Korean Triple Crown 2018

KRA Cup Mile 2018 – Full Preview

For race-by-race previews of the 11-race Sunday card at Seoul, click here

The 2018 Korean Triple Crown kicks off at Busan Racecourse on Sunday afternoon with the KRA Cup Mile – “The Korean 2000 Guineas”. Nine runners set out hoping to emulate the feat of Power Blade two years ago, when he swept all three jewels to become the first winner of the Triple Crown in its current format. Now a five-year-old Power Blade remains in training and it’s his stablemate and namesake, Ecton Blade, who is set to begin as favourite.  

Ecton Blade

Ecton Blade won the Breeders’ Cup in December and will be favourite for the Cup Mile (Pic: KRA)

Ecton Blade was a dominant winner of the Breeders’ Cup, Korea’s top juvenile race, last December, and was an impressive eight-length winner on his only start of 2018 so far. A two-time winner already at this distance, he is going to be tough to beat. Trainer Kim Young Kwan once more has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. He’s won this race three times already and in addition to Ecton Blade, also sends out Divide Wind, comfortable winner of the Gyeongnam Sinmun Cup, a trial for this race, a month ago. Punters will surely send them off as favourite and 2nd favourite.

Divide Wind

Divide Wind (Pic: KRA)

Seoul sends down three runners and two of them look to have credible chances. Mask and Gaon Champ came home 1st and 2nd in the capital track’s trial for this race and while it was Mask who prevailed that day, Gaon Champ, who was unbeaten going into that race, has a good chance of overturning that form today. World Sun and Yeongcheon Derby round out the ones who seem to have credible chances, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that in this race anything can happen – last year’s winner, Indian King, started at odds of 70/1.

Mask Gaon Champ

Mask defeated Gaon Champ in the Sports Seoul Cup (Pic: KRA)

Race 5: Class Open (1600M) – The KRA Cup Mile (KOR G2) / KRW 500 Million  

1. YEONGGWANGUIWINNER – Took five attempts to get his maiden win but has gone on to add two more including making all at this distance last time. 3rd behind Yeongcheon Derby at a mile in January. Likely to want to be on the early speed.
2. YEONGCHEON DERBY – The only unbeaten one in the field, the filly hasn’t raced since comfortably winning at this distance in January, beating Yeonggwanguiwinner in the process. A bit of a wildcard, she is a stablemate of World Sun. She has made all to win all three so far. She will try to get to the front from the gate.
3. MASK – Impressive winner at 1700M in January and then ran down and defeated Gaon Champ over 1400M in the Sports Seoul Cup a month ago. Has won from the front and from just off the pace. Likely to take a sit here, a place will be a minimum aim.
4. MONE FLYING – Started very promisingly but seemed to lose her way a little before coming back into form with a very good win over 1300M at Seoul in February. This seems a very tough ask though. Generally settles in the middle of the field.
5. GAON CHAMP – Looked a huge talent when romping home in his first three. Returned to action in the Sports Seoul Cup last month when he was run down by Mask in the closing stages. Up to a mile for the first time, he can overturn the form on Mask, but it would be a surprise – though not impossible – were he to beat the Busan favourites. Has led his races so far and will surely look to do so again.
6. WORLD SUN – The first of these to make a stake a claim as a juvenile winning the Gimhae Mayor’s Cup ahead of Ecton Blade last October. Ecton Blade returned the favour in the Breeders’ Cup and World Sun was a lacklustre 3rd to Divide Wind in the Gyeongnam Sinmun Cup, his only start of 2018. Jockey Lim Sung Sil may well be happy to take a sit at the back of the field and if the others go too fast, there is a chance it could open up for him.
7. YEONGGWANGUI CHAMP – Three wins from six and 3rd on first try at this distance at class 4 last month. Yet to be tested in this kind of company though and likely has plenty to find. Expected to settle in the middle of the field.
8. ECTON BLADE – Runner-up to World Sun in the Gimhae Mayor’s Cup but a commanding winner of the Breeders’ Cup in Seoul to become Champion Juvenile. Recorded an effortless win on first try at this distance on solitary start of 2018 so far. Stablemate of Divide Wind and very much the favourite, he will look to be on speed from the start.
9. DIVIDE WIND – Well back in the Breeders’ Cup but has been gone on to record three straight victories, including at this distance in January, and was impressive when comfortably scoring in the Gyeongnam Sinmun Cup over 1400M. Stablemate of Ecton Blade and likely to be the primary danger. Tactically versatile but probably content to let others to lead early here.

