Jo Sung Gon, five-time Champion Jockey at Busan and one of the top Korean riders of his generation, has died. He was 37.
Jo was found in his car by staff at the Busan Racecourse in the early hours of Tuesday morning. His death is not being treated as suspicious.
Debuting in 2005 at around the same time Busan Racecourse opened, Jo Sung Gon quickly built up a reputation as a fine young rider and one of the new track’s potential stars. His first big race win came in the 2009 Korean Derby on the filly Sangseung Ilro and in the same year he won what would be the first of five South Coast Jockey Championships.
The second of those Championships followed a year later and it was that same year, 2010, when he first became acquainted with the horse he will likely be most remembered for, Dangdae Bulpae.
Having won the Minister’s Cup, the final leg of the Triple Crown in October 2010, a month later Dangdae Bulpae and Jo Sung Gon won the first of what would be three President’s Cups.
With Dangdae Bulpae, Jo also won the Ttukseom Cup and KNN Cup in 2011, the Busan Mayor’s Cup and Owners’ Cup in 2012 and the Busan Ilbo Cup in 2013. He would finish as Champion Jockey in each of those seasons.
As his career developed, Jo Sung Gon developed a strong partnership with trainer Peter Wolsley, the pair combining to win the Gyeongnam Governor’s Cup with Secret Whisper in 2013 and then in 2015, in what for both would be a career-high, the Grand Prix Stakes with Bold Kings.
A three-year-old, Bold Kings had only raced six times prior to the Grand Prix, Korea’s most prestigious race, and despite having won all of them, was sent off as a 6/1 third-favourite behind Clean Up Joy and fellow youngster Triple Nine.
Under a tremendous ride by Jo Sung Gon, Bold Kings stole a couple of lengths entering the home straight to strike the front and then held off a slew of late challenges to win by a neck on the line in what is still regarded by many as having been the most exciting finish to a Grand Prix.
Always keen for new challenges – earlier in his career he had spent time riding in Macau – Jo Sung Gon spent the 2016 season in Seoul where he partnered Bichui Jeongsang to victory in the Ttukseom Cup.
That would be his final Group winner although after returning to Busan and reuniting with Wolsley, he guided Ace Korea to victory in the Listed Kookje Sinmun in November 2018.
An excellent jockey who was still at the peak of his powers, as well as a friendly and personable character, Jo Sung Gon will be missed. Thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues.
Group 1 wins: 5
Other Group Wins: 8
Champion Jockey (Busan): 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
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