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Korea: Shutdown Latest / Trial Updates

Korean racing is no longer alone in its COVID-19 induced shutdown with even the existence of online betting not enough to save tracks around the world from going dark as the pandemic spreads worldwide. The local shutdown was officially extended this past week and will now continue until at least April 5th.

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It would be a very pleasant surprise were this to be the last extension. While Korea appears to have handled its outbreak as well as any nation and the pace of new infections has slowed, a number of so-called “cluster infections” have continued to spring up. Not far from Seoul Racecourse, a church in Seongnam which ignored government advice to refrain from holding offline services, saw over 50 members of its congregation test positive for COVID-19 last week.

It is this fear that may impact on the ability of racing to return any time soon – especially as now, in a effort to bring the recalcitrant churches into line, Seoul City is threatening to pursue operators of “mass gatherings” for any costs incurred as a result of infections. With no online betting, racing in Korea requires a “mass gathering” in order to exist and absolutely nobody thinks that having 30,000 to 40,000 people gathering inside a racecourse of 10,000 people in an off-course building is a good idea at this moment in time.

As for online betting, a bill to make it legal has been before parliament for some time as with no legal alternative, overseas-based illegal sites have boomed in popularity in Korea. The infrastructure is in place and ready to go with bets placed through the KRA’s mobile app already accounting for approximately 30% of turnover on any given raceday. However, the app only works when connected to the KRA’s wifi network at the racecourses or the off-track betting branches. It is popular with punters as the tierce bet-type is only accessible online, while the government likes it too as it has to be connected to a bank account and a real-name provided.

Quick legalisation isn’t easy though, despite the loss of significant tax revenue (up to about US$20 Million for each week there is no racing) and also the success of Hong Kong and Japan in maintaining their turnover when racing behind closed-doors, which has been closely watched by observers here.  There are still many hurdles to be overcome if polticians, most of whom are instinctively against being seen to do anything that is seen to liberalize gambling, are to give the go ahead for the switch to be flipped and the app allowed to connect from punters’ living rooms.

For now, Korean racing still intends to return on Friday April 10th. For that to happen, there must be a drastic reduction in the infection rate and also the schools must re-open, somehthing that is currently pencilled in for Monday April 6th. If either of those things fails to happen, then racing won’t be re-starting.

In the meantime, trackwork has been continuing as have official barrier trials. Busan missed a week of trials due to a suspected COVID-19 case but started up again on March 14th, while Seoul has continued uniterrupted.

At Seoul a couple of big names have taken to the track in Friday trials. Global Captain ran out when favourite in a class 1 affair back in February, to the fury of punters, and was ordered to successfully complete two consecutive trials before being allowed to race again.

Global Captain is a winner of seven from twelve starts and at four-years-old, the Munnings colt is expected to be a major player in big sprint races later in the year, including the Korea Sprint. He’s going to have to re-qualify first though. While he succcessfully negotiated the first of during the first weeek of the shutdown at the end of February, it’s now back to the drawing board after he attempted the second on March 20th. While he won the five-furlong trial, stewards took a dim view of his antics rounding the turn and did not pass him.

There were no such problems for Tiz Plan. The Tiznow five-year-ols was a strong class 1 winner in January and was set to be sent off as favourite for the main event ont he day racing was abandoned in February. A winner of nine races from sisteen appearances, he is another who still has scope to improve and he looked to be maintaining his condition very nicely when comfortably coming hom in front in a trial last week.

Tiz Plan was ridden by Johan Victoire, who seems to have been mitigating the boredom of the shutdown by winning trials – the French rider has been on the horse crossing the line in 1st place in five of the twenty trials that have taken place in the capital since racing ceased. On March 20th, he partnered two for trainer Tony Castenheira, Nimui Hyanggi and Mighty Boom, both of whom have racing experience as well as Luigi Riccardi’s promising looking filly Choego Camp (Chapel Royal), who is yet to make her debut but may be one to follow if and when the season gets back up and running, having looked nuice and mature in her heat.

The first leg of the Triple Crown, the KRA Cup Mile, slated for April 5th at Busan won’t be run that day, but one of the potential contenders looked in excellent form in a trial on the south-coast last week. Touch Star Man (Testa Matta), dawdled in the early stages of a March 14th heat before openng up nicely under Jung Do-yun to run away from the rest of the field. The Kim Young-kwan trained colt is out of Menifee mare Useung Touch, who won the 2011 Korean Oaks and has won three of five starts so far.

