Day: March 21, 2015

What Actually Happened At Seoul Racecourse Today

There are many words that can be used to describe Saturday’s events at Seoul Racecourse and most of them don’t have good meanings. Here is what actually happened.

Protesters crowd around the winning line attempting to get onto the track

Protesters crowd around the winning line attempting to get onto the track

Trainer An Byung Ki had a horse in race 2 called Argo Wisdom and a horse in race 3 called Little Angels. Jockey Kim Dong Soo was to ride both. At Seoul, jockeys weigh out an hour in advance of the race. This is especially important in the crowded early schedule on a Saturday. Argo Wisdom in race 2 was to carry 53Kg and Little Angels in race 3 had been assigned 51Kg.

Jockey Kim sat on the scales with two saddles and duly weighed out for both races. The best guess as to what happened next is that at some point after this, the saddle which ensured a carried weight of 51Kg somehow found its way onto the back of Argo Wisdom instead of Little Angels. And on his second career start, Argo Wisdom went on to win race 2 quite handsomely, paying dividends of 5.4 on the Pari-Mutuel. He had been second favourite in the race.

Naturally, no inquiry sign went up. There was no reason it would as the race was run cleanly. However, on weighing in, jockey Kim and his saddle were found to be 2.2Kg lighter than when weighed out. The rules are clear and they were applied. Argo Wisdom was disqualified and placed last while the 2nd place finisher Gangnamgul was promoted to 1st.

Riot police form their lines. They were not eventually deployed.

Riot police form their lines. They were not eventually deployed.

Although the disqualification was quickly announced once the weigh-in was complete, the first that many punters knew about it was when they went to collect what they thought were their winnings. When those winnings were not forthcoming, they were somewhat understandably, not amused.

It isn’t uncommon for punters to get angry and there was a genuine case for feeling aggrieved here, however, what happened next was something else. At betting windows across the racecourse – and no doubt at the OTBs – there was fury. The blameless tellers, as usual, bore the brunt. It was outside though where the significant action was taking place. A small but vociferous group gathered by the winning post and made clear their intention to disrupt the following race, runners for which were already at the starting gate.

Form guides, betting slips, pens and anything else that came to hand were hurled onto the track. They were followed by individuals climbing the fence and going out themselves. Security, lighter than in days gone, by was quickly overwhelmed and race 3 was abandoned.

Attention briefly turned to the pony race at Jeju and the Chair of the Stewards’ panel appeared on the Racecourse TV feed to explain exactly why Argo Wisdom had been disqualified.

Horses mill around prior to race 4 being officially abandoned

Horses mill around prior to race 4 being officially abandoned

The protestors were having none of it. Horses paraded for race 4 under a shower of vitriol, which was now taking on a life of its own, far beyond the usual anger at a DQ. Riot police arrived but they were unable to prevent a further set of incursions onto the track and it wasn’t safe for jockeys to bring their mounts past the grandstand.

Race 4 therefore went the same way as race 3. By this time, the overseas simulcast broadcast had begun and it wasn’t only domestic eyes watching.

Seven years ago, there were riots when a meeting was abandoned due to cold weather. The consequences to the Racing Authority, run as it is under the auspices of government, were dire. With no prospect of the protests subsiding, the rest of the meeting in danger and the potential for a full-scale riot on their hands if that happened, the Korea Racing Authority announced that bets would be paid out on the disqualified horse as a “goodwill” gesture to customers.

A KRA executive announces on the racecourse broadcast network that bets will be paid on the disqualified horse

A KRA executive announces on the racecourse broadcast network that bets will be paid on the disqualified horse

In the current context of racing here in Korea, the decision was an understandable one. The meeting was saved, the simulcast was saved and 30 minutes later, families were enjoying picnics by the winning line on what was a gorgeous (if dusty) spring day and we had some great racing later in the day. Daily turnover obviously took a massive hit – to the tune of approximately US$7Million for the two abandoned races – and that, perhaps even more so than the disturbances, is likely to be the focus of the inevitable political recriminations.

The alternative headlines after an abandonment of the meeting would have been too ghastly to contemplate. Mob rule prevailed today. The consequences of that may become clear in the weeks to come.

It started with a mistake. The rules were then applied but that wasn’t the end of it. The horse was called Argo Wisdom and a lot of wisdom is going to be needed in the fall out from today.