Month: February 2011

Double Classic Winning Filly Sangseung Ilro Retired

Sangseung Ilro, the filly who won the first two legs of the 2009 Triple Crown has been retired. She ran – and won – her last race in December last year and was retired in January ahead of what would have been her five-year old season. She was officially registered as a broodmare yesterday.

Sangseung Ilro (Pic: KRA)

Although she won three of her first five races, Sangseung Ilro [Concept Win – Ms. Whiskey (Whiskey Wisdom)] was a 17/1 outsider going into the first leg of the Triple Crown, the KRA Cup Mile at her home track of Busan in April 2009.

She wasn’t even the most fancied of four fillies taking part in the race, with Seoul’s Love Cat arriving down South with a big reputation and odds of 8/1 However, under Japanese jockey Eiki Nishimura she scored by a length and a half over stablemate Namdo Jeap and pre-race favourite Yeonseung Daero. It would not be the final time she’d beat these two who would both go on to become stars themselves.

There was intrigue surrounding her trip to Seoul the following month for the Korean Derby. Nishimura, who had been expecting to accompany her to the capital was jocked off in favour of local jockey Jo Sung Gon amid whispers of displeasure in the Jockeys’ Union that a foreigner had won a Classic race. It made no difference to Sangseung Ilro and while local Seoul hope Nice Choice was sent off as favourite, she repeated her feat from the KRA Cup Mile, this time winning by a comfortable five lengths, Namdo Jeap chasing her home once again.

By this time, she was not only talked about as being on course to complete the Triple Crown but, being a filly, possibly securing the Oaks aswell in what wa being termed the “Grand Slam”. However, tt was shortly after the Derby that the first signs of an injury problem – Sangseung Ilro had consistent problems with her shins – started to surface and she didn’t reappear until the Korean Oaks on a hot August evening at Busan. This time, with Eiki back in the saddle, she was sent off odds-on favourite.

All was going well as she entered the home straight clear of the field and seemingly heading to a simple victory. Then, out of nowhere, second favourite Pangpang emerged and as Sangseung Ilro weakened, slowly reeled her in, hitting the front just before the line to score a shock victory and give her jockey, the late Han Sang Kyu, his first and only Classic success.

The “Grand Slam” was off the table and it was a race against time for her to be fit for the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Minister’s Cup, at Seoul in October. That day, after being runner-up in the first two legs, Namdo Jeap finally took the honours with Martin Wepner in the saddle. Sangseung Ilro ran a brave and battling third. She hadn’t quite managed to pull off the Triple Crown, but had made her mark as one of the best fillies in modern Korean racing.

It seemed that an appearance two days after Christmas when she ran fourth in a handicap at Busan would be her farewell but, in a surprising and welcome decision, connections decided that she was fit enough to keep in training as a four year old. Their decision was quickly rewarded when in January she won a valuable handicap. Durung 2010 she would run seven times, winning on four occasions including back-to-back Stakes victories in the KNN Cup and the Gyeongnam Do-Min Ilbo. Her final race, on December 17, ended in a commanding four length victory.

Sangseung Ilro was retired with career figures of 17 races, 9 wins, 3 seconds and 2 thirds for prize money of just over 1 Billion Korean Won (approximately $1 Million). She has been retired by her owner to “Good Day Farm” and is expected to begin her broodmare career this year.

Mister Park Sprints To Another Success

Grand Prix Champion Rules at Busan / Wangson Returns Victorious at Seoul

Big sprints are few and far between in the Korean racing calendar. Once a horse has graduated to the higher echelons of racing here, they do not get many opportunities to run at distances less than nine furlongs. This can mean a premature career end for many talented sprinters who simply can’t stay the distance in longer races. Likewise, with lower class races almost always being sprints, stayers sometimes never have the opportunity to prove their talents.

Mister Park (Pic: KRA)

Things are improving slightly, as today saw the beginning of a Class 1 sprint series at both Seoul and Busan. And it could have no greater start as the current hot property of Korean racing, Mister Park, lined up for the seven furlong feature at Busan. Despite carrying at least three kilos more than any of his rivals, the Grand Prix winner was sent off favourite over a field that included Areumdaun Jilju and sprint specialist Mulbora.

Mister Park (Ecton Park) didn’t disappoint. Hitting the front as the field entered the home straight, the now four year old gelding stretched away to record a dominant four length win. The identity of the horse who got closest to him was a surprise though. Ebony Storm was the longest shot on the board when he won the 2008 Korean Derby in a monsoon downpour at Seoul. Since then he’d only won twice in sixteen starts and was today making an unexpected return after a seven month lay-off. Sent off at 40/1, Ebony Storm showed at the front throughout and held off the challenge of Thunder Clap and Mulbora to take the runner-up spot.

