On Sunday, we probably saw the best Grand Prix Stakes we ever have. The 2015 edition, won by Bold Kings, was outstanding, while for those of us who go in for that sort of thing, Tough Win’s 2011 victory over fellow “troika” members, Mister Park and Smarty Moonhak will always be special, even if the race itself wasn’t that exciting. Power Blade’s victory this year, on the other hand, was in a race that involved a win by a genuine star in a contest that wasn’t settled until the final stride.
Cheongdam Dokki, the three-year-old favourite, set a pace that was quite brutal by Korean standards. In a Grand Prix Stakes, only Ugildongja in 2009 and Beolmaui Kkum in 2014 had set anything close to his early sectionals – and both finished well back in their respective fields. Cheongdam Dokki didn’t. The final time of Power Blade broke the 2300M track record by over a second and was precisely three seconds quicker than the fastest previous Grand Prix – the aforementioned 2009 edition, which was won by Dongbanui Gangja.
The horses who went with Cheongdam Dokki – or at least tried to – simply had nothing left for the closing stages; Diferent Dimension, Dynamic Dash and last to succumb, Silver Wolf, fading through the pack. The only one who kept pace early and had something to offer was the outstanding Triple Nine. Lim Sung Sil, possibly fearing that Cheongdam Dokki was simply too good, began to get after Triple Nine as they began the long turn for home, a full four-furlongs out, in order to keep up with the leader. At the same time Oh Kyung Hwan on Power Blade and Park Jae I on Dongbang Daero opted to save energy and allowed their mounts a more leisurely trip, ultimately paying huge dividends in the closing stages.
It is therefore perhaps testament to the sheer ability of Triple Nine and the huge potential of Cheongdam Dokki that they still managed to finish 3rd and 4th respectively after such stiff early efforts. Less than three lengths separated the winner and 5th placed Buhwarui Banseok.
Dongbang Daero had finished 3rd behind Saengil Gippeum in what was a trial for the Grand Prix over 2200M at Busan at the beginning of November. Saengil Gippeum blew them away that day but Dongbang Daero had finished the quickest, running on very nicely to become involved in a finish in which there was just half a length separating 2nd and 6th. Buhwarui Banseok was also involved in that finish and he too ran on very well on Sunday.
Last year’s winner Clean Up Joy didn’t look the part before the race and never really featured, ending up in 7th place.
It became clear around two furlongs out that Cheongdam Dokki wasn’t going to be able to keep things up the whole way around. Triple Nine got first crack at him but Power Blade and Dongbang Daero simply had too much in reserve and Power Blade’s class saw him home by a Head on the line.
It is a shame that neither Triple Nine nor Power Blade will be returning to the Dubai World Cup Carnival as both look eminently capable of winning a race this time around. Connections have other plans, however, and hopefully they’ll get a nice long rest through the worst of the winter – although in all honesty, it would be no surprise to see one or other lining up in a nondescript Class 1 handicap come February. The pair of them have been such good ambassadors for Korean racing over the past three seasons, that they went overseas even once is something we can be grateful for. That trip, plus their showings in the Korea Cup and Sprint demonstrated that the pair of them could hold their own to a good (not elite, but good) standard anywhere.
Trainer Kim Young Kwan can divide opinions, but there can be no denying that when a horse of his comes out to run in a big race, his team will have it in peak condition and Triple Nine and Power Blade are the epitome of this – Triple Nine’s Godolphin Mile aside (and he was in desperate need of a spell then), they never seem to have an off-day.
Both now have claims to be the top Korean-bred horse ever. Power Blade’s Triple Crown and Grand Prix matching up with Triple Nine’s President’s Cup hat-trick. Their prize money earnings are almost identical with both breaking the 3 Billion Won barrier at the Grand Prix. They’ve raced each other seven times now with Triple Nine leading the head-to-head by 4 to 3 – although Power Blade has now won three of their last four meetings.
We head into 2018 with plenty to be excited about on track. Cheongdam Dokki’s development along with the pair who ultimately didn’t run in the Grand Prix, Dolkong and New Citadel. Then there is the emergence of a new domestic three-year-old crop which looks stronger than this year’s. Still on top for now though are Power Blade and Triple Nine and next year they will still only be five and six-years-old.