Horse Racing

Asian Racing Conference 2018 Preparations Step-Up

Preparations are well underway for the 37th Asian Racing Conference (ARC), which will be held in Seoul from May 13th-18th, 2018. 

ARC Logo

Under the supervision of the Asian Racing Federation, The Korea Racing Authority will be hosting the ARC, which has grown into world racing’s largest bi-annual get-together, for the 3rd time with delegates having most recently assembled in Seoul for the 30th ARC in 2005. Earlier this week, the organizing committee updated on preparations at the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities (IFHA) annual conference in Paris.

The main Conference venue will be COEX in the Southern Seoul Business District although the week’s events will get underway at Seoul Racecourse on Korean Derby Day on the Sunday May 13th when in addition to Korea’s three-year-old showpiece event, there will also be a special ARC Commemorative Race.

There will be various Bureau meetings on Monday 14th before the Conference officially opens that evening. This will be followed by three days of Conference proper. Delegates may then join an optional tour of the KRA’s breeding facilities on Jeju Island on Friday.

Alongside the main conference, the 2nd International Forum for the Aftercare of Racecourses will also be held.

For more information and for “Early-Bird” Registration, which is available until December 31st, please see the following links:

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Korea Cup & Sprint 2017 – The Review

The 2nd Korea Autumn Racing Carnival took place at Seoul Racecourse over the weekend. There’s no need to re-tell what happened here as pleasingly, the race has received plenty of international coverage, save to say that Yutaka Take guided Graceful Leap to victory in the Sprint while in the Cup, London Town downed last year’s winner Chrysolite to make it a Japanese one-two.

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London Town and Chrysolite dominated for Japan in the Korea Cup (Pic: Ross Holburt)

On the track, London Town was simply sensational. He came in having broken the 1700M track record at Sapporo less than a month ago and absolutely dominated the Cup, taking well over a second off the Seoul 1800M track record in the process. Last year’s winner Chrysolite had absolutely no answer. That said, the Japanese pair finished a full 17-lengths clear of Papa Shot in 3rd and demonstrated just how good JRA horses, even those not quite at the very top, really are.

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London Town in the Korea Cup Parade Ring (Pic: KRA)

Graceful Leap’s Sprint win was naturally less emphatic but it was still convincing. Korean Triple Crown winner Power Blade ran a huge race in 2nd place and while he was never likely to be as inconvenienced as some others by the wide draw, one can’t help but wonder whether he would have got much closer had he been able to begin from a more favourable gate. Doraonpogyeongseon ran on very nicely too proving himself a real racehorse. In the Cup for Korea, while Champ Line put in a good run, ultimately it was all about Triple Nine as it so often is. He and Power Blade have turned into such good ambassadors for Korean racing that how to replace them when their powers begin to wane is starting to be an issue. But of course, that’s part of what makes racing so fascinating.

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Graceful Leap and Yutaka Take cross the line in the Sprint (Pic: KRA)

The performances of the two American-trained horses was one of the Carnical’s highlights. In the Sprint, The Truth Or Else was drawn in gate 1 but jockey Dylan Davis was forced off the rail and went wide to find a run. He closed very strongly for 4th place and a tidy prize that fully vindicated the decision of his enterprising connections to bring him. Trainer Kenny McPeek was a boisterous presence throughout the week and led his charge in the parade ring himself prior to the race. Picking up an even tidier prize was Papa Shot, 3rd in the Cup despite having to recover from some interference four furlongs out.

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Take returns to scale (Pic: Ross Holburt)

McPeek estimated that The Truth Or Else would be ranked around 20th in terms of sprinters in the United States and one wonders what one ranked even higher could achieve especially as the nature of the Sprint makes it by no means a race that JRA horses will automatically dominate. As for Papa Shot, he’s a very solid horse but no superstar but looks the kind of horse you’d love to own. Bill Nader, representing the man who does own him, Barry K. Schwartz, made the point before the race that Papa Shot had run at all sorts of tracks in the US and almost always gave a good account of himself. Those tough and grinding types can find their reward on the Seoul sand and while at 1800M, it would take something special to beat a JRA horse or a Hong Kong galloper that gets on with the track, a really top American horse might just be able to do it.

One disappointing note was the performances of the Hong Kong horses. With the races being beamed live to a busy Sha Tin, it was a pity that neither Lucky Year nor Circuit Land made any impact in the Sprint and Cup respectively. Circuit Land perhaps had some excuses having been prominent early but was then forced to check with four furlongs to go as a result of a poorly judged manouevre by Lee Chan Ho on Dynamic Jilju. However, Papa Shot was also disadvantaged by that incident and overcame it and jockey Nash Rawiller admitted his mount never really looked to be in the hunt. Meanwhile, Lucky Year didn’t get the start he needed and once the sand started flying, his race was over.