Wangson and Choi Jeung Seob return to scale after winning Seoul's Sunday Feature

Up in the capital, seven furlongs was also the distance of the main event. Coming off the back of two wins, Holy Dreamer was sent off favourite but while he finished quickly, it was too late to catch Wangson. Another one coming back from a lay-off, Wangson won the SBS Cup on a sweltering evening last July.

Conditions were a little bit different on this sub-zero afternoon but he’d built up enough of a lead over the field to be finishing slowly and still have three lengths in hand over Holy Dreamer who had to come right through the field to launch his challenge. Wangson now moves onto the impressive figure of eight wins from seventeen starts.

Earlier, 2010 Oaks winner Euro Fighter slumped to another defeat. This time she was well beaten by the improving Achim Sarang. Achim Sarang is, like Dongbanui Gangja, by the sire Broken Vow. And, like the double Grand Prix champion who is also ridden by Choi Bum Hyun, Achim Sarang has problems running in a straight line. Her and Choi veered drastically towards the Grandstand on the home straight but had enough in the tank to get to the line in front.

Wide Boy: Choi Bum Hyun and Achim Sarang go very wide to win race 8

Choi needs to be careful. He’s a talented jockey but is all too frequently on the receiving end of catcalls from punters who believe he has to go wide to win. He’s not the only jockey that has struggled to control Dongbanui Gangja, but rides like the one on Achim Sarang today don’t help.

In other races Mass Media’s Tea (Mass Media), with three wins from four starts, was sent off as favourite on his first venture around two turns. The highly rated US import disappointed though as never featured, ultimately finishing sixth to outsider Radio Box (Outofthebox).

Ham Wan Sik and Seoul Yeongung win race 4

So, another weekend of racing draws to a close. Mister Park moves on to eleven wins from twelve starts and the question is what next? He’s won at distance and he’s won at sprints. Hopefully there will be another showdown with the likes of Areumdaun Jilju, Dangdae Bulpae, Yeonseung Daero and Cheonnyeon Daero at middle distance. However, one of those horses, Yeonseung Daero, shows the ideal route.

As Grand Prix champion – and therefore de-facto Champion of Korean racing, Mister Park needs to race against the very best that Korea can offer and that means not being restricted to Korean only races. He’s already done it once at the Grand Prix and, if connections agree and take the sporting option, then we could be in for a very interesting and rewarding season.

Full Grandstand and busy trackside - the temperature was still below zero but it didn't feel like it as the biggest crowd of the year so far descended on Seoul Race Park

Sun Blaze Extinguished

While the eastern part of the peninsula was struggling with the heaviest snowfall for a century, the sun blazed down on Seoul today. However, Sun Blaze himself ran a disappointing fifth in his first attempt around two turns at Seoul Race Park this afternoon. The Derby hopeful had been sent off the odds-on favourite for his season debut. extinguished

Bad Day: Park Tae Jong

Sun Blaze had finished second to fellow Menifee colt Sun Hero in the Breeders’ Cup last November. Sun Hero has already put in a less than impressive performance of his own this year and Sun Blaze, despite looking good in the early stages of today’s 1700M race 10, weakened in the home straight to finish fifth, five lengths behind the winner, 8/1 shot Seventy-Niner.

It was a bad day for jockey Park Tae Jong, who followed up defeat on Sun Blaze with another reversal on an odds-on favourite, as Choegoro was taken down in race 11 by 6/1 shot Jet Fire. With the defeat of Sun Blaze, Triple Crown followers are now turning towards Vicar colt Gwangyajeil, who only ran twice as a two-year old but was an easy winner on his 2011 debut as early favourite for the first Classic of the year, the KRA Cup Mile at Busan in early April.

Ham Wan Sik gets to work with Eastern Dancer as they win race 9

Right now, the mention of April sounds wonderful as today It was yet another sub-zero day of racing in the capital. Nevertheless, there was a big Saturday crowd out for the extended thirteen race card seeing in the Year Of The Rabbit. Not that there was much spectacular racing on show but couple of maidens were broken who deserve a mention; Glory Sun was the 35/1 winner of race 7, the four-year old filly winning for the first time in her fifteen starts to date.

Meanwhile, one race earlier, something had to give as twelve horses with statistics of 0 wins for 138 starts came together. Punters had no clue and opted – understandably given the circumstances – for the horse with the least starts. It was, however, Double Maha who took the honours with a narrow victory at odds of 30/1.

