History

The KRA Cup Mile – A Brief History

This coming Sunday, the first leg of the 2014 Korean Triple Crown will be run at Busan Racecourse. And just like the Triple Crown itself, the KRA Cup Mile is a relatively new addition to the Korean racing calendar.

Sangseung Ilro and Eiki Nishimura win the KRA Cup Mile in 2009 (Pic: KRA)

Sangseung Ilro and Eiki Nishimura win the KRA Cup Mile in 2009 with Martin Wepner and Namdo Jeap just behind (Pic: KRA)

It began in 2005 as the marquee race of the season at the then brand new Busan track.

It was run in September, wasn’t called the KRA Cup Mile and wasn’t restricted to Korean-bred 3-year-olds. The race was won by US bred Siseon Jeap (Precise End).

The following year, the race was renamed as the KRA Chairman’s race and was run over the Korean Derby distance of 9 furlongs. Another US import Golding (Gold Alert), who went on to become a stalwart of the track all the way up until 2011 took the honours.

In 2007, the race moved to June and back in distance to a mile and was given the name KRA Cup Mile. In a memorable race, Australian jockey Garry Baker rode the 6-year-old mare Luna (Concept Win) to victory. Luna, who had broken down aged 2 and was never expected to race again, would later have her story (very) loosely made into a movie.

That year, J.S.Hold had won all three legs of the Triple Crown. However, he only faced Seoul horses and the first leg had been the Ttukseom Cup. In 2008, with the Busan track coming of age, for the first time runners from both Seoul and Busan would be eligible for the Triple Crown races and it was decided that the KRA Cup Mile was the ideal first leg – a Korean 2000 Guineas.

Here are the winners since then:

2008: Rainmaker (KOR) [Revere – Wandering Katie (Tejano)] – Ahn Sun Ho
The first Classic to be run at Busan was won by a Busan horse. However, Rainmaker went on to finish 8th in the Derby the following month and never won a race again despite running on for 2 years. Now a minor stallion at Stud.

2009: Sangseung Ilro (KOR) [Concept Win – Ms. Whiskey (Whiskey Wisdom)] – Eiki Nishimura
The only filly to win since the race became part of the Triple Crown, she’s also the only winner of this race to go on to win the Korean Derby. She went on to win multiple Stakes before retiring. Delivered a foal by Menifee in 2012.

2010: Money Car (KOR) [Newsprint – Pinocchio (Big Sur)] – Park Tae Jong
Romped to an 11-length victory and is to date the only visitor from Seoul to win the race. He was caught right on the line in the Derby by Cheonnyeon Daero and only ran once more. Like Rainmaker now a minor stallion.

2011: Soseuldaemun (KOR) [Meisei Opera – This Ole Way (Vigors)] – Toshio Uchida
A comfortable winner at odds of 7/1, Soseuldaemun turned up for the Derby having lost a lot of weight and didn’t run well. He was retired after his 3-year-old season.

2012: Gyeongbudaero (KOR) [Menifee – Pirncess Lanique (Cherokee Run)] – Choi Si Dae
A 3-length winner, he finished 3rd in the Derby and has gone on to be one of the top performers in the country, running in almost every big Stakes race, recording wins in the Busan Owners’ Cup and Busan Ilbo and a 2nd in the President’s Cup. Ranked the number 2 Korean bred horse in the country right now behind Grand Prix winner Indie Band.

2013: Sting Ray (KOR) [Forest Camp – Straight Cash (Straight Man)] – Kim Dong Young
His dam was a Korean Stakes winner and while Sting Ray performed so badly for the rest of the year after the Cup Mile he got himself gelded, he was back in the winner’s circle at class 1 earlier this month.

Advertisements

The Korean Derby: All The Winners So Far

The Korean Derby, which will be run at Seoul Race Park this coming Sunday is a relatively recent addition to the Korean racing year.

Except for an enforced stoppage during the Korean War, racing has been running on the peninsula continuously since the 1920’s but while those early years saw horses racing each other, it wasn’t exactly the kind of horseracing we’re familiar with today. Many horses weren’t even thoroughbred and there was little point in having a Derby for three-year olds.

Jigeum I Sungan was the 2012 Korean Derby winner (KRA)

Jigeum I Sungan was the 2012 Korean Derby winner (KRA)

The establishment of a domestic thoroughbred breeding industry and the introduction of the private ownership of race-horses – and therefore prize money – changed all of that. The late 1980’s and early 1990s saw the creation of big Stakes races and, with the breeding industry reaching some maturity, finally in 1998, the Derby was run for the first time. In 2007, the Korean Triple Crown Series was inaugurated with the Ttukseom Cup, Derby and Minister’s Cup making up the three Classic races. Indeed, in that first year, J.S. Hold took the lot.

The following year, as the first set of foals sent to Busan after the track’s opening in 2005 reached maturity, the KRA Cup Mile at the Southern track was re-designated as the “Korean Guineas” and replaced the Ttukseom Cup as the first jewel in the crown. The filly Sangseung Ilro won the first two legs in 2009 and Jigeum I Sungan won the Derby and Minister’s Cup last year, but no horse has yet won all three under the new set-up.