However, Super Jockey won the Sprint last year and both Circuit Land and Lucky Year appeared to pull up fine so hopefully the races will still prove attractive to Hong Kong connections in 2018.

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Graceful Leap (Pic: Ross Holburt)

It was tough too for the French contingent. City Money unfortunately was scratched from the Sprint after picking up an injury between the airport and the racecourse on his way in. Meanwhile Skiperia and Nimr found life difficult in the Cup although Nimr’s 6th was by no means a bad performance. The enthusiasm that all connected with the horses brought, as well as the always jovial presence of “France Sire” providing coverage was a big enhancement to the weekthe always jovial presence of “France Sire” providing coverage was a big enhancement to the week and hopefully more French challengers will return in future.

Promising young Singapore-based trainer James Peters brought across Wimbledon for the China Horse Club. After showing prominently early on under Daniel Moor, he faded in the closing stages but reportedly pulled up fine.

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One thing that is evident is that despite being in just its second year, the Carnival is already establishing itself as an event in its own right to the extent that what happens in the actual races becomes almost secondary. Everyone knows about the track surface by now – it is what it is – and the atmosphere surrounding the whole week was extremely positive.  The travelling international press corps was larger than last year and within Korea, cable network KBS N Sports broadcast highlights of the races in a 75 minute show at 10pm on the day of the race and then repeated it in primetime at 8:20pm on Monday night. There is a feelgood environment about the event that is perhaps only possible with a relatively young race, enthusiastic connections and still a sense of the huge potential that could be realised in future years. That Keeneland go out on a limb to sponsor the race right on the very eve of one of their biggest and most important sales of the year, perhaps demonstrates this.

On to attendance and turnover.  Attendance was actually down on last year but there is a good reason for that. In 2016, the Korean “Chuseok” Thanksgiving holiday – one of only two weekends of the year with no racing – immediately followed the Carnival. Attendance always shows a spike prior to dark weeks as there is no opportunity for a legal punt for the next 12 days. As it was 39,910 paid ($2 each) to come through the gates at Seoul Racecourse on Sunday compared with in excess of 44,000 last year.

Wagering turnover on the day was also down but interestingly, both Cup and Sprint showed slight increases. The Sprint handled 4.37 Billion Won in 2016 to 4.39 Billion Won this time while the Cup went from 4.8 Billion Won last year to 5.12 Billion Won in 2017 and followed the regular pattern of turnover getting bigger as the day progresses (for obvious reasons, turnover on the final race of the day is always the biggest). Local punters find it very hard to handicap international races due to the form being hard to assess but with more familiarity, it appears Korean racegoers are now prepared to have a go.

Internationally, both races were simulcasted by the Hong Kong Jockey Club and by Sky Racing in Australia. The Singapore Turf Club took the Sprint as did Malaysia while the entire day was available for betting at the Macau Jockey Club. In the USA, Sky Racing World distributed every race to  ADW’s. TVG Network broadcast both Sprint and Cup. Overall international turnover slightly exceeded domestic turnover (Hong Kong obviously accounting for the vast majority). Dubai Racing TV also screened both big races live.

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Laboum in the winner’s circle (Pic: Ross Holburt)

This is Korea. There needs to be progress year on year. Local assessments will probably focus on the dominance of the Japanese runners and that one fewer country was represented than in its inaugural year (the USA joined but the UK and Dubai didn’t send any runners this time). However, that should be countered by the sheer quality of London Town’s performance and also by the positive showing by the US runners. There’s a year to go until the next Carnival. The Korea Cup & Sprint have not yet come of age, but they are very much on the right course.

Triple Nine Bests Success Story & Rock Band

Triple Nine returned to the winner’s circle in some style as he defeated Success Story and stablemate Rock Band to win a strong renewal of the Owners’ Cup at Busan Racecourse on Sunday afternoon.

Despite having suffered reverses to Diferent Dimension and Beolmaui Kkum in his last two outings, Triple Nine was sent off the slight odds-on favourite for the mile long race which was dominated by the favourites for the duration.

Success Story and Rock Band started quickly as expected but under Kim Yong Geun, Triple Nine was always handy and comfortably got the best of them in the home straight, running on to win by a length from Success Story with Rock Band a further half back in 3rd.