Verdict: It does look like Kim Young Kwan has done it again as he goes into the first leg of the Triple Crown boasting the favourite and second-favourite. Of his pair, (8) ECTON BLADE is the one to beat. The Champion juvenile has only raced once in 2018 so far, scoring in facile fashion over a mile in February but he arrives at the Cup Mile reportedly in even better shape and ready to win. Stablemate (9) DIVIDE WIND has really impressed in three starts since an underwhelming performance in the Breeders’ Cup and looks the main danger. (3) MASK and (5) GAON CHAMP came home 1st and 2nd in last month’s Sports Seoul Cup – although the order was somewhat of a surprise – and the two raiders from the capital are certainly capable of finding the places, even if they will have to raise their game to beat the favourites. (6) WORLD SUN looks best of the rest.

Selections (8) Ecton Blade (9) Divide Wind (5) Gaon Champ (3) Mask
Next Best 6, 2
Fast Start 1, 2, 5, 8

Race 4: Class 3 (1800M) Handicap / KRW 75 Million

Trainer Kim Young Kwan and jockey Lee Hyo Sik will partner with the favourite in the KRA Cup Mile and they do so here too. (2) SIGANUI JIHYE ran 2nd when favourite at class and distance just two weeks ago. He led from the gate that day and held on until being passed in the closing stages. She should be on speed again today and this time should go all the way. (6) WIN GO MAN pulled off a surprised win over a mile three weeks ago beating (4) MUJEOK SINHWA and (3) USAIN NUT in the process. Win Go Man needs a little but more respect today but up at this distance, Usain Nut at least – and possibly Mujeok Sinhwa too – should really be overturning that form. (1) ITSAGAINT WARRIOR was a very useful 2nd on his first try at this distance in February and comes in fresh after eight weeks out. (8) BRAVO MARINE moves back up to this distance after some positive recent showings and could be in the placing frame.

Selections (2) Siganui Jihye (3) Usain Nut (1) Itsagaint Warrior (8) Bravo Marine
Next Best 6, 4
Fast Start 1, 2, 7

Race 6: Class 1 (1400M) Handicap / KRW 110 Million

Hard to look past the Kim Young Kwan and Lee Hyo Sik combination again. (7) FINEST WARRIOR has won three of five starts so far and the Majestic Warrior gelding finds himself up at class 1 for the first time. His wins have been impressive though and the manner especially of his latest two suggest he has little to fear here. He should be close to the pace early and can win. (1) GASOK ENGINE was 3rd behind Drop The Beat and Haeya in a well-run race at this distance last time. He’s beaten a number of these in recent starts and should push the favourite close here. (2) MUJEOK WONDERFUL was a close at hand 4th in that race and can go well again too. (8) STEALTH has been up and down in recent starts but was 2nd on his last try at this distance in January in a better race than this and can’t be ruled out. (9) BANJIUI JEWANG enters after back to back competitive 3rd place finishes and can aim to at least match those today.

Selections (7) Finest Warrior (1) Gasok Engine (8) Stealth  (2) Mujeok Wonderful
Next Best 9, 6
Fast Start 1, 7, 9, 10
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Korean Triple Crown 2018: All The Cup Miles So Far

The Korean Triple Crown season is upon us with the first jewel, the KRA Cup Mile, set to be run at Busan this coming Sunday, April 8th. We’ll have a full preview of the big race in the forthcming days but in the meantime let’s take a look back at all previous runnings of the Cup Mile.

Indian King

Indian King won the KRA Cup Mile in 2017 (Pic: KRA)

 

The track configuration at Seoul Racecourse has never allowed for races to be run at a distance of a mile – although this is set to change within the next year – so, when the Busan Racecourse was designed, that was to be a key feature. The track was completed in 2004 and the first Cup Mile, held on a Friday in September 2005, was won by US import Siseon Jeap (Precise End).