Also not happening this year is the popular annual cherry blossom festival. Although presumably nobody has told the blossoms and they will still be coming out, the racecourse will not be open.

Roller Blade, Mark Story Impress In Seoul Trials

Racing might be shut-down in Korea for the time being as Coronavirus outbreak continues but two of the hottest three-year-old properties in racing here did meet on the track on Friday morning with Roller Blade and Mark Story stepping out in an official trial

Roller Blade (Officer) was champion juvenile in 2019 and had been slated to kick off his three-year-old campaign in the Sports Seoul Cup, the capital’s Classic trial, last week. That race was the first Listed or Stakes race to be lost to the virus and with Roller Blade not having competedsince his winning effort in the Breeders’ Cup at Busan in early December, it was time for a hit-out.

Mark Story (Currency Swap) is a US import and therefore not eligible for the domestic Classics. He has a perfect race record of three wins from three starts and looks an extremely exciting prospect, at least at sprint distances.

Both performed pleasingly and it was Mark Story who took the line three lengths in front of Roller Blade after an easy five-furlongs for both. The rest of the field was a further four-lengths in arrears.

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Mark Story leads Roller Blade to the line in heat 4 of Friday’s trials

While racing remains shutdown at a cost to the tax office of approximately US$20 Million per week due to remote wagering being illegal in Korea (making the behind closed doors model of Hong Kong and Japan impractical), trackwork and official trials are continuing as usual. Racing is currently cancelled through March 22nd and it seems as though the decision on whether to resume after that will depend on whether the schools do in fact go back on Monday March 23rd as is the current plan, should Coronavirus cases ease off in the meantime.

The Sports Seoul and Gyeongnam Shinmun Classic trials at Seoul and Busan have already been lost while next week’s Tokyo City Keiba Trophy and the SROA Chairman’s Cup, the latter the first Korean Group race of the year have also succumbed.  The next big race scheduled is the first leg of the Korean Triple Crown, the KRA Cup Mile at Busan on Sunday April 5th.

Today Caps Korea’s Dubai Carnival With Solid 2nd in Curlin Stakes

South Korea’s presence at the Meydan carnival came to an end on Thursday night with three representatives lining up in the Curlin Handicap at international listed level.

Korea was looking for successive wins in the dirt feature, after Dolkong won the event last year for trainer Simon Foster and recently retired jockey Olivier Doleuze.

Trainer Kim Young-Kwan had Today and Baengmunbaekdap engaged in the race whilst Busan counterpart Thomas Gillespie had Great King entered in the 1 1/4m event.

Today, who had a favourable draw took up the running in the early stages of the event whilst Great King and Baengmunbaekdap were dealt torrid runs tramping three and four wide for the majority of the race.

At the three-furlong pole it was obvious that Today’s rider Fernando Jara had plenty of horse left underneath him, as it started to appear a two-horse race with US representative Parsimony presenting on the outside of him.

As Today and Parsimony straightened up for the run home, they were matching each other’s stride, before Parsimony started to edge clear and go on and win by just over two lengths.

Whilst Today finished second, Great King produced an admirable performance to finish sixth after a tough run and Baengmunbaekdap capitulated to beat one home.

It was a truly international event with Parsimony (U.S.), Today, Ambassadorial (U.K.) and race favourite George Villiers (South Africa) the top four finishing order.

The Curlin Handicap capped off the Dubai preparations for the trio who lined up in the event, whilst connections of Blue Chipper travelled the Korea Sprint winner to Dubai without him stepping foot on the track.

Blue Chipper was touted as Korea’s best chance for victory at Meydan, but a bout of travel sickness presented shortly after arriving.

The five-year-old was awaiting clearance from vet staff resulting in changes to his Dubai campaign, but ultimately ran out of time.

Connections are now expected to target the international Group Three features later this year, with connections potentially targeting the Korea Cup (1800m) after taking out the Korea Sprint (1200m) last year.

 

Seoul & Busan Sunday Race Meetings Postponed on COVID-19 Concerns

The scheduled race meetings at Seoul and Busan Racecourses on Sunday February 23 have both been postponed following the  recent rapid rise in COVID-19 infections in Korea.

