Three of Seoul’s most experienced trainers have saddled their last runners. Choi Hye Sik, Kim Chun Geun and Park Won Deok all retired at the end of June.
Of the three – all former jockeys – Park, who debuted in 1987, was the most successful, sending out two Grand Prix Stakes winners; Tahamkke (Dance Floor) in 2001 and Tempest West (Silent Tempest) in 2003. Tahamkke would win five Stakes races.
Choi, who took out his license in 1984, also won the Grand Prix. He saddled 1995 winner Dae Kyeun (Northern Regent), an Australian bred gelding who won 29 of his 49 starts over a 7 year career.
Longest serving trainer Kim, who sent out his first runner in 1978, recorded the most wins of the three but the fewest Stakes races. His biggest triumph was winning the 2006 Seoul Owners’ Association Trophy with Waromar (Wallenda).
The retirements open up three barns for those who recently passed the trainer license exam and the KRA will announce shortly who will take up the vacant positions. Training is one of the areas where Korea still lags far behind international standards.
New trainers are now sent to gain experience overseas with the UK, Australia and South Africa the most popular destinations at the moment. When the overseas program was started a couple of years ago, the first participants went to the US, however, unlike jockeys who can learn a lot in the States there’s a growing feeling that trainers would benefit more by going to jurisdictions with similar medication rules to Korea.
Whether it pays off – and with the strong Unions still deterring any foreign trainers from trying their hand at Seoul, we’ll only know some years down the line.