In the fifteen editions of the Derby run so far, nine colts and five fillies have taken the prize which for its first three years was run over just seven furlongs before moving up to its current nine in 2001. When the first crop of foals to be sent to race exclusively at Busan reached three-years of age in 2008, the Derby – and other major Stakes races – became open to horses from both Seoul and Busan. Since then, raiders from the South have won three out of five times and in KRA Cup Mile winner Sting Ray, have the favourite for this year’s edition.

Here are all the winners with pedigree and jockey:

2012: Jigeum I Sungan [Ingrandire – Solmaru (Mujaazif)] – Moon Se Young – A horse who as just got better and better since winning the Derby at generous odds a year ago. He went on to win the Minister’s Cup, the final leg of the Trip Crown in October before coming back as a 4-year old to win the Owners’ Cup last month.

2011: Gwangyajeil [Vicar – Hurricane Havoc (Jade Robbery)] – Oh Kyoung Hoan – He skipped the KRA Cup Mile and went straight to the Derby. It paid off as he was an easy winner. Injury meant he only ran twice more and was retired to Stud at the end of his three-year old season. Bred by the late Im Sang Yun, who also bred J.S. Hold.

2010: Cheonnyeon Daero [Creek Cat – Doneitmyway (Northern Flagship)] – Park Geum Man – Money Car, winner of the KRA Cup Mile was sent off the favourite but got sucked into a speed duel with the sprinter Seonbongbulpae in the early stages. Still, the favourite had a considerable lead entering the final furlong. He was spent though, and Cheonnyeon Daero, a 30/1 shot, chased him down and caught him on the line. Money Car was never the same again and only ran once more. Cheonnyeon Daero went on to finish second in the Minister’s Cup – the final leg of the Triple Crown. A horse with a bad case of seond-itis – he finished 2nd 14 times during his career, he was retired in early 2012 and will go to Stud.

2009: Sangseung Ilro [Concept Win – Ms. Whiskey (Whiskey Wisdom)] – Jo Sung Gon
– The filly, a shock winner of the KRA Cup Mile a month earlier made it two in a row for Busan. She couldn’t maintain her form over the whole year, however, and went down to a shock defeat in the Oaks in August before returning for a creditable third in the Minister’s Cup, the third and final leg of the Triple Crown in October. Went on to win two more Stakes races as a four-year old before being retired from racing in January 2011 for broodmare duties.

2008: Ebony Storm [Buster’s Daydream – Sorority Jazz (Dixieland Band)] – Shim Seung Tae – Two years ago was the first time that Busan’s best three-year olds were invited up to Seoul to contest the Derby and it was one of those visitors, Ebony Storm, the longest shot on the board, who took victory in a monsoon downpour. Ebony Storm is still running as an 8-year old, specialising in distances of up to a mile and his half-brother Fantastic Jazz is among this year’s hopefuls.

2007: J.S. Hold [Ft. Stockton – Hwangsangjiljoo (Passetreul)] – Moon Jung Kyun – Widely considered the best Korean bred horse ever. J.S. Hold landed the inaugural Triple Crown injuring himself in the final race and not returning to the track. He retired with nine wins from ten starts and is now at Stud.

2006: Baengnokjeong [Slew O’Green – Lesu Run (Proper Reality)] – Hwang Soon Do – The rank outsider at over 80-1 on Derby day, Baengnokjeong was at the time, the longest priced horse to win the Derby.

2005: Saebyeok Dongja [Fiercely – Cheongpa (The Rodgers Four)] – Chun Chang Ki – Raced on at the top-level for three more years. His jockey, Chun Chang Ki became a trainer and sadly passed away of cancer in 2012.

2004: Mupae Gangja [Didyme – A Heun A Hop Kan (Kinsky)] – Kim Hyo Seob – One of the top colts of this decade, Mupae Gangja won ten of his sixteen races including the Chairman’s Trophy and Minister’s Cup along with the Derby in 2004.

2003: Habidongju [Silent Warrior – Kahwa (Zoffany)] – Park Tae Jong – The last filly to win until Sangseung Ilro in 2009.

2002: Haeam Janggun [Didyme – Ronde (Toast The Champ)] – Lim Dae Gyu – Ronde foaled her second Derby winner in as many years with this filly who won eight of her fourteen races and gave the late Lim Dae Gyu a Derby victory.

2001: Haetpit Maeul [Mujaazif – Ronde (Toast The Champ)] – Ji Ha Ju – Starting a run of three consecutive years of filly triumphs was Haetpit Maeul. Now a broodmare with some success.

2000: Haekdol’pung [Lost Mountain – Swift Diplomacy (Nice Pirate)] – Park Tae Jong – Korea’s most successful ever jockey got his second straight Derby win on the favourite. It was tight though, with Haekdol’pung getting the verdict in a three-way photograph. Sire Lost Mountain died in 2009.

