Schlechter & Abe Join Foreign Jockey Ranks At Busan

There are two new foreign jockeys in town at Busan.

Japanese Yukio Abe made a winning debut last weekend while South African veteran Gerrit Schlechter will ride for the first time this coming Friday.

New Boys: Gerrit Schlechter and Yukio Abe

Forty-three year old Abe, who usually rides at Nagoya, has over 2600 career victories to his name and opened his Korean account with victory on 7/1 shot Fine Fine in race 3 at Busan last Sunday. Officially freelance, Abe has so far been booked by a wide range of trainers.

Cape Town rider Schlechter, who also has over 2600 victories over the course of his near thirty-year career, is already known to Korean racing fans having ridden in and won the 2007 International Jockey Challenge at Seoul Racecourse.

At the time, this blog described him as a “man with a truly incredible head of hair” – which in retrospect may have been a slight exaggeration – and also noted that he wasn’t afraid to interact with heckling punters, suggesting confidence that may serve him well here full-time.

It appears that Schlechter, while also officially freelance, will replace Nathan Stanley as de-facto first-choice jockey for Australian trainer Peter Wolsley. Joe Murphy also puts the forty-six year old up this weekend.

Schlechter is the fifth South African to take up a riding licence in Korea. They’ve had mixed experiences.

Exception: Martin Wepner

Chris Taylor spent seven weeks at Seoul in 2008 while the less said about Willie Uys’ one weekend in the Capital, before he dashed to the airport, the better.

Down at Busan Deryl Daniels had the misfortune to be riding at the track at the same time as Toshio Uchida was monopolizing the winners and went home, initially on vacation but decided not to return.

After a spell in the United Arab Emirates, Taylor is now riding in Durban. Also in Durban, Daniels meanehile recorded his first Group 1 winner recently and has just relocated to Johannesburg. Uys has been forced into retirement through injury.

The one successful exception in Korea was Martin Wepner who was arguably Busan’s top jockey for a while in 2009 and early 2010, picking up victory in the Minister’s Cup on Namdo Jeap.

His was a turbulent stint, however, which wasn’t made any easier by his being inadvertently stuck in the middle of a bitter dispute between the Jockeys’ Union and the Trainers.

With backing from Wolsley though, it is likely that Schlechter will have every opportunity to do well. Both he and Abe have been granted initial licenses for four months.

Life’s Pretty Easy For A Boy Named Seo

Ham Wan Sik landed his 400th career winner today but it’s Seo Seung Un who continues to make the headlines.

Seo Seung Un returns after his 25th winner

The young jockey became the quickest in modern times to reach 25 winners and seems sure to become the first apprentice jockey to ride out his weight allowance in his first year in the saddle.

Seo, who debuted last August, landed a double on his first weekend and hasn’t looked back since. Last Saturday he scored a “true treble”, with wins in races 6, 7, and 8 – something the vast majority of Korean jockeys go through their careers without doing.

Today he was in top form, guiding Magic Light (Exploit) to victory by a head in race 7.

Twenty-two year old Seo is fourth in this year’s Jockeys’ Championship and is already being touted by the Korean racing press as potentially the best riding talent to emerge from the country.

The real test will come when he loses his weight allowance. New apprentice jockeys start with a 4 kilo advantage, losing a kilo for every ten winners (there is no time limit on this) and then they are left to compete with the very best for rides. On all the evidence so far, this will not be a problem for Seo Seung Un.

Ham Wan Sik is a jockey who has had a lot of tests to overcome since he gained his license fourteen years ago.

One of the taller riders in the weighing room, Ham faces a constant struggle to keep his weight down and his fluctuating minimum weight has, on occasion, caused problems for him. Today, however, he became one of a select few jockeys in Korea to pass the milestone of 400 career winners.

Ham Wan Sik celebrates win number 401

It came in race 7 on the aptly named Bulls Eye (Ingrandire) and he quickly followed up with number 401 on Holy Moely (Nihon Pillow Neil) in race 10.

Ham Wan Sik debuted in 1998 and has three Stakes wins to his name, the biggest being the 2007 Owners’ Association Trophy, which he won on Gwacheon Ruler. His best year in terms of winners was in 2006 when he scored 53.

Indeed, it is possible that Ham’s silks are better known than he is. In Korea, jockeys wear their own colours and Ham’s appeared in the 2006 racing movie Gakseoltang and also in 2011’s Champ, where he was referred to by name as being a friend of the lead character. Today though, he was recognised for what he does on the track.

Racing returns to Seoul on Sunday and it is a big day as 2011 Grand Prix Stakes winner Tough Win make his season debut.

Sho Time – Japanese Jockey Ueno Has a Tough Task Ahead

Over the weekend, Sho Ueno became the latest Japanese jockey to debut at Seoul Race Park, replacing Mai Beppu who left the track at the end of February. He has a tough task ahead of him.

Sho Ueno at Seoul

Nevertheless, the young JRA rider made an encouraging start. With just four rides across the weekend, all unfancied, he ended up with two third-place finishes and another fifth with only one being out of the prize-money.

The foreign jockeys are now the only ones who are considered “freelance”. All others are attached to trainers.

Under the jurisdiction of the Jockey Union, it used to be the case that jockeys who were retained by a trainer could only take five race rides per week but would get a salary for trackwork. Freelancers could ride as many as they wanted but would have no guaranteed salary.

