Over the weekend, Sho Ueno became the latest Japanese jockey to debut at Seoul Race Park, replacing Mai Beppu who left the track at the end of February. He has a tough task ahead of him.
Nevertheless, the young JRA rider made an encouraging start. With just four rides across the weekend, all unfancied, he ended up with two third-place finishes and another fifth with only one being out of the prize-money.
The foreign jockeys are now the only ones who are considered “freelance”. All others are attached to trainers.
Under the jurisdiction of the Jockey Union, it used to be the case that jockeys who were retained by a trainer could only take five race rides per week but would get a salary for trackwork. Freelancers could ride as many as they wanted but would have no guaranteed salary.
The best jockeys went freelance and on average, earned three to four times that of retained jockeys. The very top ones even more.
Now all jockeys are retained by a trainer with a limit for everyone of 14 rides over a weekend. Of course, the best jockeys still get all the best rides – Moon Se Young is with Ha Jae Heung and Ch Kyoung Ho back with his old boss Shin Woo Chul.
The new system makes is, however, likely making it even harder for the foreign jockeys to get rides. When each trainer has two or three jockeys retained, they need a very good reason to employ someone else. Not a problem for Moon Se Young who gets plenty from many trainers, but not so easy for the foreigners.
And the figures don’t lie. Makoto Noda has won 8 times since arriving last June while Toshi Inoue has just 1 victory to show from his three months so far – and that was on his first day. They are poor returns but both, just like Beppu and Hiro Hamada before them, seem more than capable in the saddle but only get opportunitites to ride horses in contention for the minor placings at best.
On the surface, the success last year of Nathan Stanley and Akane Yamamoto at Busan would appear to undermine this theory. In reality, however, while both were officially the only freelancers at the track, in reality the pair acted as stable jockeys to Peter Wolsley and Kim Young Kwan in all but name. It’s unlikely a visitor to Seoul will get similar opportunities any time soon.
With Cho Kyoung Ho sidelined since January, Moon Se Young has dominated the early part of the Seoul season. The breakthrough of the year is Seo Seung Un, still a first year apprentice but fourth in the standings:
2012 Seoul Jockey Championship (Up to March 12)
1. Moon Se Young – 33
2. Oh Kyoung Hoan – 16
3. Park Tae Jong – 14
4. Seo Seung Un – 12
5. Jo In Kwen – 11