Day: July 25, 2011

New Racing Movie Based on Champion Mare Luna As KRA Promotes Ownership

“Champ” Set For Thanksgiving Release / Luna Seen As Ideal Racing Story As KRA Seeks To Broaden Racehorse Ownership

For the second year running a Korean movie based around horse-racing is set to be released in time for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). “Champ” will hit cinemas on September 8.

Publicity poster for the movie "Champ"

It’s the third Korean racing movie of the past few years following 2006’s excellent “Gakseoltang” (Lump Sugar) and 2010’s visually impressive, but largely disappointing, “Grand Prix”. That it’s timed to cash-in on the Chuseok market tends to suggest it may fall into the latter category, however Gakseoltang’s director Lee Hwan Gyeong being in control gives some hope.

According to Hancinema.net, the plot involves a jockey losing his wife in a car accident that partially blinds him. He goes on to lose all his money “cheating” on horses before fleeing to Jeju Island (as everyone always does in Korean racing movies). There he meets a broken down horse who he starts to train. The rest, no doubt, writes itself.

The movie will star actor Cha Tae Hyeon as the jockey and child-star Kim Soo Jeong as his daughter. Here’s the first preview trailer:

Champ is said to be inspired by real-life Korean racehorse Luna (although the real-life story is a little different), who is being used by the KRA to promote racehorse ownership in Korea. As a two-year old going through the sales ring, such were rumours about her unsoundness that Luna [Concept Win – Wu Su Hae (Exactly Sharp)] was very nearly not sold at all. In the end she went for the lowest price in the entire sale (US$9,000).

The rumours weren’t without foundation, but with careful conditioning and sensible campaigning, she went on to become one of Busan’s best known horses. The mare, known affectionately/unkindly (delete as applicable) as “Limping Luna” won the KRA Cup Mile (before it became part of the three-year old Triple Crown) in 2007 and the Busan Owners’ Cup in 2008 as she racked up thirteen wins from thirty-three starts in five years of racing and nearly $800,000 in prize money. On her retirement in 2009, she became one of very few Korean racehorses to be honoured with a ceremony marking the occasion as she was brought back to the track to limp canter down the home straight one final time.

Luna and her owner at the mare's retirement ceremony at Busan Racecourse in 2009 Pic: KRA

Currently there are 1000 registered owners in Korea, 50 of whom are new to the sport this year. The KRA is looking to promote direct ownership by individuals, company ownership and also, for the first time in Korea, syndicate ownership. Aware of the negative image that horse racing has in Korea due to the gambling element, it is seeking to publicise the fact that many prominent figures around the world – Queen Elizabeth II, Steven Spielberg, Sir Alex Ferguson, Michael Owen, and the late George Steinbrenner (among others – these are those quoted in the various press releases) are or were racehorse owners.

Whether it will be successful or not will be seen in due course but it is undoubtedly true that the social stigma attached to horse racing is one that needs to be overcome. “Owning racehorses” is a CV entry that a Korean executive is likely to not want lest it harm his promotion opportunities. As a result, the vast majority of racehorse owners in Korea are either retired or are small business owners. How they solve the second issue – that ownership is expensive and, even though prize money at all levels of racing in Korea is excellent, still likely to be a loss-maker, is another.