Never Seen Before, a 26/1 outsider, produced the run of his life at Seoul Racecourse this afternoon to win the Minister’s Cup – the final leg of the 2014 Korean Triple Crown – and hand Australian trainer Peter Wolsley the biggest win of his Korean career.
Unsurprisingly, it was the Korean Derby and Oaks winning filly Queen’s Blade who was sent off as the solid favourite for the 10 furlong test, with plenty of support too for fellow Busan raiders Gumpo Sky and Success Story.
It was the latter of these, Success Story who set the early pace under Jo Sung Gon, bounding out of gate 15 and going across to take the lead into the first corner. He would maintain it for much of the race, with Queen’s Blade, under You Hyun Myung for the first time in the absence of regular jockey Kim Yong Geun, in close attendance throughout.
Meanwhile, Never Seen Before sat patiently in the front half of the field with plenty of cover. As they swung for home it looked like Queen’s Blade was ready to strike as Success Story went to the rail. The Derby and Oaks winner though had nothing. Instead, Gumpo Sky and outsider Ganghae came through the middle while Never Seen Before came around to fight out the finish.
By the furlong pole, Success Story and Ganghae had been seen off and it was a straight duel between Gumpo Sky and Never Seen Before, the outsider finally getting in front 50 metres from the finish and pulling away for a half-length win. Ganghae ran on gamely for 3rd with Success Story 4th and Queen’s Blade a further 4-lengths back in 5th.
Never Seen Before moves on to five wins from ten starts. There looks to be more to come too from Gumpo Sky while Ganghae was a revelation in 3rd.
For winning jockey Lee Hee Cheon, it was unquestionably the pinnacle of a tough career to date. Wolsley is far too much of a diplomat to say so but it is likely that Lee was at best 2nd or maybe 3rd choice for the ride after stable jockey Jo Sung Gon opted to go elsewhere and You Hyun Myung got the ride on Queen’s Blade.
Lee, who 8 years since turning professional still has only 92 winners to his name, gave the colt the perfect ride. Those of us – including this blog – who doubted his ability to close out a tight finish when the pressure is on, were emphatically put in our place. He was superb.
As for the trainer, over the years we’ve written plenty about Peter Wolsley. The 51-year-old Aussie arrived in Korea in late 2007 (coincidentally around the same time this blog started) and endured an extremely rough first couple of years at first, taking charge of the “breakdown barn” – the horses no-one else wanted to train.
Slowly but surely, he started getting winners and when there are winners, suddenly there are more owners and more – and better – horses. His stable is now firmly established as second only to the Kim Young Kwan machine in terms of winners. What had been missing until recently were the big ones.
Old favourite Khaosan won Wolsley his first Group race back in September 2011, although it was by virtue of being promoted from 2nd after Cheonnyeon Daero was disqualified. Late last year, Secret Whisper took the Gyeongnam Governor’s Cup by a head to land what would be Wolsley’s biggest victory until today.
In many ways, Wolsley is the exception that proves the rule. It is extremely difficult for foreigners to make a go of things in Korean racing and his achievements standing out so much only emphasize this. But his success is no accident. Seven years of sheer hard work against all odds paid off in full today and he deserves every plaudit.
The bars of Gimhae will need to be fully stocked with Martini Rosso and Coca Cola tonight.
Minister’s Cup (KOR G2) – Seoul Racecourse – 2000M – October 5, 2014
1. Never Seen Before (KOR) [Ecton Park – Gwangyeolhan (Stormin Fever)] – Lee Hee Cheon – 26.0, 4.1
2. Gumpo Sky (KOR) [Vicar – Perfect Storm (Didyme)] – Choi Si Dae – 1.7
3. Ganghae (KOR) [Didyme – Ocelot (Catrail)] – Choi Bum Hyun – 10.4
Distances: 0.5 lengths/2.5 lengths
Also Ran: 4. Success Story 5. Queen’s Blade 6. Ildeung Hanghaesa 7. K Man 8. Jeongsang Bima 9. Wild Rush 10. Cheongnyong Bisang 11. Winner’s Marine 12. Nubi Queen 13. Major Star 14. Super Legend NR. Super Lucky