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Ha Jae Heung, Derby Winning Trainer Retires

Ha Jae Heung, who trained Saebyeock Dongja to win the Korean Derby in 2005 and sits in 2nd place in the all-time winner list among trainers at Seoul, has retired. He saddled his final runner in the last on Sunday.

Ha Jae Heung trainer

Among trainers at Seoul, Ha Jae Heung was, at the time of retirement, join 2nd-longest serving behind Jung Ji Eun. 63-year-old Ha gained his license on the same day as Kim Yang San, at the old Seoul Ttukseom Racecourse in 1983.  He finished with just shy of 1000 winners from 10500 starters across his career. It may not sound a lot but Ha is from a generation of trainers who navigated the transition from the time when all racehorses were owned by the Authority, no prize money and restrictions on the number of runners a trainer could have, to the modern age of private ownership and Stakes racing.

Ha’s best horse was probably Saebyeock Dongja, who in addition to the Derby also won the Herald Business Cup in 2005 and the Sports Chosun Cup in 2006. He would win the latter race again with Sotong Sidae in 2015. His last Stakes winner was Waikiki in the Gwacheon Mayor’s Cup in 2015.

Ha Hae Heung went out with a winner on his final weekend as his Two Kay won the last at Seoul on Saturday under Manoel Nunes. It was winner 936 of his career.

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1st Day Winner for Fergus Sweeney At Busan

It was a good start to life in Korea for jockey Fergus Sweeney at Busan on Friday. He rode Rock Hard Seven (Rock Hard Ten) to victory for trainer Bart Rice in Busan race 10:

Sweeney had earlier ridden Thomas Gillespie’s Great Rock (Ecton Park) to 2nd place in race 9 and made all to win by nine-lengths on Rock Hard Seven, who was notching his 4th win in 6 career starts.

Manoel Nunes & Fergus Sweeney Set For Weekend Debuts at Seoul & Busan

There are two new foreign jockeys making their full-time Korean debuts this weekend. Three-time Singapore Champion Manoel Nunes will be in action at Seoul while British racing stalwart Fergus Sweeney will be legged up for the first time at Busan. Both riders are on initial four-month licenses.

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Manoel Nunes looks on at Seoul Racecourse last weekend

Manoel Nunes is no stranger to Seoul, having ridden in International Jockey Challenges and also having partnered Singapore-based horses in the Asia Challenge Cup and Korea Cup in the capital but this is his first time riding full time in Korea.

A native of Brazil, Nunes topped the Jockey Premiership in Singapore in three consecutive years between 2014 and 2016 and was runner-up in 2017, picking up numerous big race wins along the way.

42-year-old Nunes is also a six-time champion in Macau  where he is the most successful rider in the Macau Jockey Club’s history.  Nunes will be based at Seoul where his first ride is in race 3 on Saturday when he partners Lucky Race for trainer Yu Jae Gil.

Belfast-born Fergus Sweeney has had a long and distinguished career in the United Kingdom where he is closing in on 1000 career wins. His biggest success to date was on Twilight Son in the Group 1 Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock Park in 2016.

The 40-year-old Sweeney has some live chances at Busan on Friday including Great Rock for Thomes Gillespie. He’s the third British licensed jockey to ride at Busan after Darryll Holland and JP Guillambert. And Sweeney doesn’t just ride horses – the Noraebangs of Haeundae have been warned:

Simon Foster Trains First Korean Winner

Simon Foster is off the mark in Korean racing. The Australian trainer saddled his first winner at Seoul on Sunday afternoon as Yaho Aurora won the 1700M race 6.

Yaho Aurora (Rock Hard Ten) was a twelve race maiden going into the race and started at odds in excess of 20/1. However, under jockey Cho Han Byeol, he sat nice and handy throughout and outstayed the rest in the home straight to win comfortably.  For jockey Cho, it was a first win since returning from national service at the start of the year.

Trainer Foster opened his barn towards the end of last year and has been steadily putting together his string. He now has ten horses under his care and Yaho Aurora was just his thirteenth runner. He got his first placed finish last week when Pegasus Farm’s Jungle Beat ran 2nd on his debut.

It would be a surprise if Yaho Aurora went on to do very much but now the breakthrough has been made, hopefully Simon Foster can will be sending out many more winners.

J.S. Hold, First Korean Triple Crown Winner, Has Died

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. 

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J.S. Hold 2004-2018. Here winning the Minister’s Cup in 2007 (Pic: KRA)

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.

J.S Hold 2

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.

Luigi Riccardi Trains First Korean Winner

It hasn’t taken Luigi Riccardi very long to get among the winners in Korean racing. On Sunday afternoon, Rocket Queen won the 1700M race 7 giving the Italian trainer his first Seoul success with just his second runner.

