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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.

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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. 

J.S Hold

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.

Luigi

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.

Menifee

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.

 

Jo In Kwen & Kim Young Kwan Take Busan Jockey/Trainer Titles For 2017

Jo In Kwen and Kim Young Kwan were 2017 Champion Jockey and Trainer respectively at Busan Racecourse. Jo, in his first year at Busan having transferred from Seoul finished the year with 96 winners, 12 clear of 2nd placed Jo Sung Gon, while Kim as usual dominated the Trainer ranks, ending with almost double the number of winners as his nearest challenger.

Jo In Kwen Sports Chosun

2017 Busan Champion Jockey: Jo In Kwen

Jo In Kwen returned to racing in 2016 having completed his two years of National Service and joined Jo Sung Gon and Ham Wan Sik in moving from Seoul to the South Coast for the 2017 season. He didn’t win any major Stakes races but led the standings in terms of wins the whole year.

The year finished with just two foreign riders at Busan and both Franco Da Silva and Yonekura Satoshi finished comfortably inside the top ten.

Busan Jockey Championship 2017 – (Total Wins & Win %age)

1. Jo In Kwen – 96 (18.2%)
2. Jo Sung Gon – 84 (19.2%)
3. You Hyun Myung – 78 (16.0%)
4. Choi Si Dae – 65 (14.3%)
5. Francisco Da Silva – 59 (13.7%)
6. Ham Wan Sik – 41 (12.9%)
7. Yonekura Satoshi – 38 (9.7%)
8. Lee Hyo Sik – 35 (10.9%)
9. Song Keong Yun – 27 (5.75)
10. Jin Kyum – 25 (6.9%)

The Trainers’ title is Kim Young Kwan’s every year and with the unparalleled access he has to a stream of expensive and well-bred new entrants year after year, he will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. His domination of the Group races was a little less than it has been in recent years though as he didn’t  win a single one of the Classics. Ultimately Triple Nine and Power Blade were the stars again while his Ecton Blade won the Breeders’ Cup to head into 2018 as one of the prime Triple Crown contenders.

It was tight behind Kim this time around with An Woo Sung just taking 2nd place with Baik Kwang Yeol and Thomas Gillespie tied for 3rd, one ahead of Peter Wolsley in 5th. It was an exceptional year for Gillespie’s stable – he tied with Baik Kwang Yeol despite sending out 158 runners fewer and now has a 35-strong string containing some very good prospects.

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Thomas Gillespie

Wolsley and Bart Rice perhaps had slightly less firepower in their barns compared with a year ago but both still put in creditable performances.

The 4th foreign trainer at Busan is David Miller. The New Zealander finished in 26th place in the standings in what was his first full year at the track but with only a small number of horses, maintained a very competitive strike-rate. He also recorded a huge success when I’m Your Father stunned Triple Nine to win the Group 3 Busan Mayor’s Cup in the summer.

Miller still has only 23 horses in his barn but with 12 of them being yet to race, the opening months of 2018 could be interesting.

Busan Trainer Championship 2017- (Total Wins & Win %age)

1. Kim Young Kwan – 96 (24.6%)
2. An Woo Sung – 49 (16.9%)
3. Baik Kwang Yeol – 48 (10.2%) (takes 3rd due to more 2nd and 3rd places)
4. Thomas Gillespie – 48 (15.4%)
5. Peter Wolsley – 47 (16.1%)
6. Kang Byung Eun – 41 (13.9%)
7. Mun Je Bok – 38 (13.2%)
8. Min Jang Gi – 35 (10.9%)
9. Bart Rice – 31 (11.4%)
10. Lim Keum Man – 29 (9.5%)

26. David Miller – 12 (10.6%)

Djordje Perovic Becomes Seoul’s First Foreign Champion Jockey

For the first time since 2009, Seoul Racecourse has a new Champion Jockey and for the first time ever, the champion is from overseas as Djordje Perovic wrapped up the 2017 title at the weekend bringing to an end Moon Se Young’s seven straight Championships.

Perovic

2017 Seoul Champion Jockey Djordje Perovic (Pic: KRA)

Earlier in the week, Perovic donned suit and bow-tie to pick up “Jockey Of The Year” and “Most Popular Jockey” titles at the annual “LetsRun Park Seoul Awards” but on the track, he could conceivably – if improbably – have been caught with closest rival Kim Yong Geun six behind heading into Seoul’s final two racing days of the year. Ultimately Kim would only add one more win while Perovic would find himself in the winner’s circle on four occasions across Saturday and Sunday to end the season on 106. Moon was 3rd on 84.

