Author: gyongmaman

Korea: Shutdown Latest / Trial Updates

Korean racing is no longer alone in its COVID-19 induced shutdown with even the existence of online betting not enough to save tracks around the world from going dark as the pandemic spreads worldwide. The local shutdown was officially extended this past week and will now continue until at least April 5th.

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It would be a very pleasant surprise were this to be the last extension. While Korea appears to have handled its outbreak as well as any nation and the pace of new infections has slowed, a number of so-called “cluster infections” have continued to spring up. Not far from Seoul Racecourse, a church in Seongnam which ignored government advice to refrain from holding offline services, saw over 50 members of its congregation test positive for COVID-19 last week.

It is this fear that may impact on the ability of racing to return any time soon – especially as now, in a effort to bring the recalcitrant churches into line, Seoul City is threatening to pursue operators of “mass gatherings” for any costs incurred as a result of infections. With no online betting, racing in Korea requires a “mass gathering” in order to exist and absolutely nobody thinks that having 30,000 to 40,000 people gathering inside a racecourse of 10,000 people in an off-course building is a good idea at this moment in time.

As for online betting, a bill to make it legal has been before parliament for some time as with no legal alternative, overseas-based illegal sites have boomed in popularity in Korea. The infrastructure is in place and ready to go with bets placed through the KRA’s mobile app already accounting for approximately 30% of turnover on any given raceday. However, the app only works when connected to the KRA’s wifi network at the racecourses or the off-track betting branches. It is popular with punters as the tierce bet-type is only accessible online, while the government likes it too as it has to be connected to a bank account and a real-name provided.

Quick legalisation isn’t easy though, despite the loss of significant tax revenue (up to about US$20 Million for each week there is no racing) and also the success of Hong Kong and Japan in maintaining their turnover when racing behind closed-doors, which has been closely watched by observers here.  There are still many hurdles to be overcome if polticians, most of whom are instinctively against being seen to do anything that is seen to liberalize gambling, are to give the go ahead for the switch to be flipped and the app allowed to connect from punters’ living rooms.

For now, Korean racing still intends to return on Friday April 10th. For that to happen, there must be a drastic reduction in the infection rate and also the schools must re-open, somehthing that is currently pencilled in for Monday April 6th. If either of those things fails to happen, then racing won’t be re-starting.

In the meantime, trackwork has been continuing as have official barrier trials. Busan missed a week of trials due to a suspected COVID-19 case but started up again on March 14th, while Seoul has continued uniterrupted.

At Seoul a couple of big names have taken to the track in Friday trials. Global Captain ran out when favourite in a class 1 affair back in February, to the fury of punters, and was ordered to successfully complete two consecutive trials before being allowed to race again.

Global Captain is a winner of seven from twelve starts and at four-years-old, the Munnings colt is expected to be a major player in big sprint races later in the year, including the Korea Sprint. He’s going to have to re-qualify first though. While he succcessfully negotiated the first of during the first weeek of the shutdown at the end of February, it’s now back to the drawing board after he attempted the second on March 20th. While he won the five-furlong trial, stewards took a dim view of his antics rounding the turn and did not pass him.

There were no such problems for Tiz Plan. The Tiznow five-year-ols was a strong class 1 winner in January and was set to be sent off as favourite for the main event ont he day racing was abandoned in February. A winner of nine races from sisteen appearances, he is another who still has scope to improve and he looked to be maintaining his condition very nicely when comfortably coming hom in front in a trial last week.

Tiz Plan was ridden by Johan Victoire, who seems to have been mitigating the boredom of the shutdown by winning trials – the French rider has been on the horse crossing the line in 1st place in five of the twenty trials that have taken place in the capital since racing ceased. On March 20th, he partnered two for trainer Tony Castenheira, Nimui Hyanggi and Mighty Boom, both of whom have racing experience as well as Luigi Riccardi’s promising looking filly Choego Camp (Chapel Royal), who is yet to make her debut but may be one to follow if and when the season gets back up and running, having looked nuice and mature in her heat.

The first leg of the Triple Crown, the KRA Cup Mile, slated for April 5th at Busan won’t be run that day, but one of the potential contenders looked in excellent form in a trial on the south-coast last week. Touch Star Man (Testa Matta), dawdled in the early stages of a March 14th heat before openng up nicely under Jung Do-yun to run away from the rest of the field. The Kim Young-kwan trained colt is out of Menifee mare Useung Touch, who won the 2011 Korean Oaks and has won three of five starts so far.

Also not happening this year is the popular annual cherry blossom festival. Although presumably nobody has told the blossoms and they will still be coming out, the racecourse will not be open.

