Joe Fujii

Japan’s Esmeraldina Just Too Good In Ttukseom Cup

Esmeraldina was dominant in winning the 27th Ttukseom Cup for Japan at Seoul Racecourse this afternoon. Under jockey Joe Fujii, the 4-year-old swept to a 3-length in the first leg of the 2015 Queens’ Tour.

Esmeraldina and Joe Fujii return to scale

Esmeraldina and Joe Fujii return to scale

Korean punters sent the sole Japanese raider off as the odds-on favourite. She was the quickest out of the gate to such an extent that it drew admiring gasps from the huge crowd but it would be Fly Top Queen who would quickly come across to take things up.

In the end, this set things up perfectly for Esmeraldina who when Fly Top Queen inevitably faded in the home straight, was left with a clear run for home. A burst of acceleration gave her an unassailable lead by the time they hit the furlong pole and while New York Blue valiantly tried to chase her down, she won by three lengths on the line, pulling ever further clear.

The winning time was just one tenth of a second outside El Padrino’s track record in the Asia Challenge Cup. New York Blue was 3rd that day last August, today once more chasing a visitor, she showed her sprinting class by running 2nd. Bichui Jeongsang got the best of a tight finish for 3rd.

The 27th Ttukseom Cup (KOR G3) – Seoul Racecourse – 1400M – June 7, 2014

1. Esmeraldina (USA) [Harlan’s Holiday – Tasha’s Star (Spanish Steps)] – Kanichiro Fujii – 1.4, 1.1
2. New York Blue (USA) [Candy Ride – Aim For The Moon (Deputy Minister)] – You Hyun Myung – 2.4
3. Bichui Jeongsang (USA) [Wildcat Heir – Persimmon Honey (Colonial Affair)] – Choi Bum Hyun – 2.0
Distances: 3 lengths/5 lengths
Also Ran: 4. My Day (KOR) 5. Heba (USA) 6. Ms. Margaux (USA) 7. Halla Chukje (USA) 8. Cheonnyeon Dongan (KOR) 9. Fly Top Queen (USA) 10. Ua Deungseon (KOR) 11. Golden Lass (KOR) 12. Joy Lucky (KOR)

Esmeraldina is owned by Ms. Kazumi Yoshida, who also owned Testa Matta, who now stands at Nokwon Farm on Jeju Island. She is trained by Makoto Saito out of the Miho Training Centre.

For jockey Joe Fujii, a man who has won the Grand Prix Stakes, the Korean Derby, the Korean Oaks and the Jeju Governor’s Cup this victory today – riding a horse for a Japanese owner and Japanese trainer in Seoul – may well be one of the most significant of his career to date. After the race, he played down his role, putting all the credit on the horse. He still had to do the job though.

Fujii will leave Korea at the end of June to return to Japan and hopefully this win today will go someway to burnishing his reputation in his home country – a place he has never ridden professionally before. Fujii will ride initially in the NAR and will take the JRA exam to try to enter Japan’s elite racing circuit. He has been a true ambassador and has bounced back from both injury and accidental controversy in fine style. Today was a fitting reward.

Esmeraldina and smartly dressed travelling head lad in the winner's circle

Esmeraldina and smartly dressed travelling head lad in the winner’s circle

It was an important day. The Ttukseom Cup race was an international open race, not an invitational meaning that Esmeraldina’s connections paid their way here. There were no gala dinners (although by all accounts, the bars and restaurants of Anyang have been on high alert the past few days) and they didn’t come for the fresh air. They came for business and they came for sport. Their courage paid off.

Where does this leave Korea? Our sprinters are supposed to be our strong point and although there were no stars in the line-up today, being outclassed by a talented but by no means superstar Japanese horse is less a wake-up call than a cacophony of alarm bells.

The next big international weekend in Korea is the final weekend of August. Seoul Racecourse will host the Asia Young Guns Apprentice Jockey Challenge, the Asia Challenge Cup, which will remain an invitational race, plus two more Open races, the KRA Cup Classic and the Singapore Turf Club Trophy. Before that, Korean horses are expected at Kranji in Singapore for the Korea Cup on July 26.