36-year-old Perovic, who sports nicknames of “The Balkan Wolf” and “Serbian Frankie” is licensed in Italy and even took time out this summer – as he has done in previous years too – to fulfill licensing requirements back in Europe. Debuting in 1997, he has won Group races in Italy, Croatia, Slovakia and Austria as well as his native Serbia where he has been “Jockey of The Year” on seven occasions as well as being named “Best Sportsman in the city of Kragujevac”.

He arrived in Seoul in 2015 and quickly got among the winners ending that year with 47 victories from 319 rides. More of the same followed in 2016 with 72 wins. In 2017 everything came together. With Moon Se Young opting to spend three months in Singapore and Jo Sung Gon and Jo In Kwen moving to Busan, Perovic quickly became the go-to-man for trainers at Seoul. He passed the 150 Korean winners mark in March and in October became just the second foreign jockey, after Ikuyasu Kurakane, to reach 200.

Perovic’s partnership with Song Moon Gil, who has emerged in the past two seasons as the real heavyweight in the Seoul trainer ranks, yielded the jockey big race success too. He partnered Clean Up Joy to wins in the Listed Herald Gyeongje and YTN Trophies in April and May before guiding Silver Wolf to the Ttukseom Cup in June, thereby securing his first Korean Group winner. In the autumn, he and Silver Wolf added the Listed Munhwa Ilbo Cup to their resumes.

Silver Wolf Ttukseom

Perovic landed his first Korean Group winner on Silver Wolf in the Ttukseom Cup (Pic: KRA)

Seoul Jockey Championship 2017 (Total Wins & Win %age)

1. Djordje Perovic – 106 (21.3%)
2. Kim Yong Geun – 97 (14.7%)
3. Moon Se Young – 84 (18.5%)
4. Lim Gi Won – 63 (15.6%)
5. Song Jae Chul – 46 (11.4%)
6. Lee Hyuk – 46 (10.1%)
7. Park Eul Woon – 43 (16.3%)
8. Kim Hye Sun – 41 (11.95)
9. Choi Bum Hyun – 37 (13.65)
10. Kim Dong Soo – 34 (9.4%)

13. Antonio Da Silva – 26 (7.8%)
21. Shinji Hatanaka – 19 (4.4%)
24. Johan Victoire – 18 (7.6%)
(Da Silva & Victoire only began riding in Korea in May and July respectively)

As this blog has noted for many years now, it is extremely difficult for foreign jockeys to become established in Korea. It isn’t enough to be a good jockey – although Perovic most certainly is one of those – but being able to shrug off the perceived indignities of the early months and the gulf in racing culture between Korea and some other countries, is no easy task, especially for the non-Japanese visitors. Life in general is not easy here – as one jockey who acquitted himself very well but opted not to stay beyond his initial four-month contract put it, it’s all very well only racing twice a week but after morning work is done at 8:30am, what do you do for the rest of the day, especially in winter?

We’ve also noted for many years that the jockey who finally did make the breakthrough would reap lucrative rewards. Djordje Perovic’s hard work and relentless focus has made him that jockey. As of the end of 2017, along with Shinji Hatanaka of Japan, he’s joined at Seoul by Antonio Da Silva and the French pair of Johan Victoire and David Breux. The former two have established themselves well and the latter made an extremely promising start this past weekend.

The Perovic model isn’t going to be an easy one to follow and it may be that this year proves to be the exception rather than the rule but he’s demonstrated it can be done and thoroughly deserves the success that he’s earned.

Djordje Perovic is Seoul Racecourse Champion Jockey of 2017.

Chairman Lee Yang Ho Leaves The KRA

Korea Racing Authority Chairman Lee Yang Ho has formally stepped down from his position after a year at the helm of the nation’s sole racing authority.

Lee Yang Ho finish

Outgoing Chairman Lee Yang Ho bids farewell to KRA staff following a leaving ceremony at Seoul Racecourse on Wednesday (Pic: KRA)

Lee, a career civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Administration prior to being appointed to the top job at the KRA, is reported to be leaving in order to run for political office having been nominated as a candidate for the upcoming Mayoral election in his home city of Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province.

Since Lee made his decision known in November, Korean media have reported that his replacement is likely to be Kim Nak Soon, a former National Assembly member.