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Confirmed infections in Korea of the highly contagious virus rose from just 31 on Tuesday to 346  by Saturday lunchtime. Saturday’s meetings at Seoul and Jeju went ahead as planned.

There is no online or telephone betting in Korea so running races behind closed doors is not an option.

In what is a quickly-evolving situation in the country, an announcement on next week’s scheduled racing is expected to be made on Wednesday.

Korean All-Time Leading Money Winner Triple Nine To Return Sunday Following Thirteen Month Absence

Triple Nine, four-times President’s Cup winner and all-time leading money earner in Korean racing, has been declared to run at Busan Racecourse on Sunday. It will mark the now eight-year-old’s first outing in a race since winning the Grand Prix Stakes as a six-year-old in December 2018.

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Triple Nine is scheduled to return on Sunday (Pic: KRA)

The race is the last on Busan’s six-race Sunday card and is a class 1 handicap over 2000M. With his domestic rating of 130, Triple Nine will carry 60kg putting all eleven of his rivals out of the handicap. He will therefore be giving all of them at least 8kg in weight.

The race is the last on Busan’s six-race Sunday card and is a class 1 handicap over 2000M. With his domestic rating of 130, Triple Nine will carry 60kg, putting all eleven of his rivals out of the handicap. He will therefore be giving all of them at least 8kg in weight.

It had been originally hoped that Triple Nine would be back to seek a fifth President’s Cup win in November and he accordingly re-qualified a month ahead of that race. However, a recurrence of a fetlock joint condition set him back in his training and he didn’t make the start line. He trialed again in November looking competent but only returned to full work just prior to the turn of the year.

A winner of five Korean Group 1 races, he also holds a win in the Group 2 busan Owners’ Cup and in 2017 raced at the Dubai World Cup Carnival. Although he didn’t manage to pick up a win, he ran well enough to earn a spot in the Godolphin Mile on World CUp night.

Bred by Isidore Farm and owner by Choi Byung-bu, who also owns Blue Chipper, Triple Nine has won fifteen of his thirty-one races for prize money of 4.2 Billion Korean Won. Trainer Kim Young-kwan has engaged Cypriot jockey Ioannis Poullis, who rode New Legend to win the 2019 President’s Cup.

Fifth Korea Cup & Korea Sprint Set For Sunday September 13 in Seoul

The 2020 Korea Cup and Korea Sprint will be run at Seoul Racecourse on Sunday September 13. This year’s editions will be the fifth running of the races, both of which boast a purse of 1 Billion Korean Won.

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Moonhak Chief won the fourth running of the Korea Cup (Pic: KRA)

In the previous four runnings, the interntational invitational Korea Cup and Korea Sprint have featured horses trained in the USA, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, UAE, France, Great Britain and Ireland. The 2019 Cup was won by Korean Horse of the Year Moonhak Chief while the Sprint went to Blue Chipper, who went on to finish 3rd in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita.

On the domestic front, the Triple Crown kicks off on April 5th with the KRA Cup Mile at Busan. The Korean Derby is at Seoul on May 10th with the Korean Oaks run one week later at Busan on May 17th. The final jewel in the Crown is the Minister’s Cup at Seoul on June 14th while the fillies who have gone the Triple Tiara route have the Gyeonggi Governor’s Cup, also in tha capital, on June 21st.

After the Oaks, Busan’s next most valuable race, the Mayor’s Cup, won in 2019 by Dolkong, is in its usual position on the last Sunday in June.

Big autumn features the KRA Cup Classic and President’s Cup are both in their traditional spots in early October and November respectively, while the season finale Grand Prix Stakes will have its thirty-ninth running take place on Sunday December 13. All three are at Seoul.

Two new Listed races are on the calender at Busan, both named after horses who were stars of the early years of Busan Racecourse. The Luna Stakes will be run over a mile on April 26th while on September 27th, the Areumdaun Jilju Stakes will take place at 1200M. They will be the first races in Korea to be named in honour of past racehorses.

The first Listed race of the season is the Segye Ilbo Cup at Seoul this coming Sunday January 19. The first Group race is the SROA Chairman’s Cup (KOR G3) on March 15.

The full 2020 calender will be posted on the official KRA website soon. In the meantime, racegoers should be aware that there is no racing at any of the tracks in Korea on the weekend of January 24/25/26 due to the Lunar New Year holiday.