In the end it didn’t disappoint as what was billed in advance as potentially the greatest Korean Derby so far, went down to the very last stride at Seoul Racecourse on Sunday afternoon when Winner’s Man denied Heat Yegam a shot at completing the Triple Crown, by the narrowest of possible margins.
On a weekend when racing fans were allowed into Seoul Racecourse for the first time in over a year Heat Yegam, the runaway winner of the KRA Cup Mile at Busan a month ago, was sent off as a slightly better than even-money favourite for the second jewel in the Crown, the Korean Derby (KOR G1).
Winner’s Man began as second-favourite but was slowly out of the gate for the 1800M Classic as Heat Yegam bounded into an early lead with a perennially keen – and badly drawn – Heungbaragi bounding across to join him. So began a topsy-turvy race which saw Heat Yegam and jockey You Hyun-myung a constant on the front but there was a constant shifting of fortunes behind.
Winner’s Man was ridden up towards the pace before fading and then finding a second wind, while Heungbaragi similarly fell away on the turn for home only to reappear in contention once more. With a furlong to run there were still six in it with Heat Yegam finally collared by Heungbaragi, with Mr. Indie not far behind on the rail and Winner’s Man, Chief Indy and outsider Choegang Game in the centre.
Just as it looked like Heat Yegam was beaten, he rallied and even retook the lead with just 50M to go as Heungbaragi faltered. But all the time Winner’s Man was closing and in the very final strides, Choi Si Dae got one last burst out of his charge to sweep past. It went to a photo-finish but there was no doubt; Winner’s Man had got it on the line.
Heungbaragi, just as in the KRA Cup Mile, was the big loser from the barrier draw but put in a big run to finish 3rd. Choegang Game was a revelation in 4th while Mr. Indie did nothing wrong in 5th.
For Winner’s Man [Musket Man – Winner’s Marine (Volponi)] it was an eighth win on his twelfth career start. Jockey Choi Si-dae, who picked up a substantial fine for his use of the whip in the closing stages, won his second Derby having partnered Yeongcheon Ace to victory in 2015. Trainer Choi Ki-hong, who has been licensed since 2004, won his first Group race of any description.
The brave Heat Yegam lost little in defeat on a dry and heavy track and will surely be back to fight another day. Whether that is in the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Minister’s Cup over 2000M back at Seoul on December 12th, remains to be seen. One thing is for sure though is that this year’s Classic crop certainly measures up. Winner’s Man won today, but the quest for ultimate supremacy in the three-year-old ranks goes on.