turned out.

As for the jockeys, who even on the best of days need to have an ambulance following them around such is the routine danger of their profession, all deserve the highest praise. And for Park Jong Hyun, who returned to the winner’s circle as nonchalantly as one would expect of someone having just won on a 1/5 shot, on this coldest of days, the warmest of congratulations.

Seoul Racecourse - Sunday January 16, 2011

Saturday Review: Seoul Ice Park

Holy Dreamer Beats Top Point, Ophelia, Double Light Win

If, as is highly probable, over the coming months I write an article bemoaning proposals to give racing at Seoul a winter break once the new racecourse at Yeongcheon opens in 2015, I would be very grateful if somebody could remind me of today. With temperatures far below zero and a wicked wind whipping down the home straight, today was no day for racing. But race they did and as ever, put on a good show for the 30,000 punters in attendance.

It was beautiful, clear and cold cold cold at Seoul Race Park today

The feature race ended in a commanding win for third-favourite Holy Dreamer. The five-year old made the most of a four kilo weight advantage to run-down and overtake the favourite, the venerable seven year old mare Top Point, in the final furlong. It makes it two in a row for Holy Dreamer and a total of ten wins from eighteen career starts.

Bundled-Up: Apprentice jockey Lee Gang Seo tries to keep warm

Earlier in the card, we saw the third big payout in as many racing days as 150/1 shot Hamseong Jilju led home 20/1 New Edition to land a 3800/1 exacta for some lucky punters. Hamseong Jilju was the second of three winners for jockey Lee Gi Hweoi who, in the last, partnered the highly thought of US import Mass Media’s Tea (Mass Media) to his third win in four starts. It was easy for Mass Media’s Tea, who was eased to a four length victory. Behind him, rank outsiders Cheolgamyeon and Jangson filled out a 5000/1 trio.

As an imported horse, Mass Media’s Tea won’t be eligible for this season’s three year old Classics. However, two horses who will be, put in solid performances. Double Light (Menifee) cruised to victory in race 8 over 1700 metres – only 100 metres short of the Derby distance. A little but behind Double Light in terms of development but still impressive is the grey Ophelia who won race 7. Despite the name, Ophelia (Commendable) is a colt and now has two wins and two seconds from four starts.

Double Light and Cho Kyoung Ho ease to victory

Many congratulations must go to the track-staff who ensured that despite the conditions – where the highest temperature all day was -10C, there was never any question of the meeting being called off. At the same time, massive admiration must go to those jockeys and horses who were out on the track.

We’re back racing at Seoul tomorrow when it’s going to be a little – but not much – warmer. There are 11 races from 11:20 to 18:00 while down at Busan there are 6 races from 12:40 to 16:30.

Weekend Preview

Temperatures remain low and the early forecast for Saturday in Seoul is for a “high” of -11C. It’s not going to be very pleasant. Nevertheless, a full program of racing is scheduled to take place.

It was cold and melancholy last week. After events far away, it is set to be the same this.

Cheonnyeon Daero, 2010 Korean Derby winner is perhaps the biggest name on show. He will carry top weight in Friday’s feature handicap at Busan.

That race is one of only two class 1 races on the peninsula this weekend. The other is at Seoul on Saturday as last year’s Champion filly Dongbang Rose takes on a former holder of that title Top Point in a tough to call handicap. Here’s what’s happening when and where:

Friday January 14

Busan Race Park: 10 races from 12:00 to 18:00
Jeju Race Park: 9 races from 13:30 to 17:30

Saturday January 15

Seoul Race Park: 12 races from 11:20 to 17:40
Jeju Race Park: 9 races from 12:10 to 17:10

Sunday January 16

Seoul Race Park: 11 races from 11:20 to 18:00
Busan Race Park: 6 races from 12:40 to 16:30

* James Perry remains missing in Queensland. Many people will be thinking of him in Korea this weekend.

Former Seoul Steward James Perry Among Missing in Queensland

The Australian Herald Sun newspaper is reporting that James Perry, former Steward at Seoul Racecourse, is among those missing in floods in Queensland.

The newspaper reports that Mr Perry’s wife and young son were winched to safety from the roof of the car they were travelling in when the flash-flood hit. Mr Perry, however, remains missing.

James Perry was on the stewards’ panel at Seoul for two and a half years before movng back to Australia with his family in Autumn 2010 to take up a Chief Steward position with Racing Queensland.

Why Didn’t I Pick That?!