Success Story keeps his run of solid performances going since returning from Dubai. He is yet to win but has two 3rds and now a 2nd racing in very tough company. Rock Band, three races into a comeback following a lengthy spell out through injury also showed he is back to near his best.

Triple Nine and Success Story were both among preliminary nominations for September’s Korea Cup at Seoul. Given the strength of some of the overseas nominations, they are going to be very much up against it. Success Story was up against it in Dubai too though and he exceeded expectations. Hopefully they can both exceed expectations next month.

Multiple Stakes Winner Tough Win Retired Aged 9

After a career spanning more than six years and featuring 24 wins and over 2 Billion Won in prize money, Tough Win has been retired. His retirement ceremony took place at Seoul Racecourse last Saturday afternoon.

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Tough Win in the winner’s circle at his retirement ceremony at Seoul Racecourse

Tough Win [Yonaguska – Maggie May’s Sword (Sword Dance)] was purchased for $12,000 at the Ocala 2-year-old sale in June 2009. and arrived in Korea the following month.

He made his racecourse debut that November, being sent off as third-favourite for a class 4 event over 1200M. He won by 16 lengths. The victories quickly piled up and Tough Win was very soon established as the hottest 3-year-old in the country. So it was in July of 2010, unbeaten in 7 starts that he traveled down to Busan to take on his toughest assignment to date, the Busan Mayor’s Cup and a showdown with Dongbanui Gangja.

Dongbanui Gangja (Broken Vow) came in following 12 consecutive wins stretching back almost two years and which included two victories in the Grand Prix Stakes. He was sent off as favourite. Tough Win sat handy early under regular jockey Cho Kyoung Ho while Dongbanui Gangja, with Moon Se Young on board for the first and only time, was away patiently. The older horse improved up to 4th as they began to straighten up and it looked like we were in for quite the finale. We were, but not the one we expected. Dongbanui Gangja spooked and ran wide, ruining his chance leaving Tough Win to get the better of a furious battle with Yeonseung Daero and Vicar Love, winning by a neck on the line.

Dongbanui Gangja’s antics meant for unfinished business between the pair and accordingly, they met again in October in the KRA Cup Classic at Seoul. Dongbanui Gangja ran well that day but lacked his usual spark, lugging 63kg around, and he finished a well beaten 2nd as Tough Win prevailed by five lengths.

So Tough Win was a perfect 9 for 9 heading into the season finale, the Grand Prix Stakes in December of 2010. Tough Win was the even-money favourite, slightly ahead of Dongbanui Gangja, who was looking for an unprecedented third consecutive triumph in the race. It was not to be for either of them as another 3-year-old, Mister Park, up from Busan, upset the favourites to record his 11th straight win on his way to what would become a record-breaking 17 consecutive victories.

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Tough Win beat Mister Park and Smarty Moonhak to win the Grand Prix Stakes in 2011 (KRA)

Revenge for Tough Win on Mister Park would come a year later. 2011 started off in mixed fashion, Carrying a very high weight in handicaps, Tough Win suffered a couple of defeats – including one at the hands of a 51kg carrying Dongbanui Gangja – as well as victories before heading south to defend his Mayor’s Cup at Busan in July. It all went wrong as he engaged in an early speed battle with Dangdae Bulpae that scuppered both of their chances leaving the previous year’s runner-up Yeonseung Daero to narrowly defeat Dongbanui Gangja.

The rest of the year would be flawless, however. Three runs and three wins culminated in the Grand Prix Stakes in December when he finally ended Mister Park’s unbeaten record. The precocious 2-year-old Smarty Moonhak was 3rd.  The three of them – quickly dubbed the “Troika” by the Korean racing media – should have been competing with each other in the big races for the foreseeable future. Little is foreseeable in racing, however, and within a few short months, Mister Park’s story would end in tragedy and Smarty Moonhak would be suffering from tendinitis that he would not recover from. The rigors of racing an unrelenting schedule on a hard track took their toll, making Tough Win’s longevity even more remarkable.

He wouldn’t be able to retain the Grand Prix in 2012. finishing 5th behind the emerging filly Gamdonguibada after a year in which none of his 4 wins arrived in Stakes company. He and Smarty Moonhak did face each other in the Busan Mayor’s Cup in July but Tough Win had an off-day, finishing 4th, while Dangdae Bulpae defeated Smarty Moonhak for the win.

