Smarty Moonhak (Smarty Jones), one of the most talented and talked about horses to race in Korea in recent times, has been retired after suffering a recurrence of the tendonitis that had previously kept him off the track for over a year.
The 5-year-old had been spelled for a month after taking part in the Grand Prix Stakes in December but returned to Seoul Racecourse seemingly in good shape in mid-January. However, after several days of light work, swelling was noticed on January 31 and five days the return of the tendonitis was diagnosed.
Having had stem-cell treatment once already, the decision was taken to officially retire him and the horse has returned to Taepyeong Farm.
A $14,000 purchase from the 2010 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Smarty Moonhak, out of the Black Tie Affair mare Madeira M’Dear, arrived in Korea in February 2011 and after acclimatizing at Taepyeong, was sent into the care of trainer Ko Ok Bong at Seoul Racecourse.
He made his racing debut in May of that year, finishing 2nd to New Zealand import Mister Captain – a horse who would have his own very promising career cut short through injury after just three starts. Smarty Moonhak was sent off at odds of 24/1 in that race but he was the odds-on favourite by the time of his next start where he broke his maiden with a comfortable win over 6 furlongs.
He would stroll his next 3 races too, culminating in a eleven-length win in the Listed TJK Trophy at the beginning of November. Despite only being 2-years-old, he came back from that race, which was run over 1800 metres, looking as though he could have quite easily have gone round again.
It was because of this that his name was added to the ballot for the season-ending Grand Prix Stakes – a race similar to Japan’s Arima Kinen in that racing fans get to vote on which horses they want to see run in the season-ending showpiece.
Smarty Moonhak was voted in by a landslide becoming the first ever Juvenile to take part. On the day, He ran a game and valiant 3rd behind Horse of the Year Tough Win and the defending champion Mister Park. Despite not being eligible for the Triple Crown, Smarty Moonhak’s 3-year-old campaign was the most highly anticipated in years.
That campaign started as expected. Four consecutive routine wins meant that he arrived on the South coast for the Busan Mayor’s Trophy – informally known as the “Summer Grand Prix” as the overwhelming favourite.
He ran well that evening but while he was always towards the front of the field, he never looked like catching the winner, Dangdae Bulpae, who he finished two lengths adrift of in 2nd.
When he returned to Seoul, however, detailed veterinary examinations revealed that Smarty Moonhak was suffering from tendonitis in his left-foreleg. It was a very similar injury to the one that ended the career of that year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another on the eve of his bid to sweep the US Triple Crown.
The stem cell treatment process was a long one and if truth be told, few expected Smarty Moonhak to ever race again. Nevertheless, in July 2013, a year after his diagnosis, he was quietly returned to the racecourse.
It was with a different trainer – he’d been away for so long that Mr. Ko had retired in the meantime. A month later he breezed through his race-trial before making his comeback in a low-key class 1 race in early October. He finished 6th but more importantly, came through unscathed and looking sharp.
A month later, he was back in the winner’s circle, making a dashing late run to win a class 1 sprint over 6 furlongs. That was enough for him to once more be voted into the Grand Prix Stakes. In what would ultimately be his last race, he showed at the front early before fading into a mid-field finish.
Of course, with hindsight, he shouldn’t have come back at all. But almost all racing fans here will have to admit to have being delighted when he did. Now that delight is replaced with relief that he didn’t suffer an even worse injury.
A half-brother has just been born. Smarty’s dam, Maderira M’Dear, was imported to Korea in 2012 and recently delivered a colt by Ecton Park. We will be looking out for him on the Korean Triple Crown trail in 2017. As for Smarty Moonhak himelf, he is recuperating at Taepyeong Farm before most likely becoming the resident stallion in the small breeding operation there.
Overall, he ran 14 times, winning 9 of them and won about $600,000. He also gained an overseas following by virtue of being a son of the wildly popular Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Smarty Jones. Although he may never have come close to reaching his true potential, in terms of impact, few have matched Smarty Moonhak.