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Luigi Riccardi on the Korea Racing Broadcast Channel following his first win

Rocket Queen actually has a history with foreign trainers having previously being with Brian Dean and giving the Australian trainer his final Korean winner last June. She’s one of 17-horses in Riccardi’s fledgling Seoul barn and on Sunday was sent off as 2nd favourite for the Class 3 handicap. And under jockey Jeong Jeong Hee, Rocket Queen made all for very comfortable four-length score.

Riccardi came close to adding another later one race later with his only other runner of the weekend, Choego Money having to settle for 2nd in race 8.

The 49-year-old Riccardi arrived in Seoul last autumn having previously trained extensively in Europe and held assistant trainer positions in the United States. He and Australian Simon Foster became the 2nd and 3rd foreign trainers to be based at Seoul following Brian Dean who spent a year here between 2016 and 2017.  Foster too has sent out a total of three runners so far and is in the process of building up his stable.

Menifee Leading Sire In Korea For Sixth Straight Year

Menifee has once more dominated the Leading Sire in Korea ranks. Grand Prix Stakes winner Power Blade was once again Menifee’s leading money earner as his progeny won almost double that of nearest rival Ecton Park. It was also an encouraging year for Hansen, whose first Korean crop of juveniles hit the track.

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Menifee, Korea’s leading sire, again

2017 Korea Leading General Sire (Money earned in 1000 Korean Won units – Chief Money Earner)

1. Menifee (USA) 8,973,350 – Power Blade
2. Ecton Park (USA) 5,272,610 – Triple Nine
3. Officer (USA) 4,074,930 – World Sun
4. Vicar (USA) 3,977,090 – Phantom Blade
5. Peace Rules (USA) 3,861,780 – Success Story
6. Forest Camp (USA) 3,627,530 – Raon Magic
7. Sharp Humor (USA) 3,583,880 – Golden Gate
8. Colors Flying (USA) 2,744,590 – Yeonggwanguihunter
9. Exploit (USA) 2,340,220 – Singgeureoun Gom
10. Ingrandire (JPN) 2,322,860 – Geombit Gangja
11. One Cool Cat (USA) 12. Whywhywhy (USA) 13. Chapel Royal (USA) 14. Rock Hard Ten (USA) 15. Cowboy Cal (USA) 16. Didyme (USA) 17. Hawk Wing (USA) 18. Simon Pure (USA) 19. Hansen (USA) 20. Pico Central (BRZ)

As ever Menifee was way out in front in terms of Starters, Winners, Strike Rate and Money Earned. He is covering progressively fewer each year (64 in 2017) as he nears retirement but he’ll up around the top for a few more years yet. Even without Power Blade’s 1.2 Billion Won in earnings, he was still significantly ahead of his nearest rival. This year, that was Isidore Farm’s Ecton Park, sire of Triple Nine while Officer jumped up from 7th to 3rd. Vicar and Peace Rules in 4th and 5th finished in exactly the same positons they did last year while Forest Camp dropped from 2nd to 6th.

For the second year running, Cowboy Cal was the highest placed stallion from outside of Korea  – he is now in Korea himself but all his runners were sired in the USA. Further down the list, Hansen entered the top twenty for the first time, which leads us to:

2017 Leading Sire of 2-Year-Olds in Korea

1. Menifee (USA) 1,369,930 – Choinma
2. Hansen (USA) 1,140,100 – Sinui Myeongryeong
3. Ecton Park (USA) 868,870 – Ecton Blade
4. Thunder Moccasin (USA) 829,580 – Yeongcheon Derby
5. Old Fashioned (USA) 550,640 – P.K. Party

Hansen actually had one more 2-year-old than Menifee make it to the track with 10 of his 33 winning at least once to Menifee’s imperious 18 from 32. Ecton Park has produced another solid crop while Pegasus Farm’s Thunder Moccasin got off to an excellent start in 4th place. Old Fashioned is now in Korea but his 5th place still relied totally on imports or those imported in-utero. Since coming to Korea Old Fashioned has already covered well in excess of 200 mares and he looks set to be a major player in years to come.

Accordingly Hansen and Thunder Moccasin were 1st and 2nd on the Leading First-Crop Sire list with the remianing top five being filled out by the Nokwon Farm based trio of Eurosilver, Testa Matta and Spicule.

Seven stallions were imported into Korea for breeding purposes in 2017, all from the United States. They are Afleet Express, Archarcharch, Modern Cowboy, Purge, Take Charge Indy, Tizway and With Distinction. With the exception of Take Charge Indy, who is owned by the Korea Racing Authority, all are standing privately.

Sadly some stallions did pass away during 2017. The most well-known was Whywhywhy who succumbed to complications arising from a debilitating back injury in September aged 17. Pensioned stallions who passed on during the year were Psychobabble and Silent Warrior, aged 26 and 25 respectively and Wheelaway, who was 20.