1999: Manseokkkeun [Fiercely – Komplication (Kris. S)] – Park Tae Jong – Yes, he really did have three consecutive ‘k’s in his name. Park Tae Jong got the first of his three Derby winners on the colt whose sire, Fiercely, died in 2009.

1998: Useung Yegam [Happy Jazz Band – Man Jang Dae()] – Song Seok Hen – Nine of the 14 runners in the first Derby were fillies and the favourite Useung Yegam, whose dam wasn’t even in the studbook, took the honours by a length.

* This post is a slightly updated version of the one posted in corresponding Derby build-ups over the past couple of years.

The Korean Racehorse Who Joined the US Marines

Since I started writing this blog a few years ago, there has been one particular horse that I’ve received more correspondence about than any other. Receiving more just before the Lunar New Year holiday, I thought it about time I write about her.

It’s not J.S.Hold or Feel So Good, nor even Smarty Moonhak with his sire Smarty Jones’ legion of followers. In fact, she wasn’t even famous for her exploits on the track. It is, however, back at the old Sinseol-dong Racecourse where her story begins.

A race at Sinseol-dong in the late 1940s

A race at Sinseol-dong in the late 1940s

It was 1952 and the Korean War had been raging for over two years. Although the northern invaders had been expelled from Seoul, the track, in the Dongdaemun area of the city had long since stopped hosting racing. The horses were mainly gone – killed in the fighting or taken by the invading force – and the safe had been looted. Among other things, the track was now being used as a landing strip for US aircraft.

With nowhere else to go, however, some of the racing fraternity had returned, some of them with horses. Korean racing didn’t use thoroughbreds until the 1970’s and the majority of runners at the Sinseol-dong track had been ponies; some Mongolian and some from Jeju Island, and almost all had been fillies or mares. One of the most successful runners of the 1940’s was reportedly a mare named Achimhai or “Morning Flame.”

Although Achimhai most likely perished at the start of the war, she was survived by a daughter and it was this filly who was at Sinseol-dong and was bought by US Marine Lt. Eric Pedersen for the rather princely sum of $250 from her owner, a Korean teenager by the name of Kim Huk Moon (not his real name). As the legend goes, Kim needed the money to support his sister, Kim Chung Soon, who had lost her leg stepping on a land mine.

Lt. Pedersen bought her for a reason and the filly was put to work. Her task was to carry ammunition to the frontline for the 75mm Recoilless Rifle (anti-tank) Platoon of the 5th Marine Corp. From the time she was bought until the end of the war, “Reckless,” as the US soldiers called her – after the weapon they used – carried out this task with distinction, remaining calm when the platoon’s gun was fired while all other animals were spooked.

Sgt Reckless in Korea

Sgt Reckless in Korea

Her finest hour was in the 5-day battle known as “Outpost Vegas” during which she made 51 trips from the ammunition supply point to the firing sites. Almost always travelling alone, she carried a total of almost 5 tons of ammunition a total of 35 miles in the open and under enemy fire. She was wounded twice but continued in her task. More often than not, on the return journey from the front, she would carry wounded soldiers and thus was responsible for saving a number of American lives.

The horse showed bravery in battle

The horse showed bravery in battle

After the battle the US Marine Corp. made the horse the first ever animal to hold an official rank in any military service as she became a Sergeant. Reckless was well taken of by the Marines and became something of a mascot – albeit one well-versed in combat. Guzzling beer and Coca-Cola, Reckless essentially became one of the boys.

After becoming the subject of an article in the Saturday Evening Post which made her famous back home in the States, a campaign was launched to bring Reckless to the USA. With the Korean War over in 1953 – ending in the armistice, not a peace treaty, along the original 38th parallel that lasts until this day, the Marine Corp. duly obliged.

Reckless drinking with Marines

Reckless drinking with Marines

In total, Sgt. Reckless was awarded two purple-hearts, a Good Conduct Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation with star, the National Defense Service Medal, a Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, a Navy Unit Commendation, and a Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.

Sgt. Reckless was brought to Camp Pendleton in California where, after giving birth four times and being promoted twice – the second time by the Commandant of the US Marine Corp, to the rank of Staff Sergeant – she died in 1968 aged 19 and was buried at the base. Outranking the soldier who cared for her, she always caused a problem on official occasions as he wasn’t allowed to walk in front of her!

Back at Camp Pendleton, Sgt Reckless was promoted twice

Back at Camp Pendleton, Sgt Reckless was promoted twice

Later this year, Sgt. Reckless will be honoured with a memorial which will be unveiled at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico on July 26. She has a website here and a Facebook group here both of which have lots more information about her life and the memorial. A Youtube video has received nearly 1.4 Million views.

Interestingly, in the UK, a horse named Sgt. Reckless can be backed at 33/1 for the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival next month. Get on it!


