Day: March 29, 2011

A Tale Of Two Classic Cities

Will Busan Continue Its Triple Crown Domination?

When the final line-up for Sunday’s KRA Cup Mile is declared on Wednesday afternoon, there is likely to be a roughly equal number of horses from both Seoul and Busan taking part. While Seoul has the better known names, if performances in recent years are anything to go by, the ultimate winner is likely to hail from the Southern city.

Busan's Cheonnyeon Daero wins the 2010 Derby (Pic: Ross Holburt)

While Seoul Race Park is the undoubted headquarters of Korean horse racing, since Busan horses started competing in the three-year old Classic races in 2008, the capital’s horsemen have found themselves consistently losing out to those of the newer track down South. Of the nine colt Classics run in the past three years, Busan horses have won eight of them. They’ve also won two out of the past three runnings of the Korean Oaks.

So is it just chance or is Busan really doing something better than Seoul? Those with experience of both praise the set-up at Busan as being more conducive to the development of racing. In the capital – as has been mentioned ad-nauseum on this blog before – vested interests; the various unions and horsemen’s associations, really do run the show. There is little incentive to change the status-quo as it’s served them very well. Until that is, their biggest prizes of the year started disappearing down the Gyeongbu Expressway.

Busan's Double Classic winning filly Sangseung Ilro (Pic: KRA)

The unions have had less power at Busan and so – the theory goes – there has been more focus on delivering quality on the track. This is most visible in the success that foreign jockeys have had at Busan compared to Seoul. In Busan, talented jockeys will get rides, regardless of where they are from. Frankie Dettori would struggle to get a ride at Seoul.

It is absolutely proper that there are limits on the numbers of foreign jockeys granted licenses but the presence of talented ones can only be beneficial to local riders. Toshio Uchida may be “taking their money” now, but the likes of Jo Sung Gon and Park Geum Man are surely benefiting from riding alongside him; indeed both are now Classic winning jockeys.

It’s not only jockeys but also trainers. Busan has two foreign trainers – and more reportedly on the way – with Peter Wolsley now helming one of the track’s most successful barns. He’s not won a classic but again, could it be that the competition is raising the all around standard?

On a more practical level, another theory is simply that regularly training on the challenging Busan track produces better horses. Busan has a punishing uphill back-straight, a long sweeping level turn, and then a two and a half furlong stretch. Seoul meanwhile has a reasonably flat back-straight and a steep descent around the turn into the two-furlong home-straight. It’s plausible and is frequently mentioned in the Korean racing media. Or it could just play into the stereotype that eveyone from the capital – both man and beast – is well…a bit soft.

Busan's Dangdae Bulpae and Jo Sung Gon win the Minister's Cup

There is an anomaly though. Imported horses who are based at Seoul have, in the few races in which they have taken on their Busan counterparts, generally come out on top. Bulpae Gisang and Tough Win have won the last two editions of the Busan Metropolitan while Dongbanui Gangja claimed the first Grand Prix to which Busan horses were also invited. Of course, Busan’s Mister Park put an end to that by winning the 2010 Grand Prix but even so, it is worth asking whether Busan owners are just choosing better lots at the yearling and two-year old sales.

They’re certainly spending more money. At the recent March two-year old sales on Jeju Island, Busan buyers were responsible for the three most expensive lots: a filly by Menifee and colts by Forest Camp and El Corredor. If all goes to plan, they’ll be making their track debuts this coming autumn. By which time this could of course, all be forgotten about. Horses from the capital filled the top to places in the Breeders’ Cup – the nation’s top two-year old race, last November. Maybe this will be the year that Seoul strikes back.

Here is a list of the classic winners since Seoul and Busan started competing in 2008:

2010
KRA Cup Mile: Money Car (Newsprint) – Seoul
Korean Derby: Cheonnyeon Daero (Creek Cat) – Busan
Korean Oaks: Euro Fighter (Archer City Slew) – Seoul
Minister’s Cup: Dangdae Bulpae (Biwa Shinseiki) – Busan

2009
KRA Cup Mile: Sanseung Ilro (Concept Win) – Busan
Korean Derby: Sangseung Ilro (Concept Win) – Busan
Korean Oaks: Pangpang (Revere) – Busan
Minister’s Cup: Namdo Jeap (Ft. Stockton) – Busan

2008
KRA Cup Mile: Rainmaker (Revere) – Busan
Korean Derby: Ebony Storm (Buster’s Daydream) – Busan
Korean Oaks: Jeolho Chance (Didyme) – Busan
Minister’s Cup: Gaeseon Janggun (Duality) – Busan