Korea’s oldest professional Sportsman – except for a few veteran golfers – was back in the Winner’s Circle at Seoul Race Park today. However, in recent years, winning has been an all too rare experience for veteran jockey Kim Gui Bae.
Today, partnering 23/1 outsider Haetal (Volponi) in race 8, Kim produced his horse for a late run to sweep past odds-on favourite Something Good (Forest Camp) to score victory by just over a length.
It was the 49 year old’s first win of 2012. He scored seven wins in 2011 and the same number the year before. If past history is anything to go by, he’s unlikely to exceed that figure this year; those two years were his most successful out of the past twenty.
When Kim Gui Bae turned professional as a teenager in April 1979, President Park Chung Hee was in the final year of his authoritarian regime (Park would be assassinated in October that year) and horse racing in Korea was almost a different sport to what it is today. There was no Stud Book, no private ownership of horses and the pari-mutuel odds were still calculated manually for each race.
Kim Gui Bae started his career well and, throughout the 1980’s, was one of the top jockeys at the old Seoul Racecourse at Ttukseom. His biggest win came in 1986 on Po Gyeong Seon [Danseur Etoile-Leonotis (Lionhearted)] as the great New Zealand bred gelding captured his second consecutive Grand Prix Stakes. Kim rode him to six of his twenty career victories.
On that day, the jockey can’t have imagined that twenty-five years later, he would not only still be riding, but also still searching for a second Stakes win. Kim himself points to Seoul Racecourse moving from Ttukseom to Gwacheon in 1989 as being the moment his career changed for the worse. Indeed, he’s only ridden just over fifty winners at the new track over the past 23 years.
In an interview for the KRA in 2010, Kim said he never made the adjustment from racing clockwise at Ttukseom to anti-clockwise at Gwacheon. It seems a rather incredible, not to mention disappointing, excuse but the figures certainly agree with him.
Over the years his opportunities have slowly died up as new jockeys come through. When asked why he kept going instead of making more of an effort to pass the trainers’ exam and move into the barn (something which is also likely to be too late now), he simply replied that it is because he “enjoys riding.”
Despite this, Kim Gui Bae is not a jockey that punters avoid (and there are some). He can generally be relied upon to get a horse its best possible finish and its odds don’t drift because he’s riding it. Over his career, his win rate is 8.4% and longevity has made him popular; today he was welcomed back to the winner’s circle by a small group of old-time punters.
Of the current jockeys, only Park Tae Jong, Shin Hyoung Chul and Jung Pyeong Soo also rode at Ttukseom and Kim has at least eight years on all of them. While the newest generation of jockeys are undoubtedly better, there will be those who will be sad when the familiar racing colours of these four (Korean jockeys race in their own colours) disappear from the Korean track forever.
* Today’s feature race was won by second favourite Real Victor (Biwa Shinseiki-Hyunmo), scoring his second class 1 victory of the year.
* Yesterday at Busan, Lion Santa (Lion Heart-Santa Fe Strip) got back to winning ways after losing his unbeaten record at the end of last year. The four-year old US import took a two length win in the feature race and now has ten wins from eleven starts.
Sunday February 12
Seoul Race Park: 11 races from 11:00 to 17:40
Busan Race Park: 8 races from 11:50 to 16:40