* While the early parts of her story remain hazy due to a lack of Korean sources, what happened after she was bought at Sinseol-dong is not in doubt. The story was first noticed in Korea in 2006 with an article in the Korea Racing Authority’s in-house newsletter and has since been covered here by a number of major media outlets. However, none of them add anything to the American sources they – and indeed this article – are based upon. All pictures above, with the exception of the one of Sinseol-dong Racecourse, are from http://www.sgtreckless.com

Korean Racing Girls Redux – History of Female Jockeys in Korea

Last Saturday afternoon at Seoul, something happened that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Race 7, an otherwise unremarkable domestic class 4 allowance race, was won by jockey Yoo Mi Ra. The second place horse was ridden by Kim Hae Sun and Ahn Hyo Ri was on the third. Female jockeys had swept the placings for the first time ever in Korea.

Earlier in the afternoon, a horse called Dewma had given Lee Shin Young, Korea’s first female trainer, her 39th winner and the following day, Sunday, saw Lee Ah Na ride Imperial Girl to second place behind Tough Win in the afternoon’s feature event.

It is questionable what would be the more unlikely: that by 2013, South Korea would have a female President or that women would be performing so strongly in the traditionally ultra male dominated world of Korean horse racing.

Korea's first female jockey, Lee Ok Rae in 1975. At the time, the horses were not thoroughbreds

Korea’s first female jockey, Lee Ok Rae in 1975. At the time, the horses were not thoroughbreds

Park Geun Hye was elected the nation’s first female President last month, however, somewhat surprisingly, you have to go back to the now long-gone Ttukseom Racecourse on the north bank of the Han River and to the Spring of 1975 when 21-year-old Lee Ok Rae became the first woman to be granted a jockey license in Korea.

South Korea was, at the time, under the authoritarian rule of President Park Chung Hee – father of the new President Park Geun Hye – who had recently survived the second of three assassination attempts – this one had resulted in the death of his wife. Then, as now, racing held a near monopoly on gambling and Ttukseom was full to bursting on each race-day.

Lee Ok Rae graduated in the same class as Bae Dae Sun and Ji Yong Cheol, who would go on to become two of the top riders of their generation and today are among the country’s most successful trainers. Assigned to trainer Kwon In Deok, on March 17 that year, Lee rode in her first race.

In true storybook fashion it was a winning debut as in race 4 that day, she partnered horse number 1, “Kansas” to victory over five and a half furlongs.

Lee continued to establish herself over the coming months, however, in August that year, disaster struck in the shape of a fall in which she sustained injuries that would end her career. She retired just six months after her first ride with seven wins from forty-eight starts. No Korean woman would ride in a race for the next quarter of a century.

By the time they did, Park Chung Hee had been dead for two decades and his once bitter enemy Kim Dae Jung was now President of South Korea. Seoul had hosted the Olympic games in 1988 and Ttukkseom Racecourse was closed as the huge new track at Gwacheon opened, having been constructed on the site of the Olympic Equestrian events. At the turn of the millennium, the KRA made an effort to get more women into the sport.

From left: Lee Ae Li, Lee Keum Ju and Lee Shin Young in the early 2000s (KRA)

From left: Lee Ae Li, Lee Keum Ju and Lee Shin Young in the early 2000s (KRA)

In 2001, two jockeys were granted licenses, Lee Keum Joo and Lee Shin Young. They were followed a year later by Lee Ae Li and Park Jin Hee. Lee Keum Joo and Lee Ae Li are these days occasional riders, the former having only ridden sporadically since her marriage while the latter, despite retaining her popularity with punters with her “Ae Li Gongju” (Princess Ae Li) image complete with pink silks and boots, has only ridden 50 times in the past year.

Of Lee Shin Young and Park Jin Hee, we will return to shortly.

Tragedy struck the next intake. Granted a license in 2005, Lee Myoung Hwa took her own life shortly afterward. She was found to have been suffering from depression that is believed to have been exacerbated by worries about constant reducing to make weight. A year later, newly licensed Kim Seo Jin quit before her first ride.

In 2006, female jockeys received mainstream publicity in Korea with the release of the movie “Gaksoltang” (Lump Sugar). Starring actress Im Su Jeong as a jockey and largely shot at Seoul Race Park, the movie is, for its acting and focus on the horse as a star, arguably one of the best racing movies ever produced (Click here to see trailer.). KBS Television produced a one-off documentary about Lee Ae Li to coincide with the film’s release.

Na Yu Na after winning the Jeju Cup (KRA)

Na Yu Na after winning the Jeju Cup (KRA)

Meanwhile, down on Jeju Island Kim Joo Hee and Na Yu Na became the first women to receive jockey licenses for the pony racing there. Kim was formerly a promising athlete while Na was an Aerobics instructor. Both have become prolific winners with Na becoming the first woman to reach first 100 – and now 200 – career winners as well as landing the prestigious KRA Jeju Cup.

Na and Kim have found it easier to compete riding the Jeju ponies than their counterparts have on the thoroughbreds on the mainland and in a short time have risen to first and third in the all-time female winners list. They’ve been joined in recent years by Kim Da Young who is also winning regularly.