The best jockeys went freelance and on average, earned three to four times that of retained jockeys. The very top ones even more.

Now all jockeys are retained by a trainer with a limit for everyone of 14 rides over a weekend. Of course, the best jockeys still get all the best rides – Moon Se Young is with Ha Jae Heung and Ch Kyoung Ho back with his old boss Shin Woo Chul.

The new system makes is, however, likely making it even harder for the foreign jockeys to get rides. When each trainer has two or three jockeys retained, they need a very good reason to employ someone else. Not a problem for Moon Se Young who gets plenty from many trainers, but not so easy for the foreigners.

And the figures don’t lie. Makoto Noda has won 8 times since arriving last June while Toshi Inoue has just 1 victory to show from his three months so far – and that was on his first day. They are poor returns but both, just like Beppu and Hiro Hamada before them, seem more than capable in the saddle but only get opportunitites to ride horses in contention for the minor placings at best.

On the surface, the success last year of Nathan Stanley and Akane Yamamoto at Busan would appear to undermine this theory. In reality, however, while both were officially the only freelancers at the track, in reality the pair acted as stable jockeys to Peter Wolsley and Kim Young Kwan in all but name. It’s unlikely a visitor to Seoul will get similar opportunities any time soon.

With Cho Kyoung Ho sidelined since January, Moon Se Young has dominated the early part of the Seoul season. The breakthrough of the year is Seo Seung Un, still a first year apprentice but fourth in the standings:

2012 Seoul Jockey Championship (Up to March 12)

1. Moon Se Young – 33
2. Oh Kyoung Hoan – 16
3. Park Tae Jong – 14
4. Seo Seung Un – 12
5. Jo In Kwen – 11

Champion Jockey Over The Moon Again

Moon Se Young Wins Seoul Jockey Championship While Jo Sung Gon is the Stand-Out Winner at Busan

Moon Se Young has regained the title of Champion jockey at Seoul Race Park. The 31 year-old took the honour in 2008 and looked set to dominate for the forseeable future but a fall in 2009 and a lengthy suspension towards the end of last season saw him lose out until now. Even this time, injury saw him miss the final week of the season, allowing nearest – and only rival, Cho Kyoung Ho to close the gap at the top to just five wins.

Champion again: Moon Se Young

With Jo In Kwen in third place in only his third full season, the weighing room at Seoul is becoming ever more competitive. Kim Hae Sun becomes the first female rider to finish the season in the top ten and looks set to become go on to become a top-tier jockey.

Just outside the top ten, in eleventh place, was Jang Chu Yeol, who would surely have finished higher had he not recently spent six weeks in the USA where he became the first Korean-based jockey to ride a winner. He’ll be one to watch next year.

Also to watch will be Seo Seung Un who landed 12 wins in his first three months as a licensed jockey – a record. While Moon Se Young is on top at the moment, the next few seasons look sure to see a real changing of the guard in the winners’ circle.

Seoul Racecourse Jockey Championship 2011

1. Moon Se Young – 105
2. Cho Kyoung Ho – 100
3. Jo In Kwen – 70
4. Park Tae Jong – 68
5. Choi Bum Hyun – 61
6. Jung Ki Yong – 48
7. Oh Kyoung Hoan – 45
8. Moon Jung Kyun – 45
9. Shin Hyoung Chul – 38
10. Kim Hae Sun – 29

While the future looks very bright at Seoul, it’s difficult to say the same for Busan where the young jockeys coming through do not look to be of the same calibre. However, that takes nothing away from champion Jo Sung Gon who breezed to the title. Jo is head and shoulders above any other Korean rider at Busan although if the combined winners this year of Toshio Uchida (58) and his replacement Nathan Stanley (17) are taken into account, the foreigners ran him close (more on the foreign riders next week).

Jo Sung Gon was the runaway winner of the Busan Jockey Title

Life at Busan is pretty comfortable for him but Jo has previously indicated a desire to come to Seoul where he would face more competition for the big rides. An exchange program was mooted earlier this year and Cho Kyoung Ho was reportedly interested in going in the other direction. Nothing came of it but it is something that looks likely to be revisited in 2012.

Behind him Chae Gyu Jun had a solid season which included two big Stakes wins at Seoul while Kim Dong Young had a breakout year in third. You Hyun Myung’s season was disrupted by injury but he still ended in fourth, while fifth placed Park Geum Man ended the year reunited with former boss Peter Wolsley and if this continues in 2012, he may well have a better year:

Busan Racecourse Jockey Championship 2011

1. Jo Sung Gon – 84
2. Chae Gyu Jun – 66
3. Kim Dong Young – 55
4. You Hyun Myung – 49
5. Park Geum Man – 47
6. Choi Si Dae – 44
7. Lim Sung Sil – 28
8. Akane Yamamoto – 28
9. Jo Chang Wook – 27
10. Jo Chan Hoon – 22

The pony colony on Jeju Island saw the closest race of the three tracks and ultimately it was veteran rider Kim Yong Seob who came out on top:

Jeju Racecourse Jockey Championship 2011

1. Kim Yong Seob – 63
2. Jang Woo Sung – 60
3. Jeon Hyun Joon – 55
4. Hwang Tae Sun – 49
5. Moon Jung Ho – 45