The temperature will be several degrees below zero and dusk starting to fall on Seoul Racecourse on Sunday afternoon when Moonhak Chief bids to become the first horse since Dongbanui Gangja more than a decade ago to record back-to-back victories in Korea’s historically most prestigious race, the Grand Prix Stakes (KOR G1-2300M). CLICK HERE FOR RACE-BY-RACE PREVIEW OF ALL SEVENTEEN SUNDAY RACES AT SEOUL & BUSAN.
With no race last season, it’s now two years since Moonhak Chief followed up his 2019 Korea Cup victory by scoring by a length and a half that December. Only two of the rest of that day’s field return, Cheongdam Dokki and the retiring Dongbang Daero, but a host of new challengers have arisen in the meantime, meaning Moonhak Chief is going to need to be at his very best if he is to retain his crown.
Peter Wolsley won this race with Bold Kings in 2016 and the Australian trainer saddles Mr. Afleet this time, fresh off his triumph in the KRA Cup Classic back in October. That’s day’s close runner-up Haengbok Wangja is another leading contender and given the way he was finishing in the Classic, may even start as the favourite.
The President’s Cup, the top race restricted to Korean-bred horses, has provided two winners in recent years with Indie Band in 2013 and Gyeongbudaero in 2015 and the 2021 winner Simjangui Godong also takes his chance, as does proven Group winner Tiz Plan.
Touch Star Man, who won two legs of last year’s Triple Crown series, will be attendance, representing trainer Kim Young-kwan, who has won the race five times.
The Grand Prix Stakes is race 8 on Seoul’s 10-race Boxing Day card. Here is a full run down of all sixteen runners:
1. CHEONGDAM DOKKI (USA) [To Honor And Serve – Elusive Gold (Strike The Gold)] – His 4th attempt at the race with his best being 2nd in 2018. An excellent winner at 1800M in October before a flat performance in the KRA Cup Classic. He then ran 5th to Moonhak Chief back at 1800M on November 27th. Only returned to work last week and while there is no doubting his quality, this looks a very hard ask. Great draw though.
2. GALLOP CURLIN (USA) [Curlin – Colona (Pulpit)] – Gets his chance following a good win over 1800M at class 2 level earlier this month when midfield and running on. Tactically versatile and well-drawn but this is a big step up into the unknown in terms of distance and competition.
3. MOONHAK CHIEF (USA) [Pioneerof The Nile – Tallulah Lula (Old Trieste)] – Winner of the last edition of this race two years ago having won the Korea Cup that September. Seventh in the Cup Classic but returned to the winner’s circle on November 27th comfortably scoring over 1800M although he did get spooked by the finishing line light and stopped very quickly. At his best he is the one to beat.
4. CRAZY CONTI (USA) [Constitution – Ghostly Darkness (Ghostzapper)] – Came from well back to run a strong 3rd over 2000M at Busan two weeks ago in his first start since September. Beaten by Mr. Afleet and Touch Star Man in the summer so there is form for him to overturn here but he may appreciate the distance.
5. GEUMA ACME (KOR) [Hongji – Ms. Travelin (Lycius)] – A super 2nd in the President’s Cup to Simjangui Godong, coming from off the pace. Yet to win at higher than class 3 is a concern when stepping into this company, but the additional distance can suit. Alan Munro, who rode him in his last three starts, rides Jjang Kong instead.
6. HUNCH (USA) [To Honor And Serve – Sergeant O-Rourke (Forestry)] – Wasted a great draw by blowing the start in the Cup Classic, won by stablemate Mr. Afleet, in what was his first start since August. He has won at class 1 over 2000M in a fast time though and with a clean getaway can be competitive but may not be ready to beat the elite just yet. Minor money chance.
7. JJANG KONG (USA) [Tizway – Carietta (Stephen Got Even)] – Runner-up to Cheongdam Dokki in October before running a 3rd in the Cup Classic when handy all the way and battling on to the line. He likes it race close to the lead, so the draw works out well. He’s stubborn enough to get the 2300M and it would be no surprise seeing him in the minor money.
8. HAENGBOK WANGJA (USA) [Daredevil – First Installment (Broken Vow)] – up and comer having just been promoted to class 1 before running a great race in the KRA Cup Classic when on the pace and wide most of the way and momentarily leading at the 200m and coming again at Mr. Afleet the finish. It was a super effort, and plenty will back him to win here.(more…)