The following year the race got a name change, the KRA Chairman’s Cup and a distance change to 1800M. Golding (Gold Alert), who would continue to be a stalwart at Busan until 2011, took the honours. In 2007, it was back to being the Cup Mile and Luna (Concept Win) landed the biggest win of her career. Australian jockey Garry Baker became the first of three foreign riders to date to have won the race.

In that same year, J.S. Hold won all three races of the Seoul Triple Crown but for 2008 Busan horses were invited to take part for the first time and the track invited to host the first leg. As a result, the Cup Mile was shifted to the first Sunday in April. Here is a list of the winners every year since then and what’s become of them:

2008: Rainmaker [Revere – Wandering Katie (Tejano)] – The 3/1 favourite won the race by two and a half lengths but then finished last in the Derby and would never win a race again. He suffered some injury setbacks and was finally retired in 2010. He was registered for breeding and covered the occasional mare but was ultimately retrained for Equestrianism.

2009: Sangseung Ilro [Concept Win – Ms. Whiskey (Whiskey Wisdom)] – The first of two superstar winners, she was a 16/1 outsider (the first and possibly only correct tip ever given on this blog’s twitter feed!) and despite behind the scenes shenanigans with Eiki Nishimura getting jocked off in favour of Jo Sung Gon, she went on to win the Korean Derby. Long odds-on favourite for the Korea Oaks. she was caught on the line by Pang Pang and then, at 80% fitness, ran 3rd in the Minister’s Cup when trying to seal the Triple Crown. Until Power Blade, she was the only Cup Mile winner so far to go on to win the Derby. Sangseung Ilro won two more Stakes races as a 4-year-old before being retired for broodmare duties. One of the best fillies ever produced in Korea.

2010: Money Car [Newsprint – Pinocchio (Big Sur)] – The first of just two winners from Seoul, he came into the Cup Mile with 5 wins from 6 starts and was a dominant 11-length winner. Odds-on favourite for the Derby, he looked home and hosed a furlong out but was run down on the line by Cheonnyeon Daero. He only ran once more, his career ended by injury. Out at pasture for a few years, he was registered for breeding in 2013 and occasionally covers mares at Hyunma Farm on Jeju Island.

2011: Soseuldaemun [Meisei Opera – This Ole Way (Vigors)] – This was a 3-year-old crop that, filly Useung Touch and solid handicapper Singgereounachim aside, didn’t really live up to its early promise. Toshio Uchida, “Mr. Pink” rode 7/1 chance Soseuldaemun to a 2-length win but the colt didn’t travel well to Seoul for the Derby and, 20 kilos lighter, finished 7th. He only raced twice more, with a very solid 3rd in the Gyeongnam Do-Min Ilbo followed by a return to Seoul for the Minister’s Cup where he was last of 14. Not registered for breeding, he was retired to Myeongsin Farm on Jeju.

2012: Gyeongbudaero [Menifee – Princess Lanique (Cherokee Run)] – One of the finest Korean-bred racehorses who is only now peaking. He was Busan’s champion Juvenile in 2011 and was the 3-length winner of the Cup Mile. A month later, he finished 3rd in the Derby, just a length behind Jigeum I Sungan and was 3rd behind the same horse in the Minster’s Cup. The same year, he was also 3rd in the President’s Cup. 13 of his 29 starts have come in Stakes races and it was in 2014 where he rose to the very top of Korean racing. Having won the President’s Cup at Seoul in November, he returned to win the biggest race of all, the Grand Prix Stakes, that December.

2013: Sting Ray [Forest Camp – Straight Cash (Straight Man)] – A victory at the time for the Korean breeding program with dam Straight Cash being a winner of the JRA Trophy in Korea. Sting Ray was the odds-on favourite for the Cup Mile and duly won by 4-lengths. He finished 6th in the Derby a month later and went on to be a solid class 1 handicapper befire his eventual retirement in April 2017.

