Johan Victoire reached the landmark of 150 winners in Korea last weekend and the popular French rider now has his sights set on continuing his success and doing his part to contribute to the post-COVID recovery of racing in the country he has come to consider his adopted home.
The breakthrough came in race 3 on Saturday on three-year-old colt Namsan Sidae, who got the best of a competitive finish by a head for owner Lee Ki-sun and trainer Park Byung-il to register his maiden victory.
“I’m very delighted” said Victoire after the race. “I just thought that I would have done it earlier but for (the shutdowns caused by) COVID. But I did it and I’m happy to do it with Namsan Sidae who looks like he can have a bright future.”
Johan Victoire debuted in Korea in 2017 and was an instant success, winning on his very first ride. There have been highs and lows since then with Group race victories in the Busan Owners’ Cup in 2019 and in SBS Sports Sprint and Busan Mayor’s Cup in 2020 interspersed with a serious fall that sidelined him for several months in the latter part of 2019.
When asked to choose his favourite winner so far, Victoire was ever the diplomat. “I can’t say which is my favourite between Dolkong, Morfhis and Tiz Plan” he said of his three Group winners. “The three of them are marvelous horses!”
As online betting remains illegal in Korea, the COVID crisis has ravaged the industry and with prize money greatly reduced, no Stakes races are currently schedule. Victoire acknowledged that it is a challenging time. “Unfortunately, things are really not easy for everyone during this pandemic. I really want to thank the KRA for doing their best for the racing industry here in Korea. I hope it will get better and back to normal soon.”
Victoire has long been a positive ambassador for racing inside of Korea. In 2019, he accompanied a CNN crew around Seoul for the network’s “Winning Post” program and then in 2020 appeared with his family as well as his friend and fellow French jockey David Breux on one of Korea’s most popular entertainment shows, showcasing their lives as jockeys. That appearance was well received to the extent that it brought the thirty-four-year-old offers of an advertising deal with a major consumer electronics brand.
There are currently five international jockeys at Seoul, and it is a strong line-up. Aside from Victoire and David Breux, they are Ueda Masashi from Japan, Britain’s Alan Munro and Brazil’s Antonio Da Silva. The latter has 221 Korean wins, putting him 3rd in the all-time list for overseas jockeys in Korea behind only Ikuyasu Kurakane and Djordje Perovic. Perovic is currently riding at Busan where he has Kurakane’s record of 347 wins in his sights. Also plying their trade at the south-coast track are Franco Da Silva, who has 212 victories, including a Korean Derby and Ioannis Poullis, who won the President’s Cup on New Legend in 2019.
Most observers acknowledge the importance of having such talent around to enable the top local jockeys to test themselves on a weekly basis. Likewise for punters, their presence adds a certain amount of quality-assurance and Victoire wants to be in it for the long haul:
“My goals here are to stay as long as possible in this country that my family and I love. I want to continue being successful and I’m looking forward to making my 200th winner in Korea.”