J.S. Hold, who in 2007 won the first ever Korean Triple Crown, has died. The 14-year-old passed away on January 6th from complications of colic on Jeju Island, where he had been living since his retirement in 2008.
J.S. Hold [Ft. Stockton – Hwansangjiljoo (Passetreul)] made his debut on Minister’s Cup day in October 2006 in the very first race on the card, a juvenile allowance over five furlongs. He finished 4th, a full fifteen lengths behind the winner Ganghomyeongjang. Although already, by Korean standards of the time, a physically impressive specimen, there were few indications that J.S. Hold would never be beaten again. His and Ganghomyeongjang had unfinished business.
The first win arrived a month later in a similar juvenile contest. Third in the betting, J.S. Hold went straight to the front this time and never looked back, winning by an eye-catching fourteen lengths. Another facile victory in December, this time a six-length score over Gi Ra Seong and Top Point, both of whom would go on to be multiple winners themselves, saw J.S. Hold head into 2007 as one of the favourites for the new Triple Crown.
The Triple Crown series, intended to bring more of a sporting aspect into racing in Korea, would take two existing contests on the calendar, the Ttukseom Cup and Minister’s Cup and make them into races for three-year-old domestic bred horses, joining the Korean Derby, which would be in its tenth year, as a Triple Crown.
By the time they got to the first race, the Ttukseom Cup over 1400M in April, J.S. Hold was hot favourite having added a further three easy victories between January and March up to the Derby distance of 1800M by a combined twenty-four lengths. It was evident, this was no normal Korean racehorse.
Second-favourite for the Ttukseom was Ganghomyeongjang, who since defeating J.S. Hold on what was both of their debuts, had managed to avoid him while accruing three more victories of his own. It was a mismatch. Moon Jung Kyun on J.S. Hold allowed Ganghomyeongjang to lead from the gate but went past him at the top of the stretch and eased away to a seven-length win.
The Korean Derby followed in May and it was expected to be a formality. It was but the manner of it was still astonishing. J.S. Hold left the field in the back straight and cantered home uncontested with the margin on the line eleven lengths. Ganghomyeongjang had to settle for 4th with Natural Nine and Namchonuijijon – who would both go on to have long and successful careers, in 2nd and 3rd.
With the Triple Crown being modeled at that time on the British version rather than the American, the final leg wasn’t until October, almost five months after the Derby. Accordingly, J.S. Hold was sent out in July against older horses. Chief among them Myeongmun Gamun, who would go on to win the President’s Cup twice, and Secret Weapon also firmly established in the Seoul elite. Punters sent J.S. Hold off as the odds-on favourite and he duly delivered. striking the front two furlongs out and romping away to win by five lengths.
It was then, however, that J.S. Hold, until now reasonably sound, began to experience leg problems which added to a nagging, if not serious, eye issue. Plans for a further prep race for the Minister’s Cup were shelved and it became touch and go as to whether he would make the big race itself. He made it and despite his problems being well-documented, began as long odds-on favourite, such was his perceived superiority. This time it wasn’t so straightforward.
The pace in the 2000M race was set, as expected by Ganghomyeongjang with J.S. Hold slowly away but improving up the back to move up into 2nd place at the top of the stretch but with still four-lengths to make up. This time though he didn’t cruise past Ganghomyeongjang as if he wasn’t there. This time Ganghomyeongjang was still very much there. Still there as they passed the furlong pole and still there at the 100M. J.S Hold was game though. With Ganghomyeongjang all out, Moon Jung Kyun found just a little more and the Ttukseom Cup and Derby winner finally got his nose in front just 30 metres from the line. He crossed it almost a length in front and history was made. J.S. Hold had won the Triple Crown.
He wasn’t fit though and his trainer later admitted that he probably shouldn’t have run. One month after the race, J.S. Hold was diagnosed with tendinitis and accordingly didn’t run in the President’s Cup (won by Myeongmun Gamun, who he had so easily defeated), or the Grand Prix, In fact, he never ran again, In June of 2008, he passed a qualifying trial and was entered in a Class 1 handicap but he never made it to the final declaration stage. In October of 2008, almost exactly one year after his great triumph, J.S. Hold returned to Seoul Racecourse on a race day to be officially retired. He and jockey Moon Jung Kyun cantering down the home straight and through the finish line to the exceptionally rare sound of warm applause from the assembled ranks of usually cynical punters (the full ceremony can be watched at this link).
What would happen to J.S. Hold began a welcome discussion into the care of retired racehorses in Korea. Prior to his retirement ceremony it was noted that with little interest in using Korean bred stallions – even a Triple Crown winner – for breeding, his future may not be secure and a minor uproar ensued in the local racing media. Guarantees were swiftly made for him by his owner, which were honoured, and he lived his remaining years in retirement on Jeju Island, covering a few mares each year until succumbing to illness at a sadly still relatively young age. A handful of his progeny are racing today. The discussion that was started has continued to the point where, almost ten years later, things still have a long way to go to be perfect and, like other places, horses’ post-racing fates still depend on what their owners can or will do for them, but the days of having to automatically fear the worst, are over.
If I may conclude by being self-indulgent for a paragraph or three, J.S. Hold was the horse who got me into Korean racing. By the time of his Triple Crown, I had been living in Seoul for a couple of years and visited the racecourse every few weeks for a recreational punt but while admiring the gleaming facilities, I wasn’t especially impressed by the racing itself and preferred to spend most weekends watching football and getting my racing fix by punting on races back home.
Then J.S. Hold came along. I happened to be at the track during one of his prep races for the Ttukseom Cup and noticed that this was a very different beast to the usual lot. This was, to put it bluntly, a racehorse – something I might have seen at Newmarket (or at least Yarmouth). A few months later I was with a group of friends (yes, I did have some) on Minister’s Cup day and the moment he went past Ganghomyeongjang in the final strides was the moment I was hooked. This was racing – this was sport. A couple of weeks later I started this blog, the header image of which is still a picture taken that day.
J.S. Hold wasn’t the first superstar Korean-bred racehorse and in the years since others have come through, notably his successor in winning the new Triple Crown, Power Blade. But J.S. Hold was special and he won’t be forgotten.