Back in Seoul, Yoo Mi Ra qualified in 2008. She along with 2010 graduate Park Jong Hyun have struggled to gain much of a foothold but are still working hard although Yoo did make all to win that historic race on Saturday.

2010, however, saw another desperately sad turn of events, one that shook everybody involved in racing here. Having begun racing at Seoul in the same graduation class as Lee Ae Li, Park Jin Hee moved to the new track at Busan when it opened in 2005.

She started riding winners and became well established but in 2009 her form began to dip. One Friday in March 2010, she failed to appear for her rides. After the alarm was raised, she was found dead in her apartment. She was 28.

Park Jin Hee

Park Jin Hee

Park Jin Hee left behind a detailed suicide note, outlining what she believed to be unfair treatment and bullying in racing in general and that she in particular had suffered, principally from trainers. The recriminations were bitter with the jockeys and trainers unions engaging in furious rows.

Nearly three years on and for all that Busan is a much more progressive track than Seoul in terms of its raceday operation, its rules and its openness to foreigners, no Korean woman has been licensed at the track since.

Later in 2010, the Korean movie industry once more turned its attention to female jockeys as Kim Tae Hee starred in “Grand Prix” Unlike Gaksoltang, however, this was not a movie to live long in the memory.

At Seoul Lee Shin Young, who qualified as a jockey nine years earlier, sat and passed the exam needed to gain a trainers’ license. She continued riding for nearly a year until, with 90 winners to her name, a barn became vacant. On July 1, 2011 and still only 31 years old, Lee Shin Young surrendered her jockey license and became Korea’s first female trainer.

Kim Hae Sun is winning on the track

Kim Hae Sun is winning on the track

She has started well, saddling 35 winners including one in a listed race.

Her barn now has 24 horses in it, including Feel So Good, the first Korean bred horse to win a race in the US and she is thought of as one of the most promising talents on the backstretch. As a jockey she had an aggressive style which landed her in the stewards room far too often.

It is an attitude has served her well in an environment where many people were hoping for her failure.

On the track, Lee Shin Young’s protegé is Kim Hae Sun who has 80 winners to her name. A product of the Seoul Jockey Academy, which has started to churn out a series of promising young riders who have been putting their elders to shame, Kim along with 2011 graduate Lee Ah Na and 2012’s Ahn Hyo Ri, have every chance of making it to the very top.

All time List – (Winners/Rides as of January 2013):

1. Na Yu Na* – 219 (1829)
2. Lee Shin Young – 90 (895)
3. Kim Joo Hee* – 88 (1542)
4. Kim Hae Sun – 80 (1147)
5. Lee Ae Li – 53 (1062)
6. Park Jin Hee – 38 (651)
7. Kim Da Young* – 35 (450)
8. Lee Keum Ju – 19 (755)
9. Lee Ah Na – 12 (165)
10. Ahn Hyo Ri – 9 (134)
11. Lee Ok Rae – 7 (48)
12. Yoo Mi Ra – 7 (629)
13. Park Jong Hyun – 2 (110)
14. Lee Myoung Hwa –
15. Kim Seo Jin –

*Jeju Pony Racing

** There have also been three Japanese women riding in Korea and all of them have been successful. Mai Beppu rode at Seoul in 2011 while Hitomi Miyahsita rode plenty of winners at Busan in 2009/2010. Akane Yamamoto also had a successful speel at Busan in 2011/2012. Unfortunately, Akane suffered a serious injury in a paddock accident in Japan last year.

*** This post is an updated version of one published on this blog back in 2009 titled “Korean Racing Girls”. Much of the information for that original post was sourced from the excellent Korean language blog “Enjoy Horse Racing” whcih is still going strong.

Korean Derby D-4: All The Winners So Far

Gyeongbudaero Bidding To Become 15th Winner Of Korea Classic

The Korean Derby, which will be run at Seoul Race Park this coming Sunday is a relatively recent addition to the Korean racing year. Except for an enforced stoppage during the Korean War, racing has been running on the peninsula continuously since the 1920’s but while those early years saw horses racing each other, it wasn’t exactly the kind of horseracing we’re familiar with today. Many horses weren’t even thoroughbred and there was little point in having a Derby for three-year olds.

Gwangyajeil in the Korean Derby Winner’s Circle. His owner and breeder, the late Im Sang Yun (left) also bred Triple Crown winner J.S.Hold

The establishment of a domestic thoroughbred breeding industry and the introduction of the private ownership of race-horses – and therefore prize money – led to the creation of big Stakes races in the late 1980’s and early 1990s, Finally in 1998, the Derby was run for the first time. In 2007, the Korean Triple Crown Series with inaugurated with the Ttukseom Cup, Derby and Minister’s Cup making up the three Classic races. Indeed, in that first year, J.S. Hold took the lot. The following year, the KRA Cup Mile at Busan replaced the Ttukseom Cup as the first jewel in the crown and, while Sangseung Ilro won the first two legs in 2009, no horse has since swept all three.

