There are two new foreign jockeys in town at Busan.
Japanese Yukio Abe made a winning debut last weekend while South African veteran Gerrit Schlechter will ride for the first time this coming Friday.
Forty-three year old Abe, who usually rides at Nagoya, has over 2600 career victories to his name and opened his Korean account with victory on 7/1 shot Fine Fine in race 3 at Busan last Sunday. Officially freelance, Abe has so far been booked by a wide range of trainers.
Cape Town rider Schlechter, who also has over 2600 victories over the course of his near thirty-year career, is already known to Korean racing fans having ridden in and won the 2007 International Jockey Challenge at Seoul Racecourse.
At the time, this blog described him as a “man with a truly incredible head of hair” – which in retrospect may have been a slight exaggeration – and also noted that he wasn’t afraid to interact with heckling punters, suggesting confidence that may serve him well here full-time.
It appears that Schlechter, while also officially freelance, will replace Nathan Stanley as de-facto first-choice jockey for Australian trainer Peter Wolsley. Joe Murphy also puts the forty-six year old up this weekend.
Schlechter is the fifth South African to take up a riding licence in Korea. They’ve had mixed experiences.
Chris Taylor spent seven weeks at Seoul in 2008 while the less said about Willie Uys’ one weekend in the Capital, before he dashed to the airport, the better.
Down at Busan Deryl Daniels had the misfortune to be riding at the track at the same time as Toshio Uchida was monopolizing the winners and went home, initially on vacation but decided not to return.
After a spell in the United Arab Emirates, Taylor is now riding in Durban. Also in Durban, Daniels meanehile recorded his first Group 1 winner recently and has just relocated to Johannesburg. Uys has been forced into retirement through injury.
The one successful exception in Korea was Martin Wepner who was arguably Busan’s top jockey for a while in 2009 and early 2010, picking up victory in the Minister’s Cup on Namdo Jeap.
His was a turbulent stint, however, which wasn’t made any easier by his being inadvertently stuck in the middle of a bitter dispute between the Jockeys’ Union and the Trainers.
With backing from Wolsley though, it is likely that Schlechter will have every opportunity to do well. Both he and Abe have been granted initial licenses for four months.