Fan favourite Betelgeuse justified his favourite status as the snared the first jewel of the 2023 Triple Crown with a two-length win in the KRA Cup Mile (1600M KOR-G2) at Busan Racecourse on Sunday afternoon.

Betelgeuse downs Something Lost in the KRA Cup Mile (Pic: KRA)

Boasting a resume more complete than any other in the sixteen-strong field with a higher rating and experience defeating older horses at both a mile and around two turns as well as winning Busan’s Classic trial, Betelgeuse was sent off as the 2.4 market leader. From a kind draw, while not the quickest away, the striking grey was able to set up camp in a handy position while Choice Run and Dokki Bulpae set the pace.

Seoul’s principal raider, Something Lost, who entered the race with the only intact unbeaten record and who had won the Seoul Classic trial last month, quickly joined them on the speed and took himself to the front as they began the long turn for home. Under Choi Si-dae, Betelgeuse would improve before drawing level with Something lost a furlong out and then pulling away in the closing stages as his rival tired.

Betelgeuse and Choi Si-dae return to scale (Pic: KRA)

It was an eye-catching win in a time identical to that set by Captain Yankee a year ago, although slower than those set in the race in 2020 and 2021, which were both run at a different time of year due to pandemic enforced fixture changes. Betelgeuse moved on to seven wins from nine starts and the Concord Point colt, who is quickly amassing as many fans for his looks as for his ability – and there is plenty of both – heads into the Derby as the favourite.

The winner aside, the form from Seoul’s Classic trial, the Sports Seoul Trophy, held up better than that of Busan’s Gyeongnam Shinmun Trophy, with Something Lost staying on for 2nd and chased home by Dragon Star and Nut Play, who reprised their fast-finishing Sports Seoul 3rd and 4th places. Back home in the capital, and up at 1800M in the Derby, with the way they finish off their races they may pose more of a danger to Betelgeuse. The next best Busan-trained horse was World Legend in 5th.

Busan’s “tifo” still needs a bit of work but a game effort nonetheless (Pic: KRA)

Most of the field ran to expectations with the only below par performance of the race came from last year’s champion juvenile Speed Young. The second favourite loomed up at the top of the home straight but then didn’t run on, ultimately finishing in 7th place. Breeders’ Cup winner Speed Young is proving hard to catch, with his strong win over a mile at class 3 last month, preceded by a lacklustre effort the time before.

Fantastic Kingdom was relatively well-backed but ran like a horse returning from the twenty-one layoff that he was. Dokki Bulpae was sent off at a similar relatively short-priced 11/1 and used up all his energy getting on the speed from an unlucky draw.

For winning jockey Choi Si-dae, it was a first KRA Cup Mile albeit a twelfth Group win in total. Similarly, trainer Baik Kwang-yeol sent out his first Cup Mile winner but his fifth Group winner. Trainer and jockey paired up to win the 2015 Korean Derby with Yeongcheon Ace. That was for the same owner as Betelgeuse, Lee Jong-hun.

The second leg of the Triple Crown is the Korean Derby (1800M KOR-G1) at Seoul on June 11th, before the concluding Minister’s Cup (2000M KOR-G2), also in the capital, on July 11th.  Put the plushie factory on overtime if Betelgeuse can win both of those.