Roller Blade, Mark Story Impress In Seoul Trials

Racing might be shut-down in Korea for the time being as Coronavirus outbreak continues but two of the hottest three-year-old properties in racing here did meet on the track on Friday morning with Roller Blade and Mark Story stepping out in an official trial

Roller Blade (Officer) was champion juvenile in 2019 and had been slated to kick off his three-year-old campaign in the Sports Seoul Cup, the capital’s Classic trial, last week. That race was the first Listed or Stakes race to be lost to the virus and with Roller Blade not having competedsince his winning effort in the Breeders’ Cup at Busan in early December, it was time for a hit-out.

Mark Story (Currency Swap) is a US import and therefore not eligible for the domestic Classics. He has a perfect race record of three wins from three starts and looks an extremely exciting prospect, at least at sprint distances.

Both performed pleasingly and it was Mark Story who took the line three lengths in front of Roller Blade after an easy five-furlongs for both. The rest of the field was a further four-lengths in arrears.

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Mark Story leads Roller Blade to the line in heat 4 of Friday’s trials

While racing remains shutdown at a cost to the tax office of approximately US$20 Million per week due to remote wagering being illegal in Korea (making the behind closed doors model of Hong Kong and Japan impractical), trackwork and official trials are continuing as usual. Racing is currently cancelled through March 22nd and it seems as though the decision on whether to resume after that will depend on whether the schools do in fact go back on Monday March 23rd as is the current plan, should Coronavirus cases ease off in the meantime.

The Sports Seoul and Gyeongnam Shinmun Classic trials at Seoul and Busan have already been lost while next week’s Tokyo City Keiba Trophy and the SROA Chairman’s Cup, the latter the first Korean Group race of the year have also succumbed.  The next big race scheduled is the first leg of the Korean Triple Crown, the KRA Cup Mile at Busan on Sunday April 5th.

Today Caps Korea’s Dubai Carnival With Solid 2nd in Curlin Stakes

South Korea’s presence at the Meydan carnival came to an end on Thursday night with three representatives lining up in the Curlin Handicap at international listed level.

Korea was looking for successive wins in the dirt feature, after Dolkong won the event last year for trainer Simon Foster and recently retired jockey Olivier Doleuze.

Trainer Kim Young-Kwan had Today and Baengmunbaekdap engaged in the race whilst Busan counterpart Thomas Gillespie had Great King entered in the 1 1/4m event.

Today, who had a favourable draw took up the running in the early stages of the event whilst Great King and Baengmunbaekdap were dealt torrid runs tramping three and four wide for the majority of the race.

At the three-furlong pole it was obvious that Today’s rider Fernando Jara had plenty of horse left underneath him, as it started to appear a two-horse race with US representative Parsimony presenting on the outside of him.

As Today and Parsimony straightened up for the run home, they were matching each other’s stride, before Parsimony started to edge clear and go on and win by just over two lengths.

Whilst Today finished second, Great King produced an admirable performance to finish sixth after a tough run and Baengmunbaekdap capitulated to beat one home.

It was a truly international event with Parsimony (U.S.), Today, Ambassadorial (U.K.) and race favourite George Villiers (South Africa) the top four finishing order.

The Curlin Handicap capped off the Dubai preparations for the trio who lined up in the event, whilst connections of Blue Chipper travelled the Korea Sprint winner to Dubai without him stepping foot on the track.

Blue Chipper was touted as Korea’s best chance for victory at Meydan, but a bout of travel sickness presented shortly after arriving.

The five-year-old was awaiting clearance from vet staff resulting in changes to his Dubai campaign, but ultimately ran out of time.

Connections are now expected to target the international Group Three features later this year, with connections potentially targeting the Korea Cup (1800m) after taking out the Korea Sprint (1200m) last year.

 

Seoul & Busan Sunday Race Meetings Postponed on COVID-19 Concerns

The scheduled race meetings at Seoul and Busan Racecourses on Sunday February 23 have both been postponed following the  recent rapid rise in COVID-19 infections in Korea.

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Confirmed infections in Korea of the highly contagious virus rose from just 31 on Tuesday to 346  by Saturday lunchtime. Saturday’s meetings at Seoul and Jeju went ahead as planned.

There is no online or telephone betting in Korea so running races behind closed doors is not an option.

In what is a quickly-evolving situation in the country, an announcement on next week’s scheduled racing is expected to be made on Wednesday.

