Almost a year after being diagnosed with tendinitis, Smarty Moonhak, the phenom who took Korean racing by storm as a 2-year old in 2011, has quietly been returned to Seoul Race Park to resume training after his treatment was deemed a success.
Smarty Moonhak [Smarty Jones – Madeira M’Dear (Black Tie Affair)], a bargain $14,000 purchase at the 2010 Keeneland September Yearling sale, was beaten on his debut but went on to record 4 straight crushing victories against older opposition culminating in a 10-length win in the Turkey Jockey Club Trophy in November 2011.
This earned him an unexpected nomination to the season ending 2300 metre Grand Prix Stakes – the first 2-year old ever to receive one – in which he ran 3rd behind Tough Win and Mister Park.
He started his 3-year old season in imperious form winning four class 1 races with his by now customary ease before travelling to Busan for the “Summer Grand Prix”, the Busan Metropolitan City Mayor’s Stakes.
On a sweltering night on the south coast and sent off the odds-on favourite, Smarty Moonhak found himself beaten by Dangdae Bulpae, a horse who by that time was already winner of more Stakes races than any other in Korea.
While a slight disappointment, it was no disgrace. However, a week after the race it was confirmed that tendinitis had been detected. Coming just weeks after the tragic death of his Grand Prix rival Mister Park, it was a heavy blow for racing.
Between spells of treatment, Smarty Moonhak recuperated at Taepyeong Farm, the same place he had stayed when first imported to Korea. He returned to Seoul Race Park on July 4 and is now in the care of trainer Park Hui Cheol, his previous handler Ko Ok Bong having retired during his absence.
Reaction to his return has been mixed. There is happiness that the treatment has been successful but also a certain amount of acknowledgement that past experience tells us that Smarty Moonhak may not be the same horse he was before.
There have been instances of horses returning after long lay-offs. Baekgwang (The Groom Is Red) had 2 year-long absences, receiving a similar kind of stem-cell treatment during the second one. He returned – and won a class 1 race – but was retired shortly after.
Then there have been those who have returned to the track but never made it to racing. J.S Hold (Ft. Stockton) was injured as he won the final leg of the 2007 Korean Triple Crown. He returned to training nearly a year later but never made it onto the course.
While he has been seen on the track in the mornings, Smarty Moonhak is yet to put in a timed-work. His next step is to be entered for a race-trial so he can re-qualify to race. Then and only then can he be entered for real.
Connections have assured racing fans that they wouldn’t have brought him back if it wasn’t safe to do so and he will be returned to Taepyeong to begin his Stud career if anything changes. He won’t race unless they are convinced he will do himself justice.
Welcome back, Smarty Moonhak. Be safe.
Watch: Smarty Moonhak as a 2-year old destroying a field of older horses in the TJK Trophy in 2011: