Though a non-smoker himself – drinking and gambling filling up the vice quotient quite nicely – Gyongmaman is generally of the opinion that when a gent has had a punt, he should be allowed a smoke while he waits for its outcome. A kind of courtesy to the condemned, as it were. However, get 50,000 smokers in one place and even outside, that place becomes pretty unpleasant.
Of course, the inside of the buildings at Seoul Race Park have always been no-smoking. However, set foot outside and its a different story; thick smoke in the air and a fine layer of ash over every surface doesn’t make for the most attractive of environments. Actually it’s not a fine layer – on the second floor balcony of the grandstand, the ash has to be swept away by a team of cleaners between each race. It’s not nice. As the KRA seeks to broaden racing’s appeal, the smoking and the resulting spitting is seen as something that deters first time visitors from coming back. Now, it’s doing something about it.
It started during the swine flu panic in 2009 when various fairs and festivals up and down the country were being cancelled with the threat of disease transmission being cited. Of course, the cynic may suggest that “swine flu” was a convenient excuse for organisers to not go ahead with loss-making events, but the fact remained that racing – the largest weekly gathering of people in Korea – was under threat. At the time, the KRA launched an “anti-spitting” policy. Simultaneously, they began plans to gradually ween punters off cigarettes.
The infield Family Park was the first to go smoke free, followed last year by the covered walkway leading from the subway station to the track entrance. Earlier this month, staff started instructing punters sitting by the paddock to stub out their cigarettes and last week signs went up confirming that smoking by the paddock was no longer permitted. Signs have also gone up announcing that from May, the second and third floor balconies overlooking the track, as well as down by the rail, will also become smoke-free.
Smoking zones remain both inside and outside; on every floor of both grandstands there are smoking rooms and these will stay, however, the idea is to allow people to watch the horses without having to worry about smoke, ash and spittle. Hopefully they’ll come back and, just as importantly, when asked what they thought about their visit to the track, the first thing they mention won’t be about how shocked they were at all the smoke.
* Today’s feature race at Seoul was won by filly Cheonun. The four-year old hit the line at just the right time to snatch victory away from pre-race favourite Hongji by a nose.
Tomorrow sees Tough Win (Yonaguska) headlining at Seoul. The four-year old US import with ten wins from twelve starts to his name will carry 62 kilos in the feature handicap. Meanwhile down at Busan, the unbeaten filly Bulkkot Gisang (Langfuhr) makes her class 1 debut. The three-year old will be looking for her eighth consecutive win.
Sunday April 24
Seoul Race Park: 11 races from 11:10 to 18:00
Busan Race Park: 6 races from 12:30 to 17:00