Round-Up: Beolmaui Kkum, Success Story, Rafale Impressive Winners / Japanese Riders Going Strong / Opposition To KRA’s Race Plan

While Seoul’s top horse, Wonder Bolt, was scratched from what was supposed to be his 2015 debut in the capital on Sunday, down at Busan there were some strong performances last weekend.

Beolmaui Kkum was a winner on Sunday (Pic: Ross Holburt)

Beolmaui Kkum was a winner on Sunday (Pic: Ross Holburt)

Beolmaui Kkum (Put It Back), who for the second year running, couldn’t quite get it done in the Season-ending Grand Prix Stakes a month ago, returned to Busan and returned to the winner’s enclosure on Sunday afternoon. The 5-year-old carried top weight of 60kg for the 1900M Class 1 race, a full 8kg more than the other nine runners, but that didn’t stop him leading from gate-to-wire, running on for a two length victory, his 12th from 18th career starts.

Another who disappointed on his visits to Seoul last year was Success Story. A late arrival on the Triple Crown trail, he was 4th in the Minister’s Cup and last October and then a disappointing 10th in the President’s Cup a month later. Both those races were run over 2000M but on his return to Busan in December, he blitzed a class 2 field by a full seventeen lengths at 1400M. On Friday, Success Story (Peace Rules) was stepped up to a mile on what was his first try at a class 1 handicap.

And the results were impressive. Jockey Jo Sung Gon took the 4-year-old to the front right out of the gate and the pair stayed there for a very easy 8-length win. Success Story is going to be one to watch out for this year, possibly, with his sprinting credentials as they are, for such event as the Asia Challenge Cup.

There was also interest at Busan last Friday for this year’s Triple Crown. Rafale (Colors Flying), 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup race at Seoul at the end of November, made his own 2015 debut and his first attempt on the Derby distance of 1800M. It was a successful one with the colt streaking away for a 7-length win on the line. Rafale joins Doraon Hyeonpyo at Busan and Cosmos King at Seoul as having made very impressive first tries around two-turns and this year’s 3-year-old crop looks to be shaping up very nicely ahead of the first leg of the Crown, the KRA Cup Mile at Busan on April 5.

In other news, the Japanese jockey contingent continues to go strong. Ikuyasu Kurakane looks set to ride winners right until the bitter end at Seoul. The 2014 Jockey of the Year rode another two on Sunday. At Busan, Joe Fujii continues to be his consistent self, guiding 4/1 chance Battle Master to victory on Sunday while Masa Tanaka’s strong start to the year shows no signs of abating.

Tanaka ride two more winners across the weekend, first on Nobel Shinhwa (Ecton Park) on Friday and then on Sunday on Triple Nine (Ecton Park). The latter was a 5-length win on a favourite for Busan’s top trainer Kim Young Kwan. Even though he managed to pick up a ban as well, that kind of result bodes extremely well for Tanaka. He lies in 5th in the Jockey Championship with 5 winners from 23 mounts, just behind Fujii who is in 3rd with 6 from 33.

On the political front, the Korea Racing Authority’s new race plan for 2015, which has embraced a new rating system, a revamped Stakes calendar and permission for foreign ownership of racehorses, is being resisted by a coalition of breeders, owners and trainers. While such a disparate group is never, within itself, going to have the same priorities, one thing they do appear to agree on was that they were not consulted in the way they would have liked. There are interesting times ahead in the next few weeks

Fujii Returns With A Winner While Wolsley Trains A Four-Timer

Joe Fujii marked his return to the saddle with a winner but it was Peter Wolsley who stole the show among the foreign ranks at Busan on Friday, sending out four winners on the day.

Joe Fujii was back with a winner today (KRA)

Joe Fujii was back with a winner today (KRA)

Fujii, returning after a five-month layoff, started well when guiding Wonderful Star to a creditable 3rd place in race 1 and was then 2nd on Sky Sun in race 4.

He had to wait until race 8 to find the winner’s circle though, riding favourite Vicar Gold to a comfortable 5-length victory.

