Some Thoughts on the KRA Trophy at Kranji in Singapore This Coming Sunday

The Korea Racing Authority Trophy will be run at Kranji Racecourse in Singapore on Sunday and for the fourth year in a row, Korean horses will be taking part. The record of those who have made the trip in previous years is somewhat less than stellar so can Today, Gakbyeolhan and Approach do differently this time around?

The trio hve been at Kranji for almost a week now and the Singapore Turf Club has an excellent write up of their progress as well as an interview with Franco Da Silva, who will be partnering Today in the 1200M race, which is worth S$250,000.

First the history, and it’s not good from a Korean perspective. 2015 saw the inaugural running of the race with Gamdonguibada, Cheon Gu and Nobody Catch Me making the trip. Cheon Gu led  into the home-straight before tiring and being passed. Gamdonguibada, perhaps predictably for a miler dropping down to six furlongs, took a while to get going and never really fired, beating just one. Nobody Catch Me, however, ran on well for 6th place, just over four lengths behind the winner.

In 2016, it was the turn of Always Winner, Triple Five and Parang Juuibo with the latter of them being the best finisher, matching Nobody Catch Me’s 6th. Last year neither Choegangja, who was highly thought-of going into the race, nor Zentenary – who was less so – were able to make much impact, with Choegangja coming back with heat-stroke.

While the surface is evidently very different, that alone is insufficient in explaining away the hitherto poor performances; Korean horses have run well on dirt in Dubai, albeit with a longer acclimatization period. The tempo of the races is also something that tends to test Korean-trained horses when going overseas with a higher “cruising speed” required rather than the “go as fast as you can from the gate” tempo that tends to be prevalent here. They’re capable of doing it but it isn’t easy – Power Blade, for example, ran very well in Dubai but he was an exhausting watch with his rider having to contantly battle simply to keep him in contention.

So can this year’s trio make an impression? On paper, we should be very excited about Today (Drosselmeyer) and if the race was on the Korean sand, he would be the favourite. And if he takes to the polytrack even slightly, then he should be right in it. Paper isn’t polytrack though. A winner of 10 from 13, the one concern is that when Today finally met top class opposition in the SBS Sports Sprint at Seoul in early June, he came up slightly short running 3rd behind Doraonpogyeongseon and Choegang Schiller – both very accomplished sprinters. It was also his first time racing away from his home track of Busan. Da Silva rode him for the first time that day and explained that he didn’t feel the horse was as balanced as he could have been but still ran well.

In Today’s favour, he is still relatively young at four and with just those thirteen starts behind him, is perhaps not so set in his ways as to find it impossible to adapt to a different tempo of race running. He is very nicely drawn in gate 7 but he doesn’t need to lead from the start. This is a horse who has run 1:11.1 for the 1200M on the sand of Busan and 1:12.5 when carrying 58kg, a half kilo above Sunday’s assignment. He can post a competitive time on the polytrack.

A stablemate of Today, Gakbyeolhan (Big Brown) was a standout juvenile who won four of his first five races. He then missed more than a year through injury, returning in the middle of his four-year-old season in June 2017. He’s won twice since coming back but both of them have been in the last four months over 1800M and 2000M respectively. Dropping back to a sprint distance today makes for a bit of an unknown but he will be expertly piloted by Fergus Sweeney, who rides in Singapore for the first time. Gakbyeolhan can give a good account of himself although expectations will not be high.

Approach (Pico Central) beat Gakbyeolhan on the way to his latest victory on what was his most recent start back at the beginning of May. That was over 1800M and he hasn’t raced at Sunday’s distance since his second ever start all the way back in October of 2014. That doesn’t mean he can’t sprint, but once a horse gets up to class 1 in Korea, there are more oportunities around two-turns. As with Gakbyeolhan, a creditable showing is a realistic target. Lee Hyo Sik, who has ridden Approach in his latest two starts (and has won on Today as well), rides.

Both Da Silva and Sweeney have picked up outside mounts and so will be familair with race riding on the track before the Trophy race. As for the Singapore horses, they look as competitive as ever in the race which will jump at 17:05 local time. Based on previous experience with Korean horses in Singapore, where even the ones with expectations upon them have come unstuck, it would be easy to toss out the chances of any of them. However, taking this set of three in isolation, we can be cautiously optimistic about Today at least, holding his own.

 

 

 

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