Hunch Bet Could Have Landed Massive Pay-Out / Quinella One Of Biggest Ever In Korea

It all sounds so obvious now: A filly and a mare taking on mostly males, they both had the word “Sky” in their names on a day when the sky was blue and beautiful and a young lady jockey coming in to replace the injured former Champion jockey on one of them. Surely a hunch bettor’s dream. Forget wondering why I didn’t even consider a few hundred Won, in the cold light of day, I have no idea why I didn’t put the mortgage on Burning Sky and Sky Center in Race 9 at Seoul Race Park on Sunday!

Let's Have A Look At What You Could Have Won...

130/1 shot Burning Sky and Hwang Soon Do led 50/1 Sky Center and Kim Hae Sun across the line to land one of the most unlikely results Seoul Race Park has seen in recent times. The quinella paid 1587.7 while the exacta yielded returns of 5409.0. With 943,233,500 Won (about $850,000) in the exacta pool, someone evidently had a good Sunday evening.

The exacta is generally the second most popular bet after the quinella. The Quinella pool had approximately $3 Million in it while there was $750,000 in the Trio (first three in any order), the returns of which were “only” 786.4 after hot favourite Super Yonggwang finished third. $45,000 was put in the win pool and $70,000 in the place for a total handle for the race of around $5 Million. With the KRA handing over 27% of that to the government for them to distribute as they see fit, one wonders just how seriously politicians want to clamp down on racing).

Sky's the limit: Burning Sky and Sky Center complete a 5409/1 exacta

* Those pay-outs were by no means the biggest in Korean history. Here is a full list of longest odds for all six bet types. With the exception of Dream Team, who made up the second part of the exacta, all involved were fillies:

Win: 382.0 – Seoul, 24 November 2001, Race 1: Three-year old filly Swing recorded her first and only victory.

Place: 59.9 – Seoul, 20 November 2004, Race 2: Filly Big Crown finished second. Her win odds were 571.3

Quinella: 7328.8 – Seoul, 5 December 1998, Race 4: Heukkwang (169.5) and Keumbae (198.4) were first and second but not until the horse over the line first Mubidongja, was disqualified. Some punters would have been left feeling sick as Mubidongja himself was a 90/1 chance.

Exacta: 15954.3 – Seoul, 26 October 2003, Race 5: Storm (77.9) beat Dream Team (193.5. Not many saw it coming.

Quinella Place: 1859.8 – Busan, 12 May, 2006, Race 5. An odds-on shot won but nine lengths behind the winner were Nammyeong and Jisang Choego – both sent off well over 100/1.

Trio: 25661.9 – Busan, 7 February 2010, Race 4 – This bet has only been available for a couple of years but it has already produced by far and away the biggest winning odds. Angel Collar, Dapyeon and Grace Thunder combining for the 1,2,3. However, there were no life-changing sums won that day. The pool contained a comfortable – if probably disappointing to the winner – 30 Million Won in it.

(Figures are from the KRA)

Ton-Up For International Uchida

After victory in race 1 at Busan on Sunday, Toshio “Mr Pink” Uchida let it be known that the win was his 100th success outside his native Japan.

It was a typical coaxing ride from Uchida as he brought second-favourite Hatteuneun Gisang from the back of the field to the front in the final furlong to take the lead at exactly the right time.

Friend of the Punters: Toshio Uchida

Punters’ friend Uchida is in his second spell in Korea. In May 2008, he came to Busan for the first time and quickly established himself as the top rider at the track, winning 69 races by the end of the year. It was a record for a while year at the course, let alone just eight months. When he made an appearance at Seoul to ride in the Minister’s Cup, the capital’s punters thronged the paddock and gave him a standing ovation. It would be no exaggeration to say that at that time he was arguably the most popular Japanese man in Korea.

In early 2009 after leaving Korea, Uchida was presented with an award by the Japanese National Association of Racing (one step down from the JRA) in recognition of his performance overseas which also took into account his earlier time in Macau where he won 20 races including a Group 1.

Uchida had always said he would return to Korea. Many hoped that he would go to Seoul and try to be the first foreign rider to crack the capital. Understandably, however, after nearly two years back home in Japan, it was back to Busan he went where the more internationalized racing procedures – and less pervasive power of the local Jockey Union – make for a much more hospitable environment for visiting jockeys. Since returning he has ridden 11 winners and once more is setting the standard that local jockeys can aspire to.

And that is exactly why the KRA brings over foreign jockeys in the first place. Young Korean jockeys are improving and the influence of South African riding instructor Kenny Michel has been very positive. On the track though there needs to be someone to watch and learn from in terms of tactics and especially – as they all still sprint for the first corner – in judging pace. Uchida provides this. Congratulations to him on reaching this milestone.