Day: August 28, 2011

Toshio Uchida -The Most Popular Japanese Man In Korea – Bows Out

“Mr Pink” Lands A Double On Last Day In Korea

Toshio Uchida’s second stint in Korea ended in typical fashion as the Japanese jockey landed a pair of victories at Busan Race Park this afternoon. Uchida’s short-term Korean license expires on August 31 and the Korea Racing Authority (KRA) have decided not to renew it.

Going Home: Toshio Uchida(Pic: KRA)

Uchida, who will be 50 in October, is currently top of the 2011 Jockey Championship at Busan and since returning to Korea last autumn has ridden 69 winners from 384 mounts. It could be argued that he is the most popular Japanese man in Korea.

Taking together his two spells, Uchida rode 138 winners from 695 rides – a winning rate of 19.9%. His quinella strike rate was 32.8% and his place rate 46.3%. His biggest win came in this year’s KRA Cup Mile, the first leg of the Korean Triple Crown on Soseuldaemun (Meisei Opera).

So why not renew his license? In a statement, the KRA noted that racing fans here would be very disappointed with the decision. That is an understatement. “Mr. Pink” is so popular that when he made a rare appearance at Seoul, punters chanted his name and applauded him around the paddock – something absolutely unheard of in Korean racing.

Going on to explain, the KRA restated that the goal of their foreign jockey program was to expose local riders to a variety of different styles in the hope that it would be beneficial to them. With Uchida having been in Korea for a total of nearly two years and another Japanese rider Akane Yamamoto having just starting at the track, it was felt that the time was right to move in a different direction – indeed, Uchida’s replacement will be Australian Nathan Stanley.

Soseuldaemun and Toshio Uchida win the KRA Cup Mile (Picture: KRA)

However, this isn’t an explanation that all punters will buy. The program started around about the same time that the Busan track opened. Three Australians were brought over – Mark Newnham, Nathan Day and Garry Baker. Newnham and Day left quickly but Baker went on to become the top jockey at the track in its early days and, like Uchida, won the KRA Cup Mile. He stayed two years but on his departure said the words that have come to define the experience of foreign jockeys in Korea: “ did get the feeling they didn’t particulary want you there.”

So it is today. It’s understandable, as their job is to protect themselves, but the local Jockey Union is extremely hostile to the idea of foreign riders coming across and “taking their money.” And Uchida certainly took a lot of it! However, this creates conditions that are very difficult for all but the thickest skinned rider to thrive in. Japanese jockeys have had the most success – the only non-Japanese to make a serious go of it have been Baker and South Africa’s Martin Wepner (who had his own license not renewed at the very last-minute) – perhaps due to the cultural aspects of a jockey’s job being similar. Given these barriers, it’s difficult to imagine what the KRA expects of a foreign jockey – be inspiring, but don’t win?

Uchida’s two wins today were both in his usual fashion. First up was Sarang Dream [Purge-Hurricane Warning] in race 3. What Uchida has which is rare among Korean jockeys is the ability to judge the pace of a race and this was apparent here as he manoeuvered Sarang Dream into position and then asked the colt for an effort at exactly the right time, not even needing to use his whip. Next was New Zealand bred Dangdae Champ [Falkirk-Soaring] who Uchida saw to a two-length victory in race 4.

In his final race in Korea, there was every chance of Uchida completing a hat-trick. However, after being sent off second-favourite in the second of co-feature races, Trademark [War Zone-Devil’s Dervish] had to be pulled up after suffering an injury. That race was won by Winning Perfect [Doyen-Miss Beauty] ridden by Jo Sung Gon. Jo is one of the nation’s most promising jockeys and one of those who stood to gain the most from competing with Uchida.

The reality is that only tuition from the likes of Kenny Michel, the excellent South African Jockey trainer who has been working in Korea for the past three years and is turning out some very impressive apprentices, can improve the technical ability of Korean riders. Uchida’s role was to take them out of their comfort zone. Next Friday, Jo Sung Gon is going to be very much back in his comfort zone.

* In other races at Busan, there was an eighth win in eight starts for three-year old US import Lion Santa [Lion Hearted-Santa Fe Strip]. Jockey Kim DOng Young left it until the very last moment but Lion Santa was far too good for a field that included 2008 Korean Derby winner Ebony Storm.

Up at Seoul, former Champion Filly and Mare Dongbang Rose [Volponi-Night Mary] returned to form in impressive style, taking the feature handicap.