By that time, Australian trainer Wolsley had already saddled two winners. Debutant Cheonji Park was impressive, making all to claim race 2 before Choedae Gangja triumphed with a similarly front-running victory in race 7.

Next up for Wolsley was Baksuchyeo, who in landing his 5th win in 8 starts, handed the highly-rated filly Top Admiral her first ever defeat in race 9. Cinderella Man completed the four-timer in race 10.

Feature race of the afternoon went to 8/1 chance Grand Teukgeup. This afternoon’s winners essentially assure Wolsley of 2nd place in the Trainers’ Championship behind the Kim Young Kwan stable. As for Fujii, despite missing almost half the season, he still lies in 7th in the Jockeys’ Championship.

Both Fujii and Wolsley will be back at Busan for more on Sunday.

Weekend Preview: Winter Has Arrived

There’s just one week to go until the traditional finale of the Korean racing year, the Grand Prix Stakes and the weather in Korea has suddenly turned cold. Very cold.

We could be seeing scenes like this at the track soon

We could be seeing scenes like this at the track soon

While last Saturday, punters were basking in temperatures in the low teens (celsius), things plunged below freezing on Sunday night and haven’t warmed up since. We keep on racing though and there is a busy weekend in store.

Joe Fujii returns to the saddle after five months on the sidelines through injury. The Japanese rider has plenty of live chances among his eleven rides across the weekend.

There will also be plenty of well-known horses on show, with four class 1 races across the weekend.

At Seoul, Fly Top Queen seeks to get her stuttering career back on track again in Saturday’s feature after two very disappointing runs. She’ll have it all to do once more against some decent sprinters over 1400M. On Sunday Best Captain, second in the President’s Cup a month ago, heads the weights in the big handicap.

Busan has class 1 events on both Friday and Sunday. Here’s what’s happening when and where:

Friday December 5
Busan Racecourse: 11 races from 11:40 to 18:00
Jeju Racecourse: 10 races from 13:30 to 17:20

Saturday December 6
Seoul Racecourse: 12 races from 10:50 to 18:00
Jeju Racecourse: 10 races from 12:20 to 17:40

Sunday December 7
Seoul Racecourse: 11 races from 10:50 to 18:00
Busan Racecourse: 6 races from 12:45 to 17:00

Punters’ Friend Fujii Set For Return

In what is great news for punters but less so for local jockeys, Joe Fujii is set to return to race riding this week having been passed fit after five months on the sidelines with a shoulder injury suffered in a nasty fall in early July.

Joe Fujii on Magic Dancer - he'll ride him in the Grand Prix Stakes

Joe Fujii on Magic Dancer – he’ll ride him in the Grand Prix Stakes

Fujii fell from gelding Hybrid in race 4 on July 6 and while initially it was hoped that he would only be out for up to three months, surgery and a long period of recuperation was required.

Despite being out for half the season, Fujii still lies in 7th place in the Busan Jockey Championship. Since coming to Korea in 2012, he has won a host of big races including the Korean Derby, the Oaks and the Grand Prix Stakes. He’s already booked to ride Magic Dancer in this year’s event at Seoul Racecourse on December 14.

Fujii displays the pins that had just been taken from his shoulder

Fujii displays the pins that had just been taken from his shoulder

Fujii hasn’t wasted his time off. As well as spending time in his native Japan, he toured Europe, spending time at Darryll Holland’s yard in Newmarket and also visited Hong Kong, taking in some big race meetings and even getting in the local media:

Fujii Purton

What punters care about though is his strike rate and with 29% of his mounts making the quinella and 44% in the top three, he is the go-to man for many and Singaporean punters will also get to benefit from his services when regular Friday simulcasting from Busan begins this month.

He didn't always keep the best of company during his time off (Pic: Joe Fujii)

He didn’t always keep the best of company during his time off (Pic: Joe Fujii)

Fujii will rejoin Busan at the head of what is now a sizeable Japanese contingent. Masa Tanaka is one place behind him in the Jockey Championship. Nozomu Tomizawa, who had a successful stint at Seoul five years ago recently came back to Korea and is gradually getting into the swing of things while Hitoshi Oyama has been given a license from this month. Oyama is married to Hitomi Miyashita, who had a very successful time riding at Busan five years ago.

