We say goodbye to the Year of the horse and enter the Year of the Sheep…or goat or ram or whichever hooved and horned animal it actually is; there is some disagreement in these parts. There is no racing this weekend on account of the holiday, so it’s a good opportunity to take stock of what has happened during the first six weeks of racing:
* Peter Wolsley is on fire: With five winners across last weekend, trainer Peter Wolsley has shot to the top of the Busan Trainers’ Championship, leading the Kim Young Kwan machine by 14 winners to 12 and 49% of all runners placing first or second. Wolsley has some solid talent in his stable at the moment and also a pair of in-form stable jockeys in the shape of champion rider Jo Sung Gon but also with Lee Hee Cheon, who has been an absolute revelation under the Australian’s tutelage over the past few months. Such is the firepower that is always available to him, Kim Young Kwan will amost certainly take the ultimate prize but it looks set fair for another very good season for Wolsley.
* Tough Win is back: The 2011 Grand Prix Champion’s best days looked to be behind him but he returned to the winner’s circle for the first time for 18 months in January and then followed it up last week with another victory; his 24th from 37 career starts and took him to over $2Million in prize-money. He’s done it in style too, closing from dead-last in the home straight. As long-time racing observer Thomas Song pointed out on this site, closing to defeat tired frontrunners is the only way Tough Win can run these days, but it is thrilling to watch and hopefully there is plenty more to come.
* We have some good three-year-olds: The likes of Cosmos King at Seoul and Rafale and Doraon Hyeonpyo at Busan have all won around two-turns already and they, along with a number of others, should make for a fascinating Triple Crown series which this year, will be concluded by July.
* The new rating system is here to stay: Every horse in Korea now has a rating and aside for some Grade and Listed races, there are no longer races restricted to Korean bred horses at Class 1 and Class 2. It is hoped that the stronger competition will make for a better quality of Korean racehorse and more competitive racing for punters. The early evidence, especially at Busan, is positive. With horses able to move back down in class for the first time, we’ve seen some compelling contests already. Now that connections at Seoul have belatedly signed up to the changes too, racing in the capital – in need of a new lease of life for some seasons – will hopefully be on an upward spiral soon too.
* Gyeongbudaero : If the KRA’s race-planners had scripted the first class 1 to be run under the new system, they would have come up with something like this. Six Korean bred horses faced off against six imported horses and after a tough battle, the locally bred Gyeongbudaero, carrying top weight of 60kg, prevailed. Winner of the 2014 President’s Cup and Grand Prix Stakes, Gyeongbudaero’s image was on the front of the KRA’s 2015 Race Plan booklet announcing the changes and he is undoubtedly the poster-horse of Korean racing right now.
Racing returns next weekend.