2014: Cheongnyong Bisang [Volponi – Miss Alwuhush (Alwuhush)] – The 20/1 chance filly became Seoul’s second winner of the KRA Cup Mile when taking a 2-length victory last year. Another filly, Queen’s Blade, had been sent off as the odds-on favourite and she would come good a month later in the Korean Derby in Seoul with Cheongnyong Bisang back in 4th. Blighted by injury, he was inexplicably sent to the United States, where his story took a quite unexpected turn.

2015: Rafale [Colors Flying – Dongbang Choego (Al Naba)] – 2nd behind Doraon Hyeonpyo in the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup, Rafale begin his three-year-old campaign with a win but only managed 4th place in his final prep for the Cup Mile. Nevertheless, it was enough for him to be sent off as co-favourite with Doraon Hyeonpyo for the big race. Under You Hyun Myung, he struck the front late on and beat Doraon Hyenpyo by half a length. That would be as good as it got for Rafale as he finished 3rd in the Derby and then 5th in the Minister’s Cup before tendinitis brough a premature end to his career after just ten starts and five wins. He remains alive at Sinhwa Farm on Jeju Island.

2016: Power Blade [Menifee – Cheonmacheong (Lost Mountain)] – Champion juvenile the previous year, Power Blade was odds-on favourite for the Cup Mile, obliging by four-lengths and swept to all three legs of the Triple Crown with supreme ease. He went on to represent Korea at the Dubai World Cup Carnival in 2017, placing at Group level before returning to Seoul to run 2nd in the Korea Sprint and then to win the Grand Prix Stakes.

2017: Indian King [Biwa Shinseiki – Indian Diamond (Indian Charlie)] – British jockey Darryll Holland became the fourth foreign jockey to win the Cup Mile, guiding 75/1 outsider Indian King to a narrow win having taken the initiative early in the race. He ran solid 4ths in both the final two legs of the Triple Crown but suffered an injury setback shortly afterwards. He has recently returned to training.

Final declarations for this year’s race will be made on Wednesday. A full preview of the big race will follow.

Classic Trials: Mask Beats Gaon Champ To Win Sports Seoul / Divide Wind Cruises At Busan

With the KRA Cup Mile, the first leg of the Triple Crown just a month away, there were Classic trials at both Seoul and Busan. At Seoul, Mask handed Gaon Champ his first defeat while at Busan, it was a Kim Young Kwan-trained one-two as Divide Win led home Captain Force.

Having already stepped up to – and won at – 1700M, Mask was likely headed to the Triple Crown trail anyway but he was only sent off as third-best in the betting for the Sports Seoul Cup behind the hitherto undefeated Gaon Champ and Seoul’s top juvenile of 2017, Choinma. It was Gaon Champ who showed the way early and at the top of the stretch looked poised to go on keep his 100% record intact.

Mask was too strong. Under the urging of Shin Hyung Chul, he came alongside Gaon Champ, who was all-out under Park Tae Jong, and went past in the final half furlong to win by just under a length. Choinma was a long way back in 3rd.

Mask (Testa Matta) has now won three from seven in total but crucially, both of this year’s outings. He’ll not find it easy in Busan though.

Sports Seoul Cup – Seoul Racecourse – 1400M – March 4, 2018

1. Mask (KOR) [Testa Matta – Fire And Vice (Latent Heat)] – Shin Hyung Chul – 6.0, 1.4
2. Gaon Champ (KOR) [Ecton Park – Ruby Queen (Badge Of Silver)] – Park Tae Jong – 1.1
3. Choinma (KOR) [Menifee – Kkummaeul(Curia Regis)] – Choi Bum Hyun – 1.1
Distances: 0.75 lengths / 8 lengths
Also Ran: 4. Sharp Kaylan 5. Sinui Myeongryeong 6. Seourui Byeol 7. Eclair Beauty 8. Meni Bada

Down South, the Kim Young Kwan machine grinds on relentlessly and even without Champion juvenile Ecton Blade lining up, it seemed inevitable he was going to saddle the winner of the Gyeongnam Shinmun.

Divide Wind (Menifee) was favourite and he made short-work of the field, running away in the closing stages to win by three-lengths on the line. Stablemate Captain Force (Peace Rules), a half-brother to 2016 Oaks winner Ottug Ottugi came home 2nd.

