Winner’s Man and Raon The Fighter turned the 40th running of the Grand Prix Stakes (2300M) into a match race and just as in the Korea Cup, it was Winner’s Man who ultimately prevailed as the pair duelled the final two-furlongs at Seoul Racecourse on Sunday afternoon.
With Raon The Fighter having blitzed the KRA Cup Classic while Winner’s Man laboured to 3rd in the President’s Cup on their respective post-Korea Cup outings, punters were predicting a form reverse and sent Raon The Fighter off as the odds-on favourite.
From the plum draw of barrier two Moon Se-young took Raon The Fighter straight to the front and immediately dictated the pace the race would be run at. By the time they left the back straight and began the long turn for home, only Winner’s Man, who as he had done in the Korea Cup, improved up the field in the back straight under jockey Seo Seung-un, along with President’s Cup winner Raon First, remained with him.
Raon First was promptly seen off and Winner’s Man and Raon The Fighter would duel throughout the long Seoul Racecourse home straight. Raon The Fighter held firm, but Winner’s Man loomed up alongside with a furlong to run. Still Raon The Fighter didn’t buckle and matched him stride for stride for half the remaining distance. But Winner’s Man was relentless. At the one hundred metre point, he finally struck the front and this time Raon The Fighter had no more.
It had been a battle of wills and a battle of the two best horses in the country. Winner’s Man now carries off the accolade of Horse of the Year having vanquished Raon The Fighter at 1800M in the Korea Cup and 2300M in the Grand Prix, but Raon The Fighter lost nothing in either of those defeats. And given he remains arguably both the best sprinter and middle-distance horse in Korea, yet has runner-up finishes in both those longer distance Group 1 races, the debate as to which is better won’t go away.
The rest of the field might as well have been running in a different race but there was a stand-out performance by Tunhonui Banseok. The Bart Rice trainee had only raced eleven times previously, but under Park Jae-i, he navigated his way through a tiring field in the closing stages to get within a length and a quarter of Raon The Fighter on the line. Nine-lengths further back, the three-year-old Saryeoni First led the rest home in 4th.
How quickly things change. A year ago, after Haengbok Wangja’s emphatic win in the race, aged just four, he seemed set to dominate. Yet no horse who took part in last year’s race was among the first nine home this year, Simjangui Godong, 5th last year, was best placed in 10th. Haengbok Wangja himself only beat two home, while there was disappointment too for fellow Dubai Carnival hopeful King Of The Match. He was one of those two the 2021 champion finished ahead of.
Winner’s Man is by Musket Man who is owned, perhaps a touch ironically, by Raon The Fighter’s owner Son Chun-soo and is the centrepiece of the emerging Raon breeding and racing empire. Winner’s Man himself is owned by Lee Gyeong-hui. He is out of Winner’s Marine (by Volponi) who was bred and raced in Korea. Musket Man is now assured of finishing the year as Leading General Sire.
For trainer Choi Ki-hong it was his first Grand Prix and his fifth Group race win – all of them with Winner’s Man. Jockey Seo Seung-un rode his first Grand Prix winner. Having already ridden a President’s Cup and Korea Cup winner, he is just missing the Korea Sprint and Korean Derby from the Group 1 set.
With the running of the Grand Prix, the 2022 Stakes race program has finished, although there are still two more weeks remaining of the season, which concludes on Christmas Day. In Winner’s Man and Raon The Fighter, racing heads into 2023 with two genuine stars on its hands.