Moon Se Young and Jolie's Runner (3) take race 4

Racing returns tomorrow and it’s Sprint Day! Feature races at both Seoul and Busan are at sprint distances, with Grand Prix champion Mister Park trying his hand at 1300M in the southern track’s feature while in the capital, Holy Dreamer is set to be well fancied in a 1400M dash.

Sunday February 13

Seoul Race Park: 11 races from 11:10 to 18:00
Busan Race Park: 6 races from 12:30 to 16:30

There's still a bit of a social stigma attached to being a racegoer in Korea as this snapshot of the front cover of today's Korean Racing Journal shows. On the left is Journal editor Kim Mun Young, on the right is "Mr X" who won January's Punter Of The Month competition

Weekend Preview – February 11, 12, 13

One of the great things about living in Asia is that you get a second chance at New Year’s Resolutions. One of the bad things about living in Asia is you get to fail them a second time too. Therefore it pays to modify them and so Gyongmaman, having kicked off 2011 with the intention of backing more winners and drinking less wine, now heads into the Year Of The Rabbit with the determination to back fewer losers and drink better quality wine.

Mister Park - The Grand Prix Champion makes his season-debut on Sunday

Racing returns from its week off for the Lunar New Year holiday this weekend and it’s down at Busan where the pick of the action is as Sunday’s feature race sees Grand Prix Stakes winner Mister Park make his 2011 debut. And an intriguing season opener it is set to be as he drops back down to seven furlongs to join a full-field of fourteen.

That field contains old-timers Procyon and Areumdaun Jilju as well as sprint specialist fillies Night Moves and Mulbora, the 2008 Derby winner Ebony Storm (making his first appearance since last July) as well as the Peter Wolsley trained duo of Ganghan Yeoja and Suryeohan. Mister Park should make it his twelfth straight victory but he’ll be carrying nine kilos more than he did on that day at Seoul back in December.

Speaking of Seoul, the capital hosts another thirteen race card on Saturday as they continue to make up for the races lost to snow a few weeks ago. It’s largely egg-and-spoon quality on both days although a couple of up and comers are to be looked out for on Sunday. Mass Media’s Tea (Mass Media) will be looking to make it four wins from five when he goes on Sunday while filly Ruby Queen (Badge Of Silver) will be looking to do the same a few races earlier. Meanwhile, the weekend’s most valuable race sees Holy Dreamer look for a third straight class 1 win.

Racing at Seoul during February will start 10 minutes earlier than it did in January with a first post time of 11:10 on both Saturday and Sunday – possibly to avoid having to use the floodlights at all. Unfortunately, while we’ve had a very pleasant fortnight temperature wise, we don’t seem set to have our first non sub-zero weekend of racing. It’s getting cold again with a high of -1 predicted. Here’s when and where you can once again freeze your extremities off get out in the fresh air while losing money having a few wagers:

Friday February 11

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

Saturday February 12

Seoul Race Park: 13 races from 11:10 to 18:00
Jeju Race Park: 9 races from 12:30 to 17:20

Sunday February 13

Seoul Race Park: 11 races from 11:10 to 18:00
Busan Race Park: 6 races from 12:30 to 16:30

History Time: Visiting The Old Seoul Racecourses

A trip to Ttukseom and Sinseol-Dong

The current Seoul Race Park, just outside the city limits in Gwacheon is horse racing’s third home in the capital. With no racing this weekend, it was an opportunity for a long overdue trip across the city to visit the sites of its two predecessors.

Seoul Forest honours its history as the former Ttukseom Racecourse

The KRA moved its operations to the current site in Gwacheon after the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. During the Games, the KRA had organised the equestrian events and afterwards converted the facility for racing, closing its track at Ttukseom which had been the home of Seoul Racecourse for thirty-five years.

The large Ttukseom infield remains intact

Remarkably, given its central location, Ttukseom remains open space. After the racecourse closed, a water purification plant was built but the majority of the site lay untouched with the infield public golf driving range remaining open until well into the 1990s.

In 2003, resisting the temptation to turn the whole site into a private golf-course or to let Samsung, GS build expensive apartments on it (well not on all of it, anyway) the City Authorities launched an ambitious plan to turn the area into an inner-city Forest Park. The old grandstand was finally knocked down and two years later, “Seoul Forest” was officially opened. And a beautiful place it is too.

Some of the old Stable blocks are still in use

The bronze statues of racehorses contesting a tight finish is just one of many reminders of its former use. The oval track outline is still visible, having been turned into a walking path and, even on this chilly late winter day, many walkers, cyclists, and even game-playing families, were out enjoying the tail-end of the Lunar New Year holiday in the cool sunshine.