Seoul Saturday: Race-By-Race Preview (February 22)

There are 12 races at Seoul on Saturday from 10.45 to 18.00. Here are the previews:

Race 1: Class 6 (1000M) Allowance / KRW 25 Million

Twelve maidens to kick things off with five of them racing for the very first time. A couple of those have some promise but we’ll start with the experience. (9) DREAM GIRLS has been to the races twice already and ran on nicely for 3rd on the latest of these on January 18th. She was nine-lengths behind a good winner but has cope for improvement and is a leading chance here. (1) NONSTOP WINNING raced twice without distinction early last year before suffering a setback which has kept him out of action since last month. He did though look very handy indeed when winning a January trial in a fast time and should be a different prospect this time around. (7) TIZ CITY was well supported on debut a month ago. He weakened late to finish 5th over 1300M and can be given another chance dropped back to the shortest distance today. Turning to the first-timers and (3) BEST TOUR was a trial winner back last November. It’s taken him a while to get to the track since then but should go well first-up from a good draw.

Selections (9) Dream Girls (7) Tiz City (1) Nonstop Winning (3) Best Tour

Next Best 5

Fast Start 1, 3, 5

Race 2: Class 6 (1200M) Allowance / KRW 40 Million

The three-year-old-fillies will go over the six furlongs in the second event. (9) DAEJIUI YEOIN is one of only two debutants engaged in the field but judging by her trial she is ready to fire at her first start. The Simon Pure filly trialed nicely when clocking a good time on a dry-rated track. She took a sit behind the leaders in the trial before working through the line nicely. (5) OLD BLADE lines up for her second start after an encouraging debut. The filly finished third behind favourite Ice Punch and whilst she was well beaten we can expect further improvement at her second start. (1) MISS ELITE has been rattling off some good sectionals for this class. The Peace Rules filly will appreciate the extra furlong as she steps up to the 1200m for the first time. (6) HAPPY PLAN showed significant improvement at her second run when finishing second behind Jeonjeongsageum. She went over the 1300m last time out suggesting she should be capable of figuring over 1200m after sitting just off the speed last start.

Selections (9) Daejiui Yeoin (5) Old Blade (1) Miss Elite (6) Happy Plan

Next Best 4, 11

Fast Start 5, 12

Race 3: Class 6 (1400M) Allowance / KRW 40 Million

Three-year-old maidens here with two of the ten making their racecourse debuts. And one of those first-timers looks a prospect with (5) SARAMIRANEUNBYEOL having won a trial in a fast time at the end of January. Moon Se Young partnered him in the heat and though he is suspended, Alan Munro is a more than adequate replacement and the colt can go very well first up. The favourite though will be (4) TOP SEED. He ran 3rd at this distance behind Choegang Teukgeup on what was his second career start three weeks ago, finishing strongly. He should have come on for that run and be fitter third-up today. (1) K N WONDERFUL may appreciate the slight step up in trip today following three solid if unspectacular efforts at shorter while (7) HONEY BUTTER BOBBY showed significant improvement when 3rd last start and can maintain that momentum here. Aside from Saramiraneunbyeol, the other debut-maker is Tony Castenheira’s (8) JANGSAN BADA. He too won his trial and there’s no reason why he can’t go well first-up.

Selections (5) Saramiraneunbyeol (4) Top Seed (8) Jangsan Bada (1) K N Wonderful

Next Best 7, 9

Fast Start 1, 3, 5

Race 4: Class 5 (1200M) Handicap / KRW 40 Million

The fourth on the card looks to have only a handful of winning chances. Three-year-old (8) GEOMPO looks hard to beat coming off a last start second placing. The Hansen colt has been consistent since beginning his career in August last year, yielding a win and three minor placings from five starts. He’s an on speed runner and it looks as if this field will have trouble running him down. (5) SPEED GO lines up for his second start after winning on debut over the 1000m. Whilst it wasn’t the strongest field last start he went on for a dominant victory winning by five lengths. Of the speedier types engaged he has the best draw suggesting he may be first to cross. (7) KING SON is another that has had the one start for a victory. He hasn’t been seen since May 2018 and resumes twenty-two months later. It is hard to gauge where he is at but apart from the aforementioned horses the remainder of the field is not all that strong. (9) GOLD MOUNT was a winner back in October and has since finished fourth behind Complete Captain in similar class. The lightly raced five-year-old should be considered an each-way hope.

Selections (8) Geompo (5) Speed Go (7) King Son (9) Gold Mount

Next Best 4, 1

Fast Start 5, 7, 8

Race 5: Class 6 (1700M) Allowance / KRW 25 Million

(5) BAEKDUSAN CHEONJI lost out by a nose in a desperately tight three-way finish at this distance on February 1st. The Hansen colt has taken well to racing around two turns and today

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Busan Friday: Race-By-Race Preview

There are 11 races at Busan on Friday from 11:30 to 18:00. Here are the previews:

Turn

Race 1: Class 6 (1000M) Allowance / KRW 25 Million

A field of twelve Korean-breds line up in the first all searching for their first win. (9) JINJU SARANG looks hardest to beat coming off a last start second to Master Bella. The Federalist filly hit the line with gusto after settling midfield in the early stages. She looks well weighted in the event. (5) HAEUNDAE THUNDER had his second start last time out when finishing third behind Max Power. The form line doesn’t read all that strong but this race is lacking depth as well. The Strike Again gelding is likely to settle in the first few in running. (1) CHOEGANG CLEAR has had four runs this preparation now and his recent times suggest he can run into the money. Expect him to sit closer in the run with a better draw. (7) FUSION PARK lines up for his tenth start and his fourth run this preparation. The Ecton Park four-year-old should be at peak fitness. Expect Park Jae-I to work forward early on.

