We’re just a few days away from the start of the 2011 season so it’s time to look back at some of the key events – randomly selected and not necessarily in order of importance- of 2010:
Dongbanui Gangja’s Reign Fizzles Out – We got our showdowns. The double-Grand Prix Champion Dongbanui Gangja faced the young pretender Tough Win on three separate occasions and three times he was beaten. Twice though he beat himself as the five-year old proved too much of a handful for his jockey to keep him running straight.
Meanwhile in the Grand Prix itself, Tough Win failed to stay the distance as Korean-born Mister Park took the end of season honours. Despite this, for his Busan Metropolitan and KRA Cup Classic wins, Tough Win is Gyongmaman’s Horse of the Year.
Lee Shin Young Becoming the First Korean Woman to Pass the Trainer’s Exam – Thirty year-old Lee, who was only the second Korean woman to be granted a jockey’s license became the first to pass the Trainer’s exam.
For the moment Lee continues to ride in races but is now eligible to move over to the backstretch when a vacancy becomes available.
Peter Wolsley’s Success at Busan – Australian trainer Peter Wolsley has now completed three full seasons as a license-holder at Busan. 2010 was his stand-out year saddling 38 winners from 223 starters for a strike rate of 17% with 41% of his starters managing to place. Were it not for a lack of truly top quality horses in his string – hardly his fault – Wolsley would have been a strong contender for Trainer of the Year.
Wolsley’s stable stars have been Gyongkwaehanjilju, winner of five of his seven starts as a three-year old this year and the late-developing filly Ganghan Yeoja and with a number of promising two-year olds in his barn, next year looks set to be a very interesting season. Wolsley now receives the majority of horses from two Jeju farms – Isidore and Pegasus – which both have foreign interests. Indeed, when Pegasus Farm’s two-year old filly Secret Whisper won back in November under Japanese jockey Yoshi Aoki, it made for a winner that was essentially foreign-owned, trained and ridden. Training is the key to improving Korean racing and Wolsley’s presence is setting the bar higher for the local training colony which, while containing some talented handlers, has for many years essentially been an old-boys club of ex-jockeys.
Sires – Officer has become the latest recruit to the stallion colony in Korea. He joins the likes of Menifee, Volponi, Yehudi and Ecton Park as recent additions to what is becoming a strong breeding operation on the peninsula.
Jockey Park Jin Hee Commits Suicide – Without doubt, those most affected by the suicide of Park Jin Hee were her family, who lost a talented and beautiful daughter in the most awful of circumstances at the age of just 28.
However, in the aftermath of that desperate Friday in March when Park didn’t appear for her rides at Busan and was later found dead in her apartment, Korean racing was shaken. The young jockey had left a suicide note in which she blamed the pressures of racing and her mistreatment by trainers – naming one of Busan’s most prominent as particularly responsible. The KRA faced a barrage of online criticism from Korea’s poisonous “netizens” and, while they quickly moved on to their next target, back in Busan, jockeys boycotted the named trainer’s horses for several weeks. Park Jin Hee was the second lady jockey to take her own life, after Lee Myoung Hwa in 2005.
KRA Levels Up its English – This blog has been known in the past to be slightly unkind about the KRA’s attempts at English but, credit where credit it due, in 2010 it introduced an English language results and race-cards service. It’s not detailed but the vital information is there and, coupled with the race videos which are now freely available as well as the links to the Studbook page for each entrant, makes for a fantastic service. Sadly since he departure of James Perry from the Stewards panel, English language stewards’ reports from Seoul are no longer produced. The KRA says there is a “vacancy” for a foreign steward – whether they plan to fill it is another matter.
The Regulator – As we enter 2011, things are much the same as they were a year ago. The government continues to be stuck in its position of wishing to appear to be tough on gambling but not wanting to do anything that will seriously jeopardise the vast tax revenues racing generates. Trials on an Electronic ID card to track punters’ expenditure began and looks like it will ultimately be made compulsory. Meanwhile, we saw the usual slew of stories about illegal gambling. Corruption stories involving jockeys didn’t help matters and the KRA is still yet to resolve a long-running dispute over an off-track gambling site in the southern city of Suncheon.
Yeongcheon To Build Korea’s Third Thoroughbred Racecourse – The small city of Yeongcheon, just outside Daegu in North Gyeongsang province was named as the location of Korea’s newest racecourse. The track, which is scheduled to open in 2014 will also host a resort and something called a “Horse-Park”. It’s opening also looks likely to spell the end of year-round racing at Seoul and Busan with each of the three tracks taking turns to be “dark” for four months of the year while the other two operate.
Kim Tae Hee Stars In Grand Prix – OK, so the finished movie wasn’t that great but it had some amazing racing scenes and got the sport some mainstream attention. Plus punters got to see Kim Tae Hee in racing silks.
Young Jockeys – The standard of riding in Korea is definitely on the up. Those who gained their licenses in the last few years such as Lee Sang Hyuk and Jo In Kwen are already well established in the upper ranks of the jockeys’ championship while Kim Hae Sun, who qualified in 2009, looks like she could go on to become the peninsula’s most successful ever female rider. Meanwhile, Busan’s Park Geum Man was a popular winner of the Derby.
Foreign Jockeys – It’s not looking so positive for foreign riders. At the beginning of 2011, there are no non-Japanese foreign jockeys in Korea following the departure of Martin Wepner in May. And even for the Japanese, it still seems as though Seoul is unbreakable with Hiro Hamada the only non-Korean plugging away in the capital. On the front of their English website, the KRA is still advertising for foreign jockeys. Any-takers should click here. Things are very tough here though. Martin Wepner didn’t endear himself to everyone but he was tenacious and a battler and he was able to be successful, but one doubts it would be an experience he would want to repeat.
In no particular order – Mister Park, Yeonseung Daero, Cheonnyeon Daero, Dangdae Bulpae, Money Car, Sangseung Ilro, Love Cat, Tough Win, Triple Seven, Dongbanui Gangja, Baekgwang, Bally Brae, Larrycat, Dongbang Rose, Euro Fighter, Northern Ace, Sun Hero and Magic Party are just some of the 2,810 thoroughbred athletes who entertained us through triumph and tragedy in 2010.