2011 – The Foreigners in Korea

Jockeys, Trainers & Stewards Flying Various Flags

The KRA is still, officially at least, plugging away with its “Internationalization” project. And while part of that project involves sending Korean riders and trainers overseas, another involves bringing foreign racing professionals to Korea.

International staff work in the Korean breeding program on the stud farms in Jeju and at Jangsu in Jeolla Province. There is a foreign handicapper at Busan and there are Americans on the Stewards’ panels at both thoroughbred tracks; sought after positions those were too given the ongoing difficultes in the thoroughbred racing industry worldwide.

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

It’s on the track though where the most visible foreign representation is. Two foreign trainers were joined throughout the year by a total of nine foreign jockeys, eight of them Japanese.

2011 started with “Mr. Pink” Toshio Uchida ruling the roost in the Busan weighing room. By the time his license expired in August – and after pleading from the local Jockey Union, it wasn’t renewed, he had racked up 58 winners including the KRA Cup Mile. Such was his popularity among punters we called him the most popular Japanese man in Korea.

Akane Yamamoto

Uchida was joined at Busan in June by Akane Yamamoto. The 28-year-old became the first woman to ride at the track since Hitomi Miyashita left last year. Akane qucikly started winning and found herself in the unlikely position of becoming the second foreign rider (after South African Martin Wepner) to be stable jockey to Busan’s top trainer Kim Young Kwan.

Trainer Kim hasn’t always had the best of reputations and he’s not always been a fan of foreign jockeys but he likes winning and he likes Akane. Through this partnership, Akane found herself making Korean racing history as she rode Mister Park to his record-breaking 17th consecutive win before just missing out in the biggest race of all as the pair finished second to Tough Win in the Grand Prix Stakes.

Only Non-Japanese: Nathan Stanley (KRA)

A foreign rider will get a chance at Busan as, Jo Sung Gon and a couple of noteworthy exceptions aside, the competition – and the Union – is not very strong. It’s a different matter at Seoul. Mai Beppu has been the most successful of the four Japanese jockeys to ride in the capital this year.

The only non-Japanese foreign rider this year was Australian Nathan Stanley. Unlike some who have gone before, Stanley brought the right kind of attitude – tough and self-confident but not egotistical – to succeed in Korea. And with Aussie trainer Peter Wolsley crying out for a rider to convert his near-misses into winners, the timing was perfect. Stanley won the Owners’ Cup (after a disqualification) on his first mount in Korea and went on to score 17 winners with a quinella percentage of 39%. However, a three-month ban incurred for careless riding brought a premature end to his 2011.

Foreign Jockeys in 2011: Name/Time in Korea / Winners (Track)

1. Toshio Uchida (Jan-Aug) 58 (Busan)
2. Akane Yamamoto (Jun-Dec) 28 (Busan)
3. Nathan Stanley (Sep-Dec) 17 (Busan)
4. Mai Beppu (Mar-Dec) 13 (Seoul)
5. Yoshi Aoki (Jan-Apr) 7 (Busan)
6. Eiki Nishimura (Oct-Dec) 7 (Busan)
7. Makoto Noda (Jun-Dec) 6 (Seoul)
8. Hiro Hamada (Jan-Jun) 2 (Seoul)
9. Toshihiko Inoue (Dec) 1 (Seoul)

Stanley’s win on Khaosan in the Owners’ Cup was a standout moment in a standout year for trainer Peter Wolsley. Earlier in the year, he scored his 100th winner and ends his fourth year in Korea in fourth place in the Busan Trainer Championship.

It took Wolsley two years to really become established. American Joe Murphy is at the 18 month mark and continues to work hard without the reward he perhaps deserves, with seven winners in 2011. His string is gradually getting bigger but still lacks quality. Maybe 2012 will be the year he makes his breakthrough.

In the Stewards’ room, Brett Wright headed home to Racing Victoria while James Smith and Billy Williams joined. Of course the year started with the tragic news from Australia that James Perry, who made many friends in Seoul, lost his life in the Queensland floods. He remains fondly remembered in Korea.

As we head into 2012, another Australian trainer is reportedly considering joining Busan in March while the KRA continues to advertise for qualified foreign jockeys – any takers should click here. Just remember to choose Busan.

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