Day: May 9, 2011

Aussie Trainer Peter Wolsley Saddles 100th Korean Winner

While jockey Jo In Kwen reached 100 winners in the saddle yesterday, at Busan last Friday it was one of those doing the saddling who reached the same milestone.

Peter Wolsley (Pic: Herald Media)

Peter Wolsley became Korea’s first ever foreign trainer when he was granted a license at the end of 2007. On Friday afternoon, Wolsley’s three-year old colt King Austin grabbed a two-length win in race 7 to give the Australian his 100th Korean victory. He didn’t have to wait very long for his 101st either as his Saeroun Taeyang scored in the feature event of the afternoon two races later.

Fittingly, King Austin (Yehudi) is owned by Isidore Farm, the Jeju Island institution that has been, along with fellow foreign influenced Jeju outfit Pegasus, Wolsley’s biggest supporter. The 48-year-old has 33 horses under his care, including seven who compete at class 1, the elite level of Korean racing. It hasn’t always been this way.

On arrival in Korea from his previous posting in Dubai, Wolsley was assigned the “breakdown barn” at Busan Race Park. In common with the majority of foreign jockeys who come to ride here, he got the horses no-one else wanted. It didn’t make for a very rewarding start to his time here but the trainer stuck at it and gradually started grinding out some modest successes. Others began to take note and eventually he started to receive some better horses.

The Numbers Don't Lie: Wolsley is arguably the track's top trainer right now

Perhaps the turning point came in late 2008. Wolsley had been pushing for pacifiers (mesh eye-protectors used to prevent sand getting in the eyes of the horse) to be allowed to be fitted during races – a cause also taken up by his countryman, steward, Brett Wright – and in October of that year, they were finally approved by the KRA. The next month, his mare Gyeongcheonsa became the first racehorse in Korea to run with them and she flew home at odds of 19/1. One race later, his colt Khaosan, also decked out in pacifiers and starting at similarly attractive odds, came from last to second in the home straight.

How would the local trainers respond? To their credit, instead of trying to get them banned again, the majority realised that Wolsley knew what he was talking about and started using them with horses who hated the vicious kickback that is inevitable on the sand track. Now pacifiers, which are compulsory in some jurisdictions which race on sand, are commonplace – both Mister Park, Korea’s current best horse, and Tough Win, the second best, always wear them in their races. More and better horses started to arrive in Wolsley’s barn and winners swiftly followed.

Wolsley's Protege Park Geum Man in the Derby Winner's Circle

Wolsley has also acted as mentor, specifically to jockey Park Geum Man who was his stable jockey for two years. In that time, Park developed into one of Busan’s – and Korea’s – most tactically aware and skilful jockeys. Wolsley told the Korea Herald last year that Park’s victory on Cheonnyeon Daero in the Korean Derby in 2010 – albeit for a different trainer – is his proudest moment in Korea so far.

Wolsley and Park have now gone their separate ways and Kim Nam Sung is the latest jockey to benefit from Wolsley’s guidance.

With 100 wins in the bank there remains one more challenge for Peter Wolsley. He still needs to become the first foreign trainer to saddle a Stakes winner. He has no horse on the Triple Crown trail this year but, now he’s established as one of the track’s top trainers, it can only be a matter of time.

Peter Wolsley is an example of the KRA’s internationalization plan working. Many trainers around the world will have won more races and far more money. But few can genuinely claim to have come to a place and actually made racing better. That is what he has done.

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A Tale Of Two Sisters

Plum Pretty is America’s Champion Three-Year old filly, but her older half-sister helps beginners learn how to ride at an Equestrian Club in Korea.

Korean racing fans were a little bemused to watch Plum Pretty bravely hang on in the final furlong at Churchill Downs on Friday to win the Kentucky Oaks. For Plum Pretty (Medaglia D’Oro) is the fourth foal out of a dam called Liszy. And in 2006, Liszy (A.P. Indy) gave birth to a filly by More Than Ready (Southern Halo).

In December the following year, that filly would go through the Fasig-Tipton Midatlantic December Mixed sale and, at a knock-down price, be purchased by a Korean buyer. A month later, in January 2008, she arrived for her new life in Korea.

The filly was bought by Kumak Farm and was named Taeyangui Mabeopsa – or “Magic of the Sun.” She was sent to Seoul Race Park and the barn of trainer Kim Myung Guk. Although not especially impressive in trials, by September of that year she was considered ready to race and made her debut in race 2 on the 28th of that month.

Ridden by Choi Bum Hyun, she was sent off at 35/1 and ran to expectations finishing seventh of twelve over five furlongs. That would set the standard for her next couple of outings and on her fourth start she finished so far behind the winner, she was banned from racing from two months for being uncompetitive.

Taeyangui Mabeopsa given the KRA Studbook treatment (Pic: KRA)

On her return in March 2009, things improved. Now in the ownership of Kim Gwang Young and under American jockey Santos Chavez in another five furlong race, she finished fourth, gaining her first money finish. Two races later and stepping up to six furlongs, she would finish third. This was a position she would go on to achieve three more times for a third owner, Koo Bon Soon, over the next couple of years, but Taeyangui Mabeopsa never won a race and never made it out of class 4 racing – the lowest for imported horses.

She ran at Seoul for the final time in January of this year, finishing tenth of twelve in her thirty-second outing. Owner Koo decided that she was unlikely to add to the 21 Million Korean won (about US$20K) she had won and retired her from racing. She was transferred to the Namyang Riding Club, an equestrian club in Gyeonggi Province, 75 miles south-west of Seoul, an organisation that retrains former racehorses as riding horses.

Once re-trained, the horses are used for various leisure activities while the club is also well-known for appearing in many Korean movies and TV Dramas.

Taeyangui Mabeopsa is in good company. Among many recently retired from the track, Namyang recently took possession of Seonbongbulpae, Korea’s champion juvenile of 2009 who also ran his last race earlier this year. As a Korean born colt, Seonbongbulpae had no stud value. Likewise, Taeyangui Mabeopsa hadn’t been deemed worthy of broodmare duties.

After what happened in Louisville last Friday evening, she may well find herself called back to the farm.

H/T to Fallight for this story.