For the first time since 2009, Seoul Racecourse has a new Champion Jockey and for the first time ever, the champion is from overseas as Djordje Perovic wrapped up the 2017 title at the weekend bringing to an end Moon Se Young’s seven straight Championships.
Earlier in the week, Perovic donned suit and bow-tie to pick up “Jockey Of The Year” and “Most Popular Jockey” titles at the annual “LetsRun Park Seoul Awards” but on the track, he could conceivably – if improbably – have been caught with closest rival Kim Yong Geun six behind heading into Seoul’s final two racing days of the year. Ultimately Kim would only add one more win while Perovic would find himself in the winner’s circle on four occasions across Saturday and Sunday to end the season on 106. Moon was 3rd on 84.
36-year-old Perovic, who sports nicknames of “The Balkan Wolf” and “Serbian Frankie” is licensed in Italy and even took time out this summer – as he has done in previous years too – to fulfill licensing requirements back in Europe. Debuting in 1997, he has won Group races in Italy, Croatia, Slovakia and Austria as well as his native Serbia where he has been “Jockey of The Year” on seven occasions as well as being named “Best Sportsman in the city of Kragujevac”.
He arrived in Seoul in 2015 and quickly got among the winners ending that year with 47 victories from 319 rides. More of the same followed in 2016 with 72 wins. In 2017 everything came together. With Moon Se Young opting to spend three months in Singapore and Jo Sung Gon and Jo In Kwen moving to Busan, Perovic quickly became the go-to-man for trainers at Seoul. He passed the 150 Korean winners mark in March and in October became just the second foreign jockey, after Ikuyasu Kurakane, to reach 200.
Perovic’s partnership with Song Moon Gil, who has emerged in the past two seasons as the real heavyweight in the Seoul trainer ranks, yielded the jockey big race success too. He partnered Clean Up Joy to wins in the Listed Herald Gyeongje and YTN Trophies in April and May before guiding Silver Wolf to the Ttukseom Cup in June, thereby securing his first Korean Group winner. In the autumn, he and Silver Wolf added the Listed Munhwa Ilbo Cup to their resumes.
Seoul Jockey Championship 2017 (Total Wins & Win %age)
1. Djordje Perovic – 106 (21.3%)
2. Kim Yong Geun – 97 (14.7%)
3. Moon Se Young – 84 (18.5%)
4. Lim Gi Won – 63 (15.6%)
5. Song Jae Chul – 46 (11.4%)
6. Lee Hyuk – 46 (10.1%)
7. Park Eul Woon – 43 (16.3%)
8. Kim Hye Sun – 41 (11.95)
9. Choi Bum Hyun – 37 (13.65)
10. Kim Dong Soo – 34 (9.4%)
13. Antonio Da Silva – 26 (7.8%)
21. Shinji Hatanaka – 19 (4.4%)
24. Johan Victoire – 18 (7.6%)
(Da Silva & Victoire only began riding in Korea in May and July respectively)
As this blog has noted for many years now, it is extremely difficult for foreign jockeys to become established in Korea. It isn’t enough to be a good jockey – although Perovic most certainly is one of those – but being able to shrug off the perceived indignities of the early months and the gulf in racing culture between Korea and some other countries, is no easy task, especially for the non-Japanese visitors. Life in general is not easy here – as one jockey who acquitted himself very well but opted not to stay beyond his initial four-month contract put it, it’s all very well only racing twice a week but after morning work is done at 8:30am, what do you do for the rest of the day, especially in winter?
We’ve also noted for many years that the jockey who finally did make the breakthrough would reap lucrative rewards. Djordje Perovic’s hard work and relentless focus has made him that jockey. As of the end of 2017, along with Shinji Hatanaka of Japan, he’s joined at Seoul by Antonio Da Silva and the French pair of Johan Victoire and David Breux. The former two have established themselves well and the latter made an extremely promising start this past weekend.
The Perovic model isn’t going to be an easy one to follow and it may be that this year proves to be the exception rather than the rule but he’s demonstrated it can be done and thoroughly deserves the success that he’s earned.
Djordje Perovic is Seoul Racecourse Champion Jockey of 2017.