The old stable buildings were located on the same side of the track as the Grandstand and while there is no trace of the latter, one or two stable blocks remain intact as the home of the Seoul Equestrian Club. Indeed a number of horses were out being schooled in the club’s paddock drawing a small crowd of onlookers.

This chap was huge! But friendly enough as he took a break from schooling

The “forest” extends a long way beyond the confines of the old racecourse to join up with the nearby Hangang Park. It includes various “Eco-Zones” (basically bits of land that have just been left as they are) and a deer habitat, as well as a concert stage and the obligatory bicycle hire, coffee shop and fast food restaurant. While pleasant enough already, when the young trees start to mature in the next few years, Seoul Forest will surely be one of Seoul’s best parks.

The home turn - unlike the current Seoul Racecourse, horses at Ttukseom ran clockwise

While it’s been only twenty-three years since it hosted its last race, Ttukseom truly does belong to a different era of racing. There was no private ownership of horses – all were owned by the KRA – and therefore no prize money. The Korean Stud Book was only just getting started and a large portion of the horses running would not have been thoroughbreds. The only Stakes race to have begun at Ttukseom and still be run today is the Grand Prix, however, the old course is honoured in a race of its own, “The Ttukseom Cup”, contested at Gwacheon each April. Park Tae Jong, Shin Hyung Chul and Kim Gui Bae are the only jockeys still riding who began their careers at Ttukseom.

From the Archive: An overhead view of Ttukseom in its racing days (photo of a photo in the gallery at Seoul Race Park)

A fifteen minute subway ride from Ttukseom brings you to the district of Sinseol-dong and a step even further back in time in Korean racing terms. Sinseol-dong, adjacent to the historic “Dongdaemun” or “East Gate” and it’s sprawling market, was home to Seoul Racecourse from 1928 until the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 when the track was abandoned (see this post from last year about the final day of racing at Sinseol-dong).

One of a number of bustling street markets on the site of the old Sinseol-dong Racecourse

Today, nothing remains of the track, which was situated from the wall of Dongmyo Shrine in the west, stretching down to the Chongyecheon stream to the South, Sinseol-dong Station to the North and the present day Seoul Folk Flea Market in the east.

The KRA does, however, have a presence on the site in the shape of a gleaming new eight storey Off-Track Betting Plaza. The plaza is located a few metres to the south of where the winning post would have stood.

Just south of where the Sinseol-dong winning post would have stood, the KRA has a massive, brand new off-track betting plaza

The rest of Sinseol-Dong – the old track infield – is a maze of old buildings and alleyways that were constructed in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and which have yet to undergo the “Samsung-ification” of much of the rest of tha capital. With the Dongmyo Market in the East and the “Folk Flea Market” in the west, it is a fascinating area and one in which you can walk around for hours without running out of things to see. However, the giant – and very expensive – Lotte Castle Apartment buildings just to the South sadly look sure to encroach on the area very soon

A scale-model of Sinseol-dong Racecourse in the present day Seoul Race Park gallery

In the early part of the twentieth century, there were a number of racecourses across the peninsula operated by local racing clubs, including a number in what is now North Korea. It is Sinseol-Dong and Ttukseom, however, as the forerunners of the present day Seoul Race Park, that played the biggest role in the development of horse racing here. For different reasons, the sites of both are well worth visiting; Ttukseom to spend a couple of hours away from city life in a tranquil setting and Sinseol-dong to see a little bit of the vibrancy of old-Seoul before its gone for good. The current track at Gwacheon is even more worth a visit and live racing resumes next Saturday.

Seoul Forest: Ttukseom Subway Station (Subway Line 2), take exit 8 – follow the signs to the Park entrance.

Sinseol-Dong: Sinseol-Dong Subway Station (Subway Lines 1 & 2), exit 10. The site of the winning post is in the vicinity of the KRA Plaza. Take exit 10 from the station, turn left and walk for 1 minute.

View down the old home straight towards the winning post at Ttukseom

Still Standing: The Present day Seoul Racecourse at Gwacheon

Seoul Folk Flea Market - you can buy anything either in the main bulilding or the surrounding streets. Located just east of the old winning line at Sinseol-dong

Horse Of The Year – And Other Awards

With no racing this weekend and a month gone of the new season, it’s time to take a belated look back at 2010. Last week, the Korean Racing Journal, Korea’s most authoritative racing newspaper (in Gyongmaman’s opinion anyway as he likes to bet their “dark horse” predictions) published their annual award winners. There were numerous categories up for grabs along with some special awards too. One thing to note is that no horse could win more than one category.

