A second attempt at admitting a small number of racegoers to Korean racecourses and off-track betting centers will begin this weekend. Permission was previously granted in late July for a partial reopening but was rescinded one day beforethe scheduled start date.
While new COVID-19 cases in the country continue to hover between 50-120 per day, Korea nevertheless lowered its social distancing guidelines to the lowest level in mid-October as it seeks to manage the virus while enabling parts of the economy that have been shuttered, to reopen.
Fans were immediately admitted to football, baseball and basketball stadiums. Two weeks of attendance at those sports have now passed without incident and permission remains in place for a partial re-opening of the racecourses.
From Friday, up to 20% of the average attendance will be permitted to enter the Seoul, Busan and Jeju Racecourses while 10% of capacity will be allowed at Off-Track Betting Centers (OCBs). The exception is the OCBs at Bucheon and at the Walker Hill in Seoul, both of which will remain closed for the time being.
All seating will be allocated and punters must make a reservation one day in advance using the “My Card” betting application. No walk-up admission will be available at either the racecourses or OCBs. Masks will be mandatory.
It it goes ahead it will mean that Friday’s card at Jeju will mark the first legal betting on horse racing in Korea since February 22nd. Only horse owners were permitted to enter the track during the behind-closed-doors summer meeting. Permission was granted in late July for a partial reopening but was rescinded one day before the planned start.
This weekend, racing will be conducted at Jeju on Friday, Busan on Saturday and Seoul on Sunday for the same reduced prize money that has been raced for at the closed-doors Friday meetings over the past two weeks. Thoroughbred races will be run only over 1200M, 1400M and 1800M. It is hoped that a more normal schedule, as well as international simulcasting, will be permitted from one week later.
Eoma Eoma was the star of Friday’s behind-closed-doors meeting at Seoul Racecourse, taking out the class 1 feature and in the process breaking the track record for 1400M,
They might only be racing for small stakes but for the second week running, the form mostly held up. Aside from Eoma Eoma, the shock Korean Oaks winner Uaryung (Testa Matta) showed that her win in Busan in August was no fluke by handily defeating a batch of class 4 gallopers while down at Busan, exciting juvenile Winner’s Man (Musket Man) moved on to three wins from three starts with an easy score over older horses, also at 1400M.
Eoma Eoma (Algorithms) didn’t debut until December of his juvenile season but won his first three races – either side of the first shutdown – in such style that he was allowed to take his chance in both the SBS Sports Sprint and Owners; Cups. He performed valiantly in both finishing 3rd and 2nd to Morfhis and East Jet respectively. Given his lack of experience those were a tough ask but he ran well both times and the manner of his win today, with Moon Se Young needing to do very little in the way of encouragement, suggests he will be the one they need to beat next season.
As it stands, there is a possibility that some spectators can be admitted to the racecourses next weekend, which would mean that racing would return to a more normal Friday to Sunday schedule. However, this morning’s Covid-19 figures showed 138 new local transmissions nationwide with 98 of them in Gyeonggi Province – in which Seoul Racecourse is located. If the numbers remain at that level or higher over the next few days, there is a chance the government may reinstate “Level 2” social distancing, which would in effect put everything back to square 1 and would mean these Friday “zombie meetings”, with no crowds and no betting and low Stakes, would have to continue.
After a second prolonged shutdown, Korean racing took its first steps back toward resumption on Friday with behind-closed-doors/no wagering cards at both Seoul and Busan. They may have been racing for significantly reduced prize money but there was no shortage of competitiveness as Ioannis Poullis rode four winners at Busan while Japanese jockey Msasahi Ueda landed his first Korean winner at Seoul.
The very good Ssonsal (Adios Charlie) was the pick of Ioannis Poullis’s four winners on the ten-race card at Busan. The four-year-old Bart Rice trainee moved on to seven wins from thirteen starts as he outlasted two-time SBS Sprint winner Doraonpogyeongseon and regular rival Seobu Cat in the 1400M class 1 feature.
At Seoul there were 15 races and while Tiz Plan was scratched from the feature, there was still plenty of interest in the 1800M Class 1 affair. Ultimately it would be won by Cheongdam Jewang (Shackleford) ahead of the progressive Australian import Brigadier General (Tapit).
While it was a relief for everybody involved to be out and racing, albeit in somewhat surreal circumstances and for vastly reduced prizes, for Masashi Ueda it was no doubt especially so.
Japanese jockey Ueda was licensed early this year but his arrival was delayed first by the initial Covd-19 shutdown and then by Japan and Korea’s tit-for-tat entry bans. He finally arrived in mid-August and completed his mandatory quarantine only for racing to then immediately shut down again before he had managed a single ride.
Ueda kept busy riding work and trials throughout September and early October and his reward came in race 5 as he made all on Most Speed (Federalist) to secure his first Korean victory.
Another set of these low-stakes/no broadcast meetings will take place next Friday. If Covid-19 restrictions remain at their current “level 1” grade, then there is a chance of more normal racing resuming in November.
Racing – of a kind – will resume in Korea on Friday with both the thoroughbred tracks at Seoul and Busan, as well as the pony racecourse on Jeju hosting race meetings. The meetings will take place behind closed doors for significantly reduced prize money. There will initially be no wagering either locally or internationally. Races will only be held on Fridays.
Following a four-month hiatus in the first half of the year, racing was abandoned again at the end of August. The purpose of these race meetings is to support connections and horsemen who have kept horses in work throughout the prolonged shutdowns. It was felt that offering prize-money – albeit at a significantly reduced level – was the best way to distribute the money while keeping the industry ticking over so it is in the best shape possible if and when a normal resumption becomes possible.
Class 1 thoroughbred races – the top level of racing – will have a total purse of 40 Million Won (compared to 110 Million normally) while Class 6 – the lowest level – will keep its usual purse of 22 Million Won. Across all levels there will be a more even distribution of prize-money among place-getters with each winner receiving 33% of the total purse compared to 58% in normal circumstances. Thoroughbred races will be run over three distances only; 1200M, 1400M and 1800M. All races will be run under allowance conditions with set weights according to ratings bands.
Korea unexpectedly lowered its social distancing alert to “level 1” earlier this week. This has enabled spectators to return to baseball and football stadiums and means there is an outside chance of some spectators being admitted to the track from the first week of November (racing needs other sports to have successfully completed at least two weeks of fans in attendance). If this were to happen, then more normal weekend racing with wagering would be able to resume. We have been here before though.