Gyeongnam Shinmun Cup – Busan Racecourse – 1400M – March 4, 2018

1. Divide Wind (KOR) [Menifee – Grand Slam (Grand Pass)] – You Hyun Myung – 2.6, 1.2
2. Captain Force (KOR) [Peace Rules – Main Objective (Lion Heart)] – Lee Hyo Sik – 1.2
3. World Sun (KOR) [Officer – Dancing Desire (Mr. Greeley)] – Lim Sung Sil – 1.2
Distance: 3 lengths / 1 length
Also Ran: 5. Captain Guy 6. Baedu Jeonggi 7. May Star 8. Bugyeong Bolt

In other news at Busan, Drop The Beat bested Haeya in the feature class 1 handicap, a sprint over 1400M.

Weekend Round-Up: Ecton Blade & Triple Crown Trail, Rainha, Moonhak Chief

Three-year-olds were the standout performers in Korea last weekend with some of the best of the crop turning in eye-catching performances at both Seoul & Busan.

Ecton Blade won the Breeders’ Cup race at Seoul in December and so headed into the New Year as the leading Triple Crown contender. 2nd placegetter in that race and Seoul’s top juvenile of last year Choinma could only manage another 2nd place on his own seasonal debut two weeks ago but Ecton Blade made no mistake at Busan on Sunday.  He’s already won over 1600M before and went into Sunday’s race 3, at the KRA Cup Mile distance as the prohibitive favourite, fully justifying it by sauntering to an eight-length win. Stiffer tests await.

Ecton Blade’s win leaves the top sixteen three-year-olds (sixteen being the maximum field-size) with Triple Crown eligibility currently looking like this:

1. Ecton Blade [Ecton Park]
2= Sinui Myeongryeong (filly) [Hansen]
2= Choinma [Menifee]
4. Yeonghui Sidae (filly) [Hansen]
5. Captain Force [Peace Rules]
6. Divide Wind [Menifee]
7. Magic Ten (filly) [Rock Hard Ten]
8. Hoeng Un Gol [Forest Camp]
9. Meni Bada [Menifee]
10. World Sun [Officer]
11. King Jjang [Simon Pure]
12= Green K (filly) [Chapel Royal]
12= Global Line [Rock Hard Ten]
12= Hae Hu [Peace Rules]
12= Bugyeong Daebak (filly) [Forest Camp]
12= Blue Flag (filly) [Menifee]

Ecton Blade’s trainer Kim Young Kwan has an embarassment of riches that has seen 20 of his 40 runners so far in 2018 win. Even my elementary maths can calculate that’s a scarcely believable 50% strike rate and 70% of his runners have finished in the Quinella. Perhaps the richest of all the talents could be Rainha.

The exiting filly stepped up to a mile for what was her third career start and Rainha maintained her 100% record in a dismissively easy manner, cruising around on the bridle for a four-length win. Having been imported in-utero, she’s not on the Classic trail but nevertheless looks a very promising talent.

Rainha is owned by Shunsuke Yoshida and her dam is Allwise (Mr. Greeley) who had three foals in Japan before being relocated to Nokwon Farm on Jeju Island in late 2014 while in foal to Gold Allure. That resulting foal was Rainha. In the meantime, her filly by Heart’s Cry, born a year earlier and called Historia, last November won the TVK Sho at Tokyo Racecourse and now boasts a record of three wins from nine starts in the JRA.

Also in the non-eligible three-year-old ranks is Moonhak Chief. The US import by Pioneerof The Nile stepped up to class 2 and also to 1800M for the first time at Seoul on Sunday. And mightilu impressive he was too,  being ridden patiently by Lim Gi Won early on beofre stikign the front with just over a furlong to go and running on to win by a comfortable two lengths. He’s now won five of his seven outings.

In other news, Doraonpogyeongseon (Kantharos) went down by a nose in Busan’s Sunday sprint feature. Under an apprentice jockey so as he wouldn’t have to carry 60kg, the third-placegetter in the Korea Sprint couldn’t quite get up over 1200M, beaten a nose by Ever In Ever (Sharp Humor)/