Day: June 29, 2015

Gamdonguibada, Nobody Catch Me and Cheon Gu Set To Represent Korea In Singapore

Three Korean-trained horses have been nominated to run in the Korea Racing Authority Cup at Kranji Racecourse in Singapore on Sunday July 26.

Gamdonguibada

Gamdonguibada

In what is set to be a quite historic occasion, the race will mark not only the first time Korean horses have run in Singapore but also the first time that an overseas race will be beamed back live to racecourses in Korea.

The KRA Trophy will be run over 1200M on the Kranji Polytrack with a prize fund of S$250,000. Crucially, only Singapore horses with an MRA rating no higher than 90 are eligible and this could make for an interesting race.

Busan’s top trainer Kim Young Kwan will send two horses. The best known is his 2013 Grand Prix Stakes winner and 2014 Queens’ Tour champion mare Gamdonguibada. The other is the 2014 Busan Metropolitan City Mayor’s Cup winner Nobody Catch Me. From Seoul, trainer Seo In Seok sends his up and coming colt Cheon Gu.

Gamdonguibada (USA) [Werblin – Radyla (Country Pine)] 6yo mare (28/13/4/6/1/1) – She won the Grand Prix Stakes in 2013 and has gone on to become one of the most successful fillies or mares ever to race in Korea. In addition to the Grand Prix, she has won the the Gyeongnam Governor’s Cup twice, the KNN Cup and the Ttukseom Cup on the way to earning more than KRW 2 Billion in prize money. After completing a clean sweep of the Queens’ Tour races in 2014, she was expected to retire but returned as a 6-year-old and won her most recent race on May 17. She hasn’t run at such short a distance as 1200M since she was a 2-year-old in 2011. Lim Sung Sil is expected to ride her at Kranji.

Nobody Catch Me (USA) [With Distinction – Nana’s Babe (Allen’s Prospect)] 5yo gelding (20/6/4/2/0/0) – The wildcard. He was the winner of the Busan Mayor’s Cup last year at odds of over 50/1 and added one win after that but was a disappointment – and eventual disqualification – from the Grand Prix Stakes last year. He’s only run twice in 2015 and has struggled. However, he may well appreciate running at a sprint distance once more.

Nobody Catch Me won the 2014 Busan Metropolitan (Newsis)

Nobody Catch Me won the 2014 Busan Metropolitan (Newsis)

Cheon Gu (USA) [Old Fashioned – So Much Fun (Speightstown)] 3yo colt (6/4/1/1/0/0) – The only one of the three to be based at Seoul Racecourse and the only one who still looks yet to reach his full potential, Cheon Gu has won four of his six starts to date. He was beaten in his only Stakes race when second in the Herald Business Cup over 1400M in May but returned to the winner’s circle in a class 2 race at the same distance last week and is considered one of the brightest imported prospects at Seoul. Yoo Seung Wan is expected to ride him in Singapore.

Cheon Gu will carry 54.5kg, Nobody Catch Me 57.5kg and Gamdonguibada 56kg. While the Korean horses had to be nominated by Monday this week, Singapore based horses have until July 15 to enter the race.

The KRA Trophy will come under orders at 17:15 Singapore time and will be shown live at Seoul and Busan Racecourses during the normal raceday broadcast. No betting markets will be offered in Korea – the law needs to change before that can happen – nevertheless, having permission granted for it is a big step in the right direction. The Singapore Turf Club has been a great friend of Korean racing in recent years and it is fitting that Kranji hosts the first race to be beamed back.

The Singapore Turf Club has been a big supporter of the internationalization of Korean racing

The Singapore Turf Club has been a big supporter of the internationalization of Korean racing

The history of Korean-trained horses racing abroad is extremely brief. Watts Village pulled off a remarkable victory in the Interaction Cup in Japan in 2013 but the following year, the three Korean horses who went fared less well. Meanwhile, Singapore trained El Padrino came to Seoul last August and broke the track record for 1400M in the process of winning the Asia Challenge Cup.

While it remains to be seen what kind of line-up Singapore puts out, the horses nominated from Korea have every chance of acquitting themselves well. Whatever happens, it will be an important milestone in the internationalization of Korean racing.

Derby, Oaks & Grand Prix Winning Jockey Joe Fujii Bows Out Of Korean Racing

After three successful years, Japanese jockey Kanichiro “Joe” Fujii has left Korea to take up a new challenge and fulfill a long-standing ambition to ride in his native Japan.

