After a career spanning more than six years and featuring 24 wins and over 2 Billion Won in prize money, Tough Win has been retired. His retirement ceremony took place at Seoul Racecourse last Saturday afternoon.
Tough Win [Yonaguska – Maggie May’s Sword (Sword Dance)] was purchased for $12,000 at the Ocala 2-year-old sale in June 2009. and arrived in Korea the following month.
He made his racecourse debut that November, being sent off as third-favourite for a class 4 event over 1200M. He won by 16 lengths. The victories quickly piled up and Tough Win was very soon established as the hottest 3-year-old in the country. So it was in July of 2010, unbeaten in 7 starts that he traveled down to Busan to take on his toughest assignment to date, the Busan Mayor’s Cup and a showdown with Dongbanui Gangja.
Dongbanui Gangja (Broken Vow) came in following 12 consecutive wins stretching back almost two years and which included two victories in the Grand Prix Stakes. He was sent off as favourite. Tough Win sat handy early under regular jockey Cho Kyoung Ho while Dongbanui Gangja, with Moon Se Young on board for the first and only time, was away patiently. The older horse improved up to 4th as they began to straighten up and it looked like we were in for quite the finale. We were, but not the one we expected. Dongbanui Gangja spooked and ran wide, ruining his chance leaving Tough Win to get the better of a furious battle with Yeonseung Daero and Vicar Love, winning by a neck on the line.
Dongbanui Gangja’s antics meant for unfinished business between the pair and accordingly, they met again in October in the KRA Cup Classic at Seoul. Dongbanui Gangja ran well that day but lacked his usual spark, lugging 63kg around, and he finished a well beaten 2nd as Tough Win prevailed by five lengths.
So Tough Win was a perfect 9 for 9 heading into the season finale, the Grand Prix Stakes in December of 2010. Tough Win was the even-money favourite, slightly ahead of Dongbanui Gangja, who was looking for an unprecedented third consecutive triumph in the race. It was not to be for either of them as another 3-year-old, Mister Park, up from Busan, upset the favourites to record his 11th straight win on his way to what would become a record-breaking 17 consecutive victories.
Revenge for Tough Win on Mister Park would come a year later. 2011 started off in mixed fashion, Carrying a very high weight in handicaps, Tough Win suffered a couple of defeats – including one at the hands of a 51kg carrying Dongbanui Gangja – as well as victories before heading south to defend his Mayor’s Cup at Busan in July. It all went wrong as he engaged in an early speed battle with Dangdae Bulpae that scuppered both of their chances leaving the previous year’s runner-up Yeonseung Daero to narrowly defeat Dongbanui Gangja.
The rest of the year would be flawless, however. Three runs and three wins culminated in the Grand Prix Stakes in December when he finally ended Mister Park’s unbeaten record. The precocious 2-year-old Smarty Moonhak was 3rd. The three of them – quickly dubbed the “Troika” by the Korean racing media – should have been competing with each other in the big races for the foreseeable future. Little is foreseeable in racing, however, and within a few short months, Mister Park’s story would end in tragedy and Smarty Moonhak would be suffering from tendinitis that he would not recover from. The rigors of racing an unrelenting schedule on a hard track took their toll, making Tough Win’s longevity even more remarkable.
He wouldn’t be able to retain the Grand Prix in 2012. finishing 5th behind the emerging filly Gamdonguibada after a year in which none of his 4 wins arrived in Stakes company. He and Smarty Moonhak did face each other in the Busan Mayor’s Cup in July but Tough Win had an off-day, finishing 4th, while Dangdae Bulpae defeated Smarty Moonhak for the win.
Tough Win began 2013 in fine style though, winning three races in the Spring before travelling to Busan once more to take on the Busan Mayor’s Cup for the fourth time. It would end in triumph, as he ran away from Beolmaui Kkum and Dangdae Bulpae in the closing stages to win by nearly three lengths on the line. He followed it up with a 4th place in the SBS Korea/Japan Goodwill Cup in September but the injuries started to mount up – indeed, Tough Win’s Studbook entry lists 621 veterinary visits during his career.
Tough Win only ran three times in 2014, each time without success and it looked like all those hard races had caught up with him. Remarkably though at the beginning of 2015 he came back and with a new running style – dropping all the way to the back from the gate, conserving energy and then picking off his rivals in the home straight -he returned to the winner’s circle that January. He promptly came out and repeated the feat in February. Those victories – wins number 23 and 24 – would prove to be the Indian summer of his career and following six subsequent unsuccessful starts, he was finally retired. His last race was in March this year.
Maggie May’s Sword herself was imported to Korea in late 2010 although she only produced one foal who made it to the races prior to her death in May 2012.
In Mister Park’s obituary, it was noted that the lot of a gelding can be to keep on running until the injuries and general wear and tear finally take over. Unfortunately this was true in Tough Win’s case with his retirement coming perhaps a year later than it should but he bows out in good health and is to be sent for re-training as a riding horse. We will be watching carefully. Subsidy, one of the most important racehorses of the past two decades here was to be retrained too but quickly disappeared without trace after retirement. There’s no reason to suggest that will happen to Tough Win. It had better not. With his, for want of a better word, toughness, those wins and his sheer longevity, he retires as one of the greats of Korean racing.