Selections (9) Jinju Sarang (5) Haeundae Thunder (1) Choegang Clear (7) Fusion Park

Next Best 3, 8

Fast Start 2, 7, 11

 

Race 2: Class 6 (1000M) Allowance / KRW 25 Million

(6) NORTHERN DREAM has shown steady progress across four starts so far, culminating in a 3rd place last time out on January 10th. She runs on well and looks to have as much chance as any of shedding her maiden tag here. (2) CROWN FUNKY has a less than auspicious start to her career but looked a different animal on her return from a two-month absence in January. She ran 3rd and while she was beaten a fill eleven-lengths by a good winner, she can build on that here and Seo Seung-un taking the mount today can only be to her benefit. There were few expectations on (11) TRIPLE MAGIC when he debuted last month but he ran well for 4th in what was arguably a stronger race than this. The wide draw isn’t ideal but he should be competitive again. (3) CHODONG DAEJANG and (8) KKUMEUL NEOMEO are others with the potential to improve.

Selections (6) Northern Dream (2) Crown Funky (11) Triple Magic (8) Kkumeul Neomeo

Next Best 3, 7

Fast Start 2, 7, 8, 9

 

Race 3: Class 6 (1200M) Allowance / KRW 40 Million

The three-year-old fillies line up in the third event where there is a severe lack of form for punters to analyse. (8) HAPPY SONG comes out of a stronger event where she managed to finish fourth behind Barbarian over the 1300m. She lined up against the boys as well last start and was the first filly past the post. This race appears to be hers to lose. (6) GLOBAL TOP comes out of the same race where she was well beaten. That was her first attempt beyond 1000m and we can expect her to take improvement from the experience. She drops back half a furlong and is capable of running into the money as she did two starts back. (11) FOR YOU LOVE lines up for her first start after qualifying last month. Her breeding suggests she will be better suited as she steps out in distance but don’t write her off completely first up. (10) MISS ROCKET is another on debut after clocking a reasonable trial time. She finds a weak assignment on debut and can run into the money.

Selections (8) Happy Song (6) Global Top (11) For You Love (10) Miss Rocket

Next Best 9, 5

Fast Start 4, 6

 

Race 4: Class 6 (1200M) Allowance / KRW 25 Million

There is a good deal of potential throughout this maiden and it’s a pair of animals making their respective second outings today who look the most promising. Having won a trial, (5) NEW PROSPECT was sent off as favourite on debut on January 31st. He began a bit slowly but did run into 3rd, just a couple of lengths behind the winner. It wasn’t a strong race but he looks to have scope for improvement and with a slightly better start today can win. (3) JANGSAN MANGCHI ran 2nd on his debut behind longshot winner Max Power. The time wasn’t fast but the performance was accomplished enough and he is the main danger here. (9) GRAND CAPTAIN has been has shown an uptick in form in recent starts and can aim for a place here. (2) MILLION MAKER did nothing on debut last October but has since been through three trials, running well in the latest of them and he should be significantly better today. (8) YEONGGWANGUI KISS the best of the rest.

Selections (5) New Prospect (3) Jangsan Mangchi (2) Million Maker (9) Grand Captain

Next Best 8, 10

Fast Start 2, 5, 8

 

Race 5: Class 6 (1400M) Allowance / KRW 25 Million

It’s extremely hard to put together a speed map for the fifth with few of the runners showing early speed in their previous starts. (10) SPACE POWER looks to be able to cross in the early stages and should prove hard to run down over the seven furlongs. The Clear Attempt colt finished third behind Magic Partner last start but they did run a pedestrian time of 1.17.1 for the 1200m. Whilst is was slow it is probably enough to take this event out. (8) FEDERAL STAR looks the biggest threat coming off a fifth on debut. The Federalist three-year-old sat well back last start and she will need to be closer in the run if she is to be a winning chance, especially given there is minimal speed engaged suggesting the first half of the race will be run slowly. (11) GIANT’S HEART was disappointing last time out when the wide draw was hard to overcome. He has drawn wide once again but with the lack of speed engaged the three-year-old can bounce back. (1) SMILE WINNER has gone off the boil somewhat but has managed to place on two occasions from eight starts. If she can reproduce one of her better runs she should be (more…)