Joe Fujii after winning the Grand Prix on Gamdonguibada in 2012

Joe Fujii after winning the Grand Prix on Gamdonguibada in 2012

Fujii joined Busan Racecourse from Australia in June 2012 and he quickly made an impact, winning on his very first ride.

The Japanese jockey proved popular and continued to ride regular winners throughout the summer and autumn and in November 2012, Fujii claimed his first Korean Stakes victory, partnering Gamdonguibada to triumph in the Gyeongnam Governor’s Cup. He would team up with the same filly again in the nation’s most prestigious race, the Grand Prix Stakes, at Seoul Racecourse the following month.

In guiding her to victory once more, Fujii became the first foreign jockey to win the Grand Prix. After the race, he took the filly back down in front of the grandstand to show the racing public. It was something that hadn’t been done in Korea before but something the local jockeys would quickly start to copy after a big race win.

Speedy First in the Derby Winner's Circle

Speedy First in the Derby Winner’s Circle

Fujii didn’t have to wait long to do it again. In May 2013, he returned to Seoul and on board another filly, Speedy First, he became the first foreign jockey to win the Korean Derby. Speedy First would unseat Fujii in the opening stages of the Gyeongnam Do Min Ilbo in July but the following month, the pair re-united to claim victory in the Korean Oaks. Naturally, in victory Fujii was the first foreign jockey to win that particular race too.

Two major wins would follow in the first half of 2014. While Gamdonguibada had been unsuccessful in her attempt to defend the Grand Prix in 2013 and another jockey had ridden her to win the first leg of the Queens’ Tour, the Ttukseom Cup at Seoul, Fujii would be restored to the ride for the KNN Cup at Busan in early March and they would go on to win by eleven lengths. Three weeks later, Fujii went up to Seoul and partnered Magic Dancer to success in the Jeju Governor’s Cup.

Magic Dancer

Magic Dancer

Just a week later, however, would be the start of what would be a challenging final year in Korea for Fujii. A broken shoulder suffered in an accident coming out of the gates in a race last July resulted in a broken shoulder which would ultimately keep him out until December. During his time out, Fujii embarked on a mini-tour of the racing world, taking in Hong Kong, France, the UK and his native Japan and was also to be seen watching races in Seoul.

He returned characteristically with a winner in December and once more was a regular visitor to the winner’s circle even though he perhaps wasn’t getting the same caliber of mounts on as regular a basis as he was before his fall. Fujii then became the victim of circumstance when his saddle accidentally slipped when riding the odds-on favourite in a race at Busan. Unfortunately, it came just one week after rioting punters at Seoul extracted a payout of bets placed on a disqualified winner who had weighed in light.

Opportunists at Busan decided to try the same thing and the rest of the card was cancelled. With the government having lost revenue on four races in the space of two weeks, a police investigation was ordered as well as a public audit of the Korea Racing Authority, which is a government organisation.

He didn't always keep the best of company during his time off (Pic: Joe Fujii)

He didn’t always keep the best of company during his time off (Pic: Joe Fujii)

There was never any case for anyone to answer on a saddle accidentally slipping but the audit and investigation meant it was over a month of uncertainty for Fujii before the KRA was in a position to be able to issue the lightest possible sanction to the jockey (a “reprimand”) and a fine for the Trainer. Fujii continued riding and received a hugely positive reception from punters when in Seoul for the Korean Derby in May.

Although a Busan jockey, it was at Seoul where Fujii’s biggest race wins came and it was perhaps fitting that his final triumph in Korea – for now – would be in the capital city. And it was another historic occasion. Esmeraldina was the first JRA horse to run in Korea in what was the first International Open race to be run in Seoul, the Ttukseom Cup. Connections could have brought over their own jockey from Japan yet despite the trainer never having met Fujii before, they decided that he would be their man.

They were proved right with Fujii delivering a clinical ride as Esmeraldina cruised to victory and once again, the jockey was able to parade in front of the Seoul grandstand a winner.

Esmeraldina and Joe Fujii return to scale

Esmeraldina and Joe Fujii return to scale

As it turned out, Esmeraldina was his final winner in Korea this time around. A magnificent ambassador for the sport, he has won more races than any other foreign jockey in this country, more even than the great Toshio Uchida. Hugely popular with connections, the Korean racing media, administrators and stewards and even the majority of local jockeys, he will be missed.

Joe Fujii will be riding in Hokkaido for the foreseeable future. He will surely be successful and it is very much hoped that we see him back in the Seoul or Busan winner’s circle one day soon.