It’s the one they all want to win. The Korea Cup may offer more prize money, but the Grand Prix Stakes (2300M KOR-G1) is into its fortieth year as the traditional finale to the Korean racing season and no owner, trainer or jockey can say their career is complete without a win on their CV.
This year a full field of sixteen are set to go to post at Seoul Racecourse on Sunday afternoon, nine from the host track and seven from Busan, to decide the title of champion Korean racehorse of 2022. The defending champion, Haengbok Wangja is among them, but all eyes will be the rematch between Winner’s Man and Raon The Fighter, winner and runner-up in the international Korea Cup.
Both have raced once since that day in September, and it is Raon The Fighter who enters in the better form. He was a spectacular winner of the KRA Cup Classic (2000M KOR-G2) and from a plum draw in gate two, he is set to start the favourite. Not that Winner’s Man will mind his wide draw. Last Year’s Korean Derby winner could only manage 3rd in the President’s Cup (2000M KOR-G1) in November but that was his first defeat of the year, and he is sure to put in a big effort again.
The President’s Cup winner Raon First bids to become the first filly or mare to win the race since Gamdonguibada in 2012, while the consistent King Of The Match, 2nd to Raon The Fighter in the Cup Classic is another in the top line of contenders. Here is a full run-down of the field:
1. GEUMA MYSTIC – Yet to win at class 1 level but was 3rd in the YTN Cup in May and 5th in KRA Cup Classic in October, both over 2000M. At the latter he sat back and ran on and while he doesn’t shape as a winning chance here, he can give a good account of himself.
2. RAON THE FIGHTER – The most exciting galloper in Korea right now, he was runner-up in the Korea Cup and subsequently won the KRA Cup Classic (2000M KOR-G2) when he used his natural speed to easily cross to the lead from a wide draw and then exploded into the straight before being eased in the closing stages. That was his first try at 2000M and there’s no reason 2300M should be a problem. Will look to lead from a great draw and is a winning chance. Jockey Moon Se-young is bidding for his second win in the race, fifteen years after his first, on Bally Brae in 2007.
3. SARYEONI FIRST – A progressive three-year-old, the only one in the race, he ran 4th in the Minister’s Cup over 2000M in June. He comes in having won his latest three up to class 3 level and 1800M, but he has been campaigned with this race in mind. The distance seems likely to suit and he gets the three-year-old weight allowance.
4. KING OF THE MATCH – A consistent performer, if non-winner, in elite races this year with standouts being 4th in the Korea Cup and 2nd in the KRA Cup Classic, this race has always clearly been the target. In the Classic, he raced further forward than usual, settling handy, and he benefited. At the furlong pole, while not making ground on Raon The Fighter, he was running away from the rest. Ignore his 4th at 1400M last month. Distance should suit and settling handy again, he has a chance. You Hyun-myung, who won the Grand Prix on Mister Park in 2010 is in the saddle
5. TUHONUI BANSEOK – Lightly-raced four-year-old who has won five of eleven, including over 2000M at class 1 level. He comes in off a strong 3rd place in the KRA Cup Classic when he jumped well to sit behind the leader, and then battled all the way up the straight in a super run on his first go at level weights with the elite. Bold showing here possible.
6. RAON FIRST – The best mare in the country and the only one entered in this race, she beat the boys, including Winner’s Man, in the President’s Cup (2000M KOR-G1) in November. She knuckled the start then gathered momentum to race handy to the lead. She had to be restrained on the home turn as she wanted to faster and once unleashed in the straight proved too good. It was an amazing run following her 3rd place in the Korea Sprint at 1200M in September. She makes another step up in trip here, but she can’t be ruled out. Choi Bum-hyun, who won the race on Dongbanui Gangja in 2008 and 2009, will be aboard seeking his 3rd Grand Prix.
7. LOOKING GOOD – The lowest rated remaining in the race, he will only get a run if one of the others withdraws. If he does get in, expectations won’t be high. He hasn’t won beyond class 3 but ran a fair 5th in the President’s Cup last month at odds of 130/1. He will get the trip though and would be passing some tired horses late on.
8. MACH TITAN – Yet to win at further than a mile, and that was at class 3 level, he does have two class 1 runner-up finishes over 2000M, most recently behind Barbarian in October. Always on pace in his races, the distance is an obvious question here.
9. HEUNGHAENG JILJU – A multiple class 1 winner over 2000M, who just seems to come up short when facing the elite at level weights, including when 8th in the President’s Cup last month. His wins have come when settling handy or forward of midfield and while he will need to step up, he’s far from the worst here.
10. BARBARIAN – Has come up on previous forays into elite level most recently in the Busan Mayor’s Cup in June but he enters off a smart victory over 2000M at class 1 level in October when sitting handy and running on to defeat Mach Titan by three-lengths. He had an apprentice claim that day and this will be tougher, but the distance can suit. Jockey Lim Sung-sil won the race on Indie Band in 2013 and Triple Nine in 2018.
11. STAR ROAD – Finished 8th in this race last year and has only run three times since. His latest was a 4th of nine at class 1 level in Busan over 2000M in October. He likes to go back and run on and while a win or place seems unlikely, he can pass plenty late.
12. SIMJANGUI GODONG – The 2021 President’s Cup winner was 5th in this race last year. A top line stayer, he comes in having run 2nd to Raon First when attempting to defend the President’s Cup. That day, he jumped well and joined the leaders in the straight, but it wasn’t until the final 100M that he really started making headway. Back at the extended trip he can be a chance.
13. WINNER GOLD – Returned to winning ways for the first time in almost two years under a super ride by an apprentice over 1800M at class 1 level in October when settled right back and produced from last to 1st in the final 300M. Has raced and placed at this distance back in 2019. Tough ask here but will run on. Twenty-one-year-old apprentice Kim Tae-hui is rewarded for her efforts last time with her first ride in the big race.
14. WINNER’S MAN – The Korea Cup winner is the best stayer in the Korea but came up short in the President’s Cup when 3rd but he was with the leaders until the 50M point and battled on gamely. Last year’s Derby winner and successful in four Graded races already this year, he is an attritional rather than spectacular type and will grind his way through the extended trip. He is tactically versatile so the wide draw may not be to his detriment and is a big chance. Jockey Seo Seung-un seeks his first Grand Prix win.
15. HAENGBOK WANGJA – The defending champion, who was a three-length winner in the race last year when taking the lead turning into the straight. He has been campaigned sparingly since, running 2nd in a handicap in January before four goes in Graded races, running 5th in the Korea Cup and 4th in the KRA Cup Classic in what was great run having been caught back and wide. Should relish the step back up to 2300M but the emergence of new stars over the past year means he won’t be favoured here. Settles handy to midfield, probably tracking Raon The Fighter, and runs on. Place chance.
16. DOLKONG – Two starts into an unlikely comeback after nearly two years away through injury, this one-time Dubai World Cup participant ran on late in the KRA Cup Classic and given a sensible ride here will probably do so again. Has more than earned his probable retirement after the race.
Selections: (2) Raon The Fighter (14) Winner’s Man (4) King Of The Match (6) Raon First