Tough Win began 2013 in fine style though, winning three races in the Spring before travelling to Busan once more to take on the Busan Mayor’s Cup for the fourth time. It would end in triumph, as he ran away from Beolmaui Kkum and Dangdae Bulpae in the closing stages to win by nearly three lengths on the line. He followed it up with a 4th place in the SBS Korea/Japan Goodwill Cup in September but the injuries started to mount up – indeed, Tough Win’s Studbook entry lists 621 veterinary visits during his career.

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Tough Win claiming his 2nd Busan Mayor’s Cup in 2013 (KRA)

Tough Win only ran three times in 2014, each time without success and it looked like all those hard races had caught up with him. Remarkably though at the beginning of 2015 he came back and with a new running style – dropping all the way to the back from the gate, conserving energy and then picking off his rivals in the home straight -he returned to the winner’s circle that January. He promptly came out and repeated the feat in February. Those victories – wins number 23 and 24  – would prove to be the Indian summer of his career and following six subsequent unsuccessful starts, he was finally retired. His last race was in March this year.

Maggie May’s Sword herself was imported to Korea in late 2010 although she only produced one foal who made it to the races prior to her death in May 2012.

In Mister Park’s obituary, it was noted that the lot of a gelding can be to keep on running until the injuries and general wear and tear finally take over. Unfortunately this was true in Tough Win’s case with his retirement coming perhaps a year later than it should but he bows out in good health and is to be sent for re-training as a riding horse. We will be watching carefully. Subsidy, one of the most important racehorses of the past two decades here was to be retrained too but quickly disappeared without trace after retirement. There’s no reason to suggest that will happen to Tough Win. It had better not. With his, for want of a better word, toughness, those wins and his sheer longevity, he retires as one of the greats of Korean racing.

Busan On Sky Racing – A Basic Introduction

Korea will debut on Sky Racing in Australia on Friday with nine of the ten races on the card at Busan the card being shown on Sky Racing 1 (race 10 is available for betting only) as Australian racing takes its customary Good Friday holiday. We’ll have a full race-by-race rundown here on Thursday but in the meantime, here are some very basic things to be aware of about racing at Busan.

The grandstand at Seoul - three more races will be shown in Australia from the capital on Sunday

The grandstand at Seoul – three more races will be shown in Australia from the capital on Sunday

The Track: The track surface is sand. There is often a lot of kickback and as such horses tend to wear pacifiers and give one another plenty of room. Due to the nature of the surface, it usually runs quicker when it is wet.

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Races: 90% of regular races are handicaps. There are six classes in total with class 6 being for new or unrated horses. Horses then progress up (or down) the classes according to rating.

Most horses are Korean bred although there are imports too. Imported horses all begin at class 4. Tab number and gate number are the same and jockeys wear a cap coloured according to their gate number (number 1 always wears a white cap, number 2 a yellow cap, etc.).

Starts tend to be quick and most horses need to be on the pace early. Jockeys are not permitted to shift ground within 100M of the start and there can be quite a battle to find a forward position.

Jockeys: It’s by no means unique to Korea but there is a big gap in jockey ability. As of today, the top of the Premiership at Busan looks like this (RSLW=Rides Since Last Win):

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Trainers: Kim Young Kwan has been the dominant trainer at Busan for some time with Australian Peter Wolsley generally the runner-up. There are two other foreign trainers at Busan; South African Bart Rice and Ireland’s Thomas Gillespie, who previously trained in Malaysia. Here is the 2016 Premiership so far (RSLW=Runners Since Last Win).

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Favourites: One plus of Korean racing is that favourites do oblige on a regular basis. In Korea, punters overwhelmingly favour exotic bets with the quinella and trio being the two most popular. The win and place pools are comparatively tiny and while they will generally be accurate in terms of who is faovurite, they may not tell the whole story the further down the board you go.

General: Prize money is high and integrity is good. Betting pools in Korea close 30 seconds ahead of the advertised start so races usually jump exactly on time.

Tomorrow (Thursday) we will run through all ten races on Friday’s card. On Saturday we will focus on Seoul in advance of Sunday’s races.

What Have We Learned From Success Story?

Success Story brought the Korean adventure at the Dubai World Cup Carnival to a successful conclusion with a rousing run behind California Chrome last week. A second front-running performance and gutsy finish under another flawless Tadhg O’Shea ride, meant he landed back to back 3rd place finishes, this time in one of the most widely watched races of the Carnival so far.