Horse Of The Year: Tough Win

Horse Of The Year: Tough Win
He was beaten in the season-ending Grand Prix but before that won six straight races in 2010 including the Busan Metropolitan and the KRA Cup Classic. While Mister Park remained unbeaten, the quality of opposition Tough Win defeated up until the Grand Prix was superior. Doubts about his staying ability appear to have been confirmed by his defeat in his 2011 debut but in 2010, Tough Win was a worthy Horse Of The Year.

Mister Park

Male Horse Of The Year: Mister Park
It was a toss-up between him and Tough Win as to who would take the big prize but Mister Park is both the present and the future of Korean racing. His win in the Grand Prix in December capped an unbeaten nine races in 2010. He wasn’t eligible for the Triple Crown by virtue of having been sired overseas, however, the sire in question, Ecton Park, is now in Korea and his progeny are eagerly awaited.

Champion Filly & Mare: Sangseung Ilro
A remarkable filly, the winner of two legs of the Triple Crown in 2009, Sangseung Ilro takes this crown for the second year running. She has fragile legs and has to be campaigned very sensibly but was kept in training instead of being rushed off to the breeding shed. She ran seven times in 2010, capturing two Stakes victories along the way and she will go down as one of the best fillies or mares in Korean racing history.

Dangdae Bulpae

Champion Three Year Old (open): Dangdae Bulpae
He struggled in the KRA Cup Mile and finished third in the Derby but came good in the autumn as he landed the Minister’s Cup – the final leg of the Triple Crown – at Seoul in October, before returning to the capital a month later to defeat older horses in the President’s Cup. While Seoul’s two most talented three-year olds of 2010, Money Car and Northern Ace, found their careers tragically curtailed, Dangdae Bulpae remains a worthy winner of this award.

Champion Three Year Old (Korean): Cheonnyeon Daero
A bit of a stretch to split to award for champion three-year old between two Korean breds but Cheonnyeon Daero won the korean Derby and has gone on to show that was no fluke by landing the Busan Owner’s Cup at the end of the year.

Cheonnyeon Daero Winning the Derby (Ross Holburt)

Champion Trainer: Shin Woo Chul
With Tough Win and Dongbang Rose leading the way, the vetearn Soul handler scored 64 wins in 2010

Champion Jockey: Cho Kyoung Ho
While the talent may be at Busan, the competition is unquestionably at Seoul. A late season suspension to Moon Se Young helped but Cho Kyoung Ho finally claimed his first jockeys; championship with 120 winner.

Champion Owner: Tamna Feed Co.
A corporate owner wins this for the first time. Tough Win is the best known of a slew of winners for the Jeju based feed company. While feed companies have an obvious interest in sponsoring race horses, in recent years companies from other industries have become involved too, with IT, Construction and Cosmetic companies joining Shinhan Bank in owning racehorses. How the feed companies deal with their retired horses will be watched very very closely.

Champion Breeder: Seongsu Farm
The farm, based in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province, didn’t produce any big race winners this year but its mares are responsible for the likes of Gi Ra Seong, Good Day, Triple Sinhwa, Forest Wind and Breeders’ Cup first and second Sun Hero and Sun Blaze.

Special Awards: In addition to the regular prizes, some special awards were also handed out.

Kim Gui Bae

Lifetime Achievement: Kim Gui Bae
The longest-serving jockey in the weighing room, Kim Gui Bae had something of a renaissance in the latter part of 2010. While in the rest of the world it might be common for a jockey to have a career of thirty plus years, in Korea it is unheard of. Kim Gui Bae debuted in 1979 and is one of only three current riders (along with Park Tae Jong and Shin Hyung Chul) to have ridden at the old Ttukseom Race Park.

Special Award: Kim Seung Pyeong
A KRA employee at Busan, Kim Seung Pyeong was recognised for his work on IT systems.

Special Award: Sorabol College
This Higher Education institute located in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province was recognised for its horse welfare course which specialises in training people to look after racehorses. A significant number of grooms at the Seoul and Busan Race Courses have been through this program

Special Award: Korea Horse Affairs High School
Staying with the education theme, this specialist high school was set up in North Jeolla Province in 2003 and is playing a key role in the development of young jockeys. Kim Cheol Ho, Park Byeong Yun, Jo In Kwen, Lee Gi Woong and Jang Chu Yeol are graduates who are making their way in the jockey ranks at Seoul Race Park.