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 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.
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 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.