The decision to run in that race was not without risk. Although Success Story had won at 2000M before, he is considered to be much better at shorter distances and accordingly was also entered for a 1400M race the same night. However, with California Chrome scaring off a number of potential rivals and jockey  O’Shea expressing confidence in the horse getting the trip and being competitive, the decision was made to take a chance at the greater distance. And it was a decision that paid dividends with Success Story’s front-running and then gutsy rally to get up for 3rd place earning him plenty of praise. Of course, California Chrome was much better – he finished four lengths ahead of Success Story but it could have been forty had Victor Espinoza been so inclined – putting in a performance judged to be the best in the world last week.

The wider significance is that for the second time, Success Story looked like he belonged in the race. It’s true that just as when finishing 3rd of 14 last month, he was racing against horses, Chrome aside, who are no more than solid handicappers but until last week, not many would have thought a Korean bred and trained horse could cope with even that level, let alone beat the majority of his competitors. He vindicated the decision of the Dubai handicappers to invite Korean horses and has ensured that a return trip next year – either for him or for others from here – is very much a possibility.

Success Story took to Dubai very well. He reportedly enjoyed the stables, the routine of the lengthy walk to and from trackwork each day  and the dirt track itself, as well as the general environment. At the races, he looked so much better than he generally does in Korea, having been turned out beautifully. He looked like a racehorse. His groom led him up in a shirt and bow-tie and his connections – it seemed as though the whole family was there – were dressed up as if for Royal Ascot.

In Korea, the grooms tend to wear Union issued t-shirts to the parade ring; except for big Stakes races, 90% of trainers don’t wear anything different to races than they would wear around the barn and owners rarely leave their lounge (although Busan is generally much better than Seoul in this regard, especially when their horses visit the capital). Owners will from April be permitted to have their horses run in their own colours rather than those of the jockey. With the current drive by the KRA to reboot the image of racing in this country, it would be very welcome if this was accompanied by a little more sophistication in the raceday experience.

The most important thing of course is that he ran well, exceeding the expectations of the most optimistic observers. O’ Shea deserves great credit for extracting the very maximum out of him on both occasions but he was well trained and well entered too. Mainstream Korean news outlets carried reports on the two races while the California Chrome factor ensured Success Story was mentioned in global coverage of Thursday’s race.

Success Story wasn’t the only Korean-trained horse at the Carnival. Sprinter Cheongu was actually considered the more likely of the two to be competitive. His best run prior to Dubai was a 3rd place behind Choegang Schiller and El Padrino in the Asia Challenge Cup in Seoul last August and the knowledge that he would travel fine, having previously taken trips to Singapore and Japan in his stride, meant one less thing to worry about. It was not to be. On opening night, he missed the break and then lost a plate. In such circumstances, running 5th of 8 was creditable but a lackluster performance last Thursday was less easy to explain away. He’s done his bit over the past few months but this time, he just didn’t run very well.

Seven and a half years ago, I wrote an article called  “What have we learned from Pick Me Up?” The answer then and for several subsequent years was “not a lot”. Pick Me Up was the first horse to go on what was a well-intentioned but ultimately counter-productive initiative to let Korean-bred horses race in the United States. It inadvertently became an incentive to ship horses that may otherwise have been spelled, to an unfamiliar trainer to participate uncompetitively in three races for which a subsidy was provided. Essentially, the wrong horses went to the wrong races at the wrong time and it was still continuing up until last year.

By contrast, the interactions with Japan, Singapore and now Dubai are much more positive. With connections being invited to target a particular race, the trainer is still responsible for training the horse, the grooms go with the horse and everybody involved is invested in the trip being successful. So “What Have We Learned from Success Story?”, the answer now might still be “Not a lot just yet” but with the caveat of “Watch this space…” The prospect of more nights like  last Thursday are a huge incentive to keep trying.

KRA Is Recruiting Overseas Trainers

The Korea Racing Authority is currently seeking qualified and experienced applicants to join its professional thoroughbred Trainer ranks.

The stables at Busan

The stables at Busan

Applicants must have a minimum of three years’ experience and currently hold a valid trainer’s license in a Part 1 or Part II racing country. In addition to other criteria which will enable them to set up their business in Korea, trainers must also have a minimum 8% win or 15% quinella strike-rate or have trained more than 1000 career winners.

Click here for detailed information and here for the application form. For more information or to apply, please contact Natalia Lee at the Korea Racing Authority on: natalia@kra.co.kr

It’s a tough assignment requiring more than just training skill as Korea is by no means the easiest place to adapt to for professionals working in any field, even for those with a lot of experience. The small number of trainers currently working in the country will certainly attest to this and the challenges they have had to overcome. However, the potential rewards for those who can make a go of it, are great.