In the fourteen editions run so far, nine colts and five fillies have taken the prize which for its first three years was run over just seven furlongs before moving up to its current nine in 2001. When the first crop of foals to be sent to race exclusively at Busan reached three-years of age in 2008, the Derby – and other major Stakes races – became open to horses from both Seoul and Busan. Since then, raiders from the South have won three out of four times and in Gyeongbudaero, have the favourite for this year’s edition.

Here are all the winners with pedigree and jockey:

2011: Gwangyajeil [Vicar – Hurricane Havoc (Jade Robbery)] – Oh Kyoung Hoan – He skipped the KRA Cup Mile and went straight to the Derby. It paid off as he was an easy winner. Injury meant he only ran twice more and was retired to Stud at the end of his three-year old season. Bred by the late Im Sang Yun, who also bred J.S. Hold.

2010: Cheonnyeon Daero [Creek Cat – Doneitmyway (Northern Flagship)] – Park Geum Man – Money Car, winner of the KRA Cup Mile was sent off the favourite but got sucked into a speed duel with the sprinter Seonbongbulpae in the early stages. Still, the favourite had a considerable lead entering the final furlong. He was spent though, and Cheonnyeon Daero, a 30/1 shot, chased him down and caught him on the line. Money Car was never the same again and only ran once more. Cheonnyeon Daero went on to finish second in the Minister’s Cup – the final leg of the Triple Crown. A horse with a bad case of seond-itis – he finished 2nd 14 times during his career, he was retired in early 2012 and will go to Stud.

2009: Sangseung Ilro [Concept Win – Ms. Whiskey (Whiskey Wisdom)] – Jo Sung Gon
– The filly, a shock winner of the KRA Cup Mile a month earlier made it two in a row for Busan. She couldn’t maintain her form over the whole year, however, and went down to a shock defeat in the Oaks in August before returning for a creditable third in the Minister’s Cup, the third and final leg of the Triple Crown in October. Went on to win two more Stakes races as a four-year old before being retired from racing in January 2011 for broodmare duties. She has been bred to Menifee.

2008: Ebony Storm [Buster’s Daydream – Sorority Jazz (Dixieland Band)] – Shim Seung Tae – Two years ago was the first time that Busan’s best three-year olds were invited up to Seoul to contest the Derby and it was one of those visitors, Ebony Storm, the longest shot on the board, who took victory in a monsoon downpour. Ebony Storm is still running as a seven-year old, specialising in distances of up to a mile.

2007: J.S. Hold [Ft. Stockton – Hwangsangjiljoo (Passetreul)] – Moon Jung Kyun – Widely considered the best Korean bred horse ever. J.S. Hold landed the inaugural Triple Crown injuring himself in the final race and not returning to the track. He retired with nine wins from ten starts and is now at Stud.

2006: Baengnokjeong [Slew O’Green – Lesu Run (Proper Reality)] – Hwang Soon Do – The rank outsider at over 80-1 on Derby day, Baengnokjeong was at the time, the longest priced horse to win the Derby.

2005: Saebyeok Dongja [Fiercely – Cheongpa (The Rodgers Four)] – Chun Chang Ki – Raced on at the top-level for three more years. His jockey, Chun Chang Ki became a trainer and sadly lost his fight against cancer earlier this month.

2004: Mupae Gangja [Didyme – A Heun A Hop Kan (Kinsky)] – Kim Hyo Seob – One of the top colts of this decade, Mupae Gangja won ten of his sixteen races including the Chairman’s Trophy and Minister’s Cup along with the Derby in 2004.

2003: Habidongju [Silent Warrior – Kahwa (Zoffany)] – Park Tae Jong – The last filly to win until Sangseung Ilro in 2009.

2002: Haeam Janggun [Didyme – Ronde (Toast The Champ)] – Lim Dae Gyu – Ronde foaled her second Derby winner in as many years with this filly who won eight of her fourteen races and gave the late Lim Dae Gyu a Derby victory.

2001: Haetpit Maeul [Mujaazif – Ronde (Toast The Champ)] – Ji Ha Ju – Starting a run of three consecutive years of filly triumphs was Haetpit Maeul. Now a broodmare with some success.

2000: Haekdol’pung [Lost Mountain – Swift Diplomacy (Nice Pirate)] – Park Tae Jong – Korea’s most successful ever jockey got his second straight Derby win on the favourite. It was tight though, with Haekdol’pung getting the verdict in a three-way photograph. Sire Lost Mountain died in 2009.

1999: Manseokkkeun [Fiercely – Komplication (Kris. S)] – Park Tae Jong – Yes, he really did have three consecutive ‘k’s in his name. Park Tae Jong got the first of his three Derby winners on the colt whose sire, Fiercely, died in 2009.

1998: Useung Yegam [Happy Jazz Band – Man Jang Dae()] – Song Seok Hen – Nine of the 14 runners in the first Derby were fillies and the favourite Useung Yegam, whose dam wasn’t even in the studbook, took the honours by a length.