Ikuyasu Kurakane is currently booting home winners at Seoul and the return of Fujii will be celebrated in the betting ring this coming Friday.

An injured Joe Fujii watches the races at Seoul

An injured Joe Fujii watches the races at Seoul

Shinichi Bows Out Of Seoul But Nozi’s Back At Busan And Fujii Is Recovering

Shinichi Terachi has finished up his stint rising at Seoul Racecourse but there’s a familiar face back on the Korean racing scene as Nozomu Tomizawa returns to the peninsula to take up a 4-month jockey license at Busan.

Shinichi Terachi's biggest win in Korea came on Geumbit Hwanhui in the Seoul Oaks Trial (KRA)

Shinichi Terachi’s biggest win in Korea came on Geumbit Hwanhui in the Seoul Oaks Trial (KRA)

It was a challenging four months at Seoul for Terachi. The 35-year-old was able to get on plenty of horses but he wasn’t given a whole lot of quality to work with and ends with 7 winners from 159 rides. Whenever he got a horse with a chance of winning, he got the job done including two winners on his final weekend.

He also won on one which didn’t look to have a chance. Terachi’s biggest victory came in June’s Sports Seoul Cup, the capital’s main Oaks trial race, on 27/1 outsider Geumbit Hwanhui.

Nozomu Tomizawa in the Seoul paddock during his first stint in Korea (KRA)

Nozomu Tomizawa in the Seoul paddock during his first stint in Korea (KRA)

His departure leaves the remarkable Ikuyasu Kurakane, currently 2nd in the Seoul Jockey Championship, as the only foreign rider in the capital.

That’s because it’s to Busan, where Masa Tanaka has been having to talk to himself in the weighing room since the departure of Darryll Holland and long-term injury to Joe Fujii, that Nozomu Tomizawa will go as he returns to Korea five years after he finished up his first stint here.

Tomizawa arrived in August 2007 and battled away for almost two years racking up 47 winners from 722 rides at Seoul. He didn’t win any Stakes races but is best remembered for his partnership with the gelding Gamadongja – a horse that was really a sprinter – on whom Tomizawa won four Class 1 races at distances from 1200M to 2000M.

It won’t be Tomizawa’s first time at Busan. He has one win from eight mounts at the South Coast track on weekends when he visited to ride in Stakes races. The 33-year-old has spent most of his riding career in Australia and should fit in well with the similarly Antipodean-accented Tanaka, who is also committed to the track until at least the end of this year.

As for Masa Tanaka himself, the hugely personable jockey currently lies in 8th position in the Busan Championship and produced a cracking ride in Seoul this past Sunday to guide New York Blue to 3rd place in the Asia Challenge Cup.

Two days before the Asia Challenge Cup, Tanaka rode a double at Busan, one of which was for trainer Bart Rice. The South African is maintaining his superb strike rate with 21% of his starters winning since he opened his barn at the track last December.

Rice currently lies in 12th position in the Trainers’ Championship, having saddled more than 100 fewer starters than all but two of the trainers ahead of him. One of those two is Peter Wolsley, currently clear in 2nd place.

No update on foreign riders in Korea would be complete though without talking about Joe Fujii, The man who took over Toshio Uchida’s title as “the most popular Japanese person in Korea” was in Seoul last weekend to watch the Asia Challenge Cup.

While his broken shoulder is expected to keep him out for another three months, the ever-positive Fujii was in high spirits and with his license to ride in Korea having been extended despite his injury, he was looking forward to getting back to business on the track as soon as possible.

Fujii has won the Derby, the Oaks and the Grand Prix Stakes. Korean punters are looking forward to his return just as much as the man himself.

Joe Fujii watches the races at Seoul on Sunday. All punters want him back riding as soon as possible

Joe Fujii watches the races at Seoul on Sunday. All punters want him back riding as soon as possible

Round-Up: Fujii Has Surgery, Korean Horses Back From US, Yongