Foreigners in Korea

1st Day Winner for Fergus Sweeney At Busan

It was a good start to life in Korea for jockey Fergus Sweeney at Busan on Friday. He rode Rock Hard Seven (Rock Hard Ten) to victory for trainer Bart Rice in Busan race 10:

Sweeney had earlier ridden Thomas Gillespie’s Great Rock (Ecton Park) to 2nd place in race 9 and made all to win by nine-lengths on Rock Hard Seven, who was notching his 4th win in 6 career starts.

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Manoel Nunes & Fergus Sweeney Set For Weekend Debuts at Seoul & Busan

There are two new foreign jockeys making their full-time Korean debuts this weekend. Three-time Singapore Champion Manoel Nunes will be in action at Seoul while British racing stalwart Fergus Sweeney will be legged up for the first time at Busan. Both riders are on initial four-month licenses.

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Manoel Nunes looks on at Seoul Racecourse last weekend

Manoel Nunes is no stranger to Seoul, having ridden in International Jockey Challenges and also having partnered Singapore-based horses in the Asia Challenge Cup and Korea Cup in the capital but this is his first time riding full time in Korea.

A native of Brazil, Nunes topped the Jockey Premiership in Singapore in three consecutive years between 2014 and 2016 and was runner-up in 2017, picking up numerous big race wins along the way.

42-year-old Nunes is also a six-time champion in Macau  where he is the most successful rider in the Macau Jockey Club’s history.  Nunes will be based at Seoul where his first ride is in race 3 on Saturday when he partners Lucky Race for trainer Yu Jae Gil.

Belfast-born Fergus Sweeney has had a long and distinguished career in the United Kingdom where he is closing in on 1000 career wins. His biggest success to date was on Twilight Son in the Group 1 Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock Park in 2016.

The 40-year-old Sweeney has some live chances at Busan on Friday including Great Rock for Thomes Gillespie. He’s the third British licensed jockey to ride at Busan after Darryll Holland and JP Guillambert. And Sweeney doesn’t just ride horses – the Noraebangs of Haeundae have been warned:

Simon Foster Trains First Korean Winner

Simon Foster is off the mark in Korean racing. The Australian trainer saddled his first winner at Seoul on Sunday afternoon as Yaho Aurora won the 1700M race 6.

Yaho Aurora (Rock Hard Ten) was a twelve race maiden going into the race and started at odds in excess of 20/1. However, under jockey Cho Han Byeol, he sat nice and handy throughout and outstayed the rest in the home straight to win comfortably.  For jockey Cho, it was a first win since returning from national service at the start of the year.

Trainer Foster opened his barn towards the end of last year and has been steadily putting together his string. He now has ten horses under his care and Yaho Aurora was just his thirteenth runner. He got his first placed finish last week when Pegasus Farm’s Jungle Beat ran 2nd on his debut.

It would be a surprise if Yaho Aurora went on to do very much but now the breakthrough has been made, hopefully Simon Foster can will be sending out many more winners.

Silver Wolf Strolls To Donga Ilbo Cup Win

Silver Wolf was the dominant filly or mare of 2017, sweeping all three legs of the Queens’ Tour and she got her six-year-old win underway in the best possible fashion with a dominant win in the Donga Ilbo Cup. In doing so, it gave Djordje Perovic a Listed winner on the Serbian jockey’s last day at Seoul before leaving on an extended sabbatical to recover from a back injury. 

It was always going to be a mismatch.  Just eight fillies and mares opted to take her on over the 1800M, a mix of slightly faded talents and not quite up there prospects. Perovic brought Silver Wolf to the lead at the top of the stretch and the pair eased away from the field for an easy nine-length victory.  43/1 outsider Lead Money came home 2nd with 38/1 Chang Se in 3rd.

Australian-bred SIlver Wolf (Orotorio) has now won 10 of her 21 career starts, three of them Graded Stakes races (the Queens’ Tour last year) and now two Listed (adding to the Munhwa Ilbo Cup last autumn). It was only as a five-year-old last year that she really showed her ability and while she is now too old to run in the Queens’ Tour races, she will surely be a danger in other big races, especially at sprint distances.

As for the other “wolf”, Djordje Perovic; known as “The Balkan Wolf” has been suffering from a back injury for some time and the constant grind that goes with being a top freelance jockey in Korea makes recovery very difficult. While it’s true there are only two race days each week, a freelancer is expected to ride an awful lot of track-work six days a week if he wishes to ride in the races – din’t ride the work and you don’t ride the race. It’s the same for the top local jockeys with Moon Se Young speaking last year about how it is increasingly hard to do.

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Moon Se Young (left) & Djordje Perovic embrace after the last at Seoul on Sunday 

Perovic would go on to ride the final two winners on the card too, finishing off with Choegang Schiller (Artie Schiller) beating Another Smart One (Smarty Jones) in the class 1 finale. Moon Se Young was on the runner-up and the pair shook hands after the line. Their rivalry over the past three years has brought another aspect to racing at Seoul and with any luck, it will be renewed when Perovic returns which, if all goes well, could be around Korea Cup time.

Luigi Riccardi Trains First Korean Winner

It hasn’t taken Luigi Riccardi very long to get among the winners in Korean racing. On Sunday afternoon, Rocket Queen won the 1700M race 7 giving the Italian trainer his first Seoul success with just his second runner.

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Luigi Riccardi on the Korea Racing Broadcast Channel following his first win

Rocket Queen actually has a history with foreign trainers having previously being with Brian Dean and giving the Australian trainer his final Korean winner last June. She’s one of 17-horses in Riccardi’s fledgling Seoul barn and on Sunday was sent off as 2nd favourite for the Class 3 handicap. And under jockey Jeong Jeong Hee, Rocket Queen made all for very comfortable four-length score.

Riccardi came close to adding another later one race later with his only other runner of the weekend, Choego Money having to settle for 2nd in race 8.

The 49-year-old Riccardi arrived in Seoul last autumn having previously trained extensively in Europe and held assistant trainer positions in the United States. He and Australian Simon Foster became the 2nd and 3rd foreign trainers to be based at Seoul following Brian Dean who spent a year here between 2016 and 2017.  Foster too has sent out a total of three runners so far and is in the process of building up his stable.

Djordje Perovic Becomes Seoul’s First Foreign Champion Jockey

For the first time since 2009, Seoul Racecourse has a new Champion Jockey and for the first time ever, the champion is from overseas as Djordje Perovic wrapped up the 2017 title at the weekend bringing to an end Moon Se Young’s seven straight Championships.

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2017 Seoul Champion Jockey Djordje Perovic (Pic: KRA)

Earlier in the week, Perovic donned suit and bow-tie to pick up “Jockey Of The Year” and “Most Popular Jockey” titles at the annual “LetsRun Park Seoul Awards” but on the track, he could conceivably – if improbably – have been caught with closest rival Kim Yong Geun six behind heading into Seoul’s final two racing days of the year. Ultimately Kim would only add one more win while Perovic would find himself in the winner’s circle on four occasions across Saturday and Sunday to end the season on 106. Moon was 3rd on 84.

36-year-old Perovic, who sports nicknames of “The Balkan Wolf” and “Serbian Frankie” is licensed in Italy and even took time out this summer – as he has done in previous years too – to fulfill licensing requirements back in Europe. Debuting in 1997, he has won Group races in Italy, Croatia, Slovakia and Austria as well as his native Serbia where he has been “Jockey of The Year” on seven occasions as well as being named “Best Sportsman in the city of Kragujevac”.

He arrived in Seoul in 2015 and quickly got among the winners ending that year with 47 victories from 319 rides. More of the same followed in 2016 with 72 wins. In 2017 everything came together. With Moon Se Young opting to spend three months in Singapore and Jo Sung Gon and Jo In Kwen moving to Busan, Perovic quickly became the go-to-man for trainers at Seoul. He passed the 150 Korean winners mark in March and in October became just the second foreign jockey, after Ikuyasu Kurakane, to reach 200.

Perovic’s partnership with Song Moon Gil, who has emerged in the past two seasons as the real heavyweight in the Seoul trainer ranks, yielded the jockey big race success too. He partnered Clean Up Joy to wins in the Listed Herald Gyeongje and YTN Trophies in April and May before guiding Silver Wolf to the Ttukseom Cup in June, thereby securing his first Korean Group winner. In the autumn, he and Silver Wolf added the Listed Munhwa Ilbo Cup to their resumes.

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Perovic landed his first Korean Group winner on Silver Wolf in the Ttukseom Cup (Pic: KRA)

Seoul Jockey Championship 2017 (Total Wins & Win %age)

1. Djordje Perovic – 106 (21.3%)
2. Kim Yong Geun – 97 (14.7%)
3. Moon Se Young – 84 (18.5%)
4. Lim Gi Won – 63 (15.6%)
5. Song Jae Chul – 46 (11.4%)
6. Lee Hyuk – 46 (10.1%)
7. Park Eul Woon – 43 (16.3%)
8. Kim Hye Sun – 41 (11.95)
9. Choi Bum Hyun – 37 (13.65)
10. Kim Dong Soo – 34 (9.4%)

13. Antonio Da Silva – 26 (7.8%)
21. Shinji Hatanaka – 19 (4.4%)
24. Johan Victoire – 18 (7.6%)
(Da Silva & Victoire only began riding in Korea in May and July respectively)

As this blog has noted for many years now, it is extremely difficult for foreign jockeys to become established in Korea. It isn’t enough to be a good jockey – although Perovic most certainly is one of those – but being able to shrug off the perceived indignities of the early months and the gulf in racing culture between Korea and some other countries, is no easy task, especially for the non-Japanese visitors. Life in general is not easy here – as one jockey who acquitted himself very well but opted not to stay beyond his initial four-month contract put it, it’s all very well only racing twice a week but after morning work is done at 8:30am, what do you do for the rest of the day, especially in winter?

We’ve also noted for many years that the jockey who finally did make the breakthrough would reap lucrative rewards. Djordje Perovic’s hard work and relentless focus has made him that jockey. As of the end of 2017, along with Shinji Hatanaka of Japan, he’s joined at Seoul by Antonio Da Silva and the French pair of Johan Victoire and David Breux. The former two have established themselves well and the latter made an extremely promising start this past weekend.

The Perovic model isn’t going to be an easy one to follow and it may be that this year proves to be the exception rather than the rule but he’s demonstrated it can be done and thoroughly deserves the success that he’s earned.

Djordje Perovic is Seoul Racecourse Champion Jockey of 2017.

Seoul Saturday: Race-By-Race Preview (December 16)

There are a couple of new foreign trainers in town and one of them, Luigo Riccardi, saddles his first runner at Seoul on Saturday afternoon. There are 11 Saturday races in the Korean capital from 10:45 to 18:00.

The 49-year-old Italian trainer Riccardi sends out Choego Money in race 10 and the gelding looks to have an excellent chance under Djordje Perovic. Here are the previews:

Race 1: Class 6 (1000M) Allowance / KRW 40 Million

(8) PRIMO already has a 2nd place to her name and comes in off the back of a reasonable enough 5th place in what looks to have been a tougher contest than this last time and she has as good a chance as any here, likely from the front. (1) NONGBON DAERO has improved across three starts so far and has cope for more today while (6) IRYEO HAYEO, beaten by Primo on debut doesn’t look completely devoid of talent either. There are three debut-makers, two of whom will be backed. Moon Se Young riding means inevitable support for (2) SPEED HWANGNYONG but (9) NEUL SACHAN looks more convincing having comfortably won a trial last month.

Selections (8) Primo (9) Neul Sachan (1) Nongbon Daero (6) Iryeo Hayeo
Next Best 2, 11
Fast Start 4, 5, 7, 8

Race 2: Class 6 (1300M) Allowance / KRW 60 Million

Small field of maiden juveniles here but most have already shown a bit of potential. (3) EAST KINGDOM and (6) THE FINAL both came home in 3rd place on their respective debuts. Neither was well-backed but both showed enough to suggest they can push on here. It’s also fair to say that neither were particular quick so we’re going with (2) FLYING HERA, 5th on debut at this distance on November 4th to score here. She showed a strong finish that day and can come from just behind the early leaders. (7) SOU WARRIOR and (8) CHAPEL ACE not to be discounted either.

Selections (2) Flying Hera (6) The Final (3) East Kingdom (7) Sou Warrior
Next Best 8
Fast Start 7, 8

Race 3: Class 4 (1000M) Handicap / KRW 75 Million

Fillies only here and (9) EAST GULCH will be a strong favourite. She’s been 2nd in both her outings to date, beating three of these last time and really should be leading this one gate to wire. (3) CHEON YANG is a capable type who could give the favourite some problems although as a closer, the distance may not be the best. (1) BEST YEJI steps back in trip and can go better today while (10) PERFECT BIC C landed back to back wins over (more…)