* For more videos see Fallight’s YouTube page. This post is a slightly updated version of the one posted in corresponding Derby build-ups over the past couple of years.

Bally Brae, Former Horse Of The Year and Grand Prix Winner, Retired Aged 10 As Little Sister Breaks Maiden

Last Saturday at Seoul may hae drawn most attention for a jockey picking up a 6 month ban for a foolish ride, however, amongst the winners of 12 relatively low-key races, there was one notable filly, who broke her maiden at the fifth attempt.

Global Bally [Forest Camp-Political Bluff (Unaccounted For)] took victory in race 3 by a length and a half at odds of 6/1. She is the half-sister of Bally Brae, Korea’s Horse Of The Year in 2006 and Grand Prix Stakes winner in 2007 and her win came one month after the 10-year-old finished 9th in what would be his final ever outing at Seoul Race Park.

Bally Brae and Moon Se Young win the 2007 Grand Prix Stakes (KRA)

The American bred Bally Brae [Yarrow Brae – Political Bluff (Unaccounted For)] is one of a few horses, Subsidy, Luna, Baekgwang, Baekpa who established themselves both as a champion racehorse and as a firm fan-favourite.

Imported in January 2006 after being (so the story goes) spotted in the US by Hong Dae You, then a jockey. His debut, with Hong in the saddle, was a winning one and began a run of four straight wins culminating in triumph in the 2006 Selangor Turf Club Trophy. A pair of Stakes runner-up finishes later and he found himself lining up for the Grand Prix Stakes at the end of the 2006 season. He wouldn’t win, leading most of the way before finishing second to Flying Cat (Western Cat).

It was in 2006 that he began the rivalry for which he will be most remembered. Bally Brae and Subsidy (Mr. Prospector) traded big handicap wins with each other throughout that year and 2007 – Subsidy getting the better of their most memorable battle. It was Bally Brae, however, now with Hong Dae You as trainer and Moon Se Young in the saddle, who claimed the biggest win of his career in the 2007 Grand Prix, with Subsidy four lengths adrift.

Bally Brae would continue to be the top horse on the peninsula in 2008. However, he was being restricted by a high handicap mark and defeat to Dongbanui Gangja (Broken Vow) in that year’s Grand Prix heralded the start of the changing of the guard. Two wins and a second place to start 2009 showed that there was still plenty of life left in the now seven-year old, but an injury then began to cause him problems. Although he recovered quickly, he never quite regained his old speed.

Despite this, he started 2010 with three straight wins. Inevitably this put his handicap mark back up and, over the next two years, while he regularly finished in the money, he would only score one more win. In another symbolic changing of the guard, earlier this year, both he and Dongbanui Gangja finished more than 10 lengths adrift of the new star, Smarty Moonhak (Smarty Jones).

His owners had pledged to retire him if he became uncompetitive and, after running ninth on April 14th, it was announced that he would not race again. Instead, he has been sent to the Korea Horse Affairs High School – a specialist school in Jeolla Province, run by the KRA which, in addition to the standard school curriculum, equips students with the skills they need to go on to work in the racing and equestrian industries. There he will have the status of “Visiting Professor” and, still race fit, will be ridden by the next generation of aspiring jockeys.

Bally Brae and Hong Dae You, first his jockey, then his trainer (KRA)

Bally Brae’s dam, Political Bluff, was imported to Korea in 2007. It is common practice for the KRA to buy the dams of good imported racehorses. the dams of Dongbanui Gangja and Tough Win have both arrived in Korea in recent years.

As for Global Bally, trained by Hong Dae You and ridden by Moon Se Young, she has a long way to go to emulate her big brother. With that first win under her belt though, she is finally on her way.

* Bally Brae’s great rival Subsidy was retired in 2010. Retrained as a riding horse, he sadly died in a paddock accident earlier this year.

Kim Gu – “Baek Beom” – Independence Fighter, Writer, Politician and Punter

A few years ago, Korean lawmakers were asked to vote on who they respected the most in Korean history. The results were the same as an earlier poll among the general population to find who was considered the greatest Korean leader since independence.

Kim Gu

In the greater scheme of things, polls may be meaningless but there is no doubt that the man who topped both, Kim Gu – also known by his pen-name of “Baek Beom” (“Ordinary Man”), was one of the most important Koreans of the twentieth century.

His life story and role in the fight for Korean independence is well-known. Also well-known, but less celebrated, is that when he got the opportunity, Kim Gu liked nothing better than betting on the horses.

Born in Hwanghae (now North Korea) in 1876, Kim Gu first came to prominence in 1896 for the murder – and murder it was – of a Japanese man he suspected of being involved in the Japan-ordered assassination of Korean Queen Myeongseong (better known to history as Queen Min). Kim was sentenced to death but escaped from prison and, after a short spell at a Buddhist temple, became a teacher.

In 1905, the Japanese Empire formally annexed Korea. Kim joined anti-Japanese protests and eventually became  one of the leading figures of the Independence movement, spending the next fifteen years in and out of prison. After the suppression of the March 1 Movement in 1919 and subsequent humiliation a Korean delegation suffered at the post-World War 1 Paris Peace Conference, Kim exiled himself to China.

The betting hall at Sinseol-Dong Racecourse, Kim Gu would still have been in exile when this picture was taken

Joining the Korean government in exile he rose to become President of the “Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea” in 1927. This group carried out regular insurgencies against the Japanese before joining with the Allies in World War 2.

In 1945, after 26 years away from home, Kim and the rest of his group finally returned to Seoul to form the new government of a once more free Korea. Unfortunately, the country would immediately be divided into the Soviet backed North and the US backed South.

A year later, the remains of Kim’s mother, Kwak Nak Won, who died in Chongqing, were repatriated. It is said that Jockeys from Seoul Racecourse escorted her funeral procession from Seoul to her final resting place. From that moment on, “without fail”, Kim Gu, already known for his fondness for horses and racing, attended the races at Sinseol-dong every weekend.

In those few short years between independence and the outbreak of the Korea War, the racetrack at Sinseol-dong was the place to be. Kim Gu was the President, however, in reality the US Military Government ran the country up until 1948 and Archer Lerch, the third head of that government, was also often to be found at the track with his senior staff.

With them as enthusiastic punters were Kim’s Provisional government colleagues Shin Ik Hee, Speaker of the National Assembly, and most significantly, Syngman Rhee along with his Austrian wife Francesca Donner. Rhee would go on to defeat Kim in the 1948 election and rule South Korea throughout the Korean War and, increasingly despotically, up until 1960.

A race at Sinseol-dong in the late 1940s when Kim Gu, Syngman Rhee and Shin Ik Hee were track regulars

Kim Gu was, by all accounts, a flamboyant figure at Sinseol-dong. In his regular place in the VIP lounge on the 3rd floor and always dressed in Hanbok – the traditional flowing Korean robes – he would bark his bets at bookmakers (which even then was illegal as the tote has always had a monopoly in Korea) and then ferociously wave his betting slips over his head as the horses entered the home straight.

The racing authorities, taken somewhat by surprise at being graced with the presence of such high-profile figures, quickly arranged for some races to be renamed in honour of their illustrious patrons. Trophy races named after Syngman Rhee, Shin Ik Hee and Kim Gu were all held, right up until Sinseol-dong’s last day as Seoul Racecourse.

Kim Gu was assassinated in his office in 1949. To this day, there is speculation as to who may have been involved (the assassin himself was murdered in 1996 not long after claiming that Kim’s death had indirectly been ordered by the Rhee administration – and therefore even more indirectly by the CIA). Korea had lost one of its modern founding fathers. Less significantly, Korean horse racing had lost perhaps its greatest ever supporter.

Sinseol-dong Racecourse was destroyed during the early days of the Korean War. Syngman Rhee, who was very much a committed punter, did attend the new Ttukseom Racecourse although nowhere near as regularly as he did Sinseol-dong. His eventual successor Park Chung Hee who, just like Rhee before him, became increasingly authoritarian as his Presidencey wore on, was an occasional visitor to the track.

President Park Chung Hee (centre) in the VIP box at Ttukseom

Park recognised horse-racing as very much a common working-people’s sport and therefore something he should be seen to be supporting. Indeed, he lent his title to the first running of the President’s Cup – a race which, despite undergoing several reincarnations, is still run for today.

Park was the last President to be known as a racing fan. Just like Kim Gu, Park Chung Hee also met his end at the hands of an assassin. His successor Chun Doo Hwan (another military dictator), was recorded as having toured the Ttukseom Stables one morning in the early 1980s but did not stay for the racing. Subsequent Presidents have not been seen at the track. Current President Lee Myung Bak’s signature may appear on the back page of the Korean Racing journal every weekend granting that publication the Presidential charter, but it’s the Agriculture Minister who is the only government member who is ever required to actually show up at the track.

It’s no great loss and President Lee has, however,  signed off on the new racecourse being built in Yeongcheon – close to his main power base. Apropos of nothing, the last new racecourse, Busan, was built in former President Roh Moo Hyun’s hometown of Gimhae.

Having said that, given that these days, attending the racing is not something that one will readily admit to in polite Korean society, it is worth contemplating that once upon a time, everyone who was anyone in Korea spent their Sundays on the 3rd floor at Sinseol-dong cheering their horse home.

* Kim Gu is buried in Seoul’s Hyochang Park next to a charming but crumbling soccer stadium. The small park and the museum dedicated to Kim is worth visiting if you are in Seoul. There are not many English language resources on Kim but his Wikipedia page is quite detailed. His most famous piece of writing is a passage at the end of his autobiography called “My Desire” which is reproduced in full here.

Pictures on this post are from the KRA’s archive while additional sources (Korean) are Herald Kyeongje, 1 April 2010; Chosun Ilbo June 2, 1999.

* See here for a look at what is on the site of both the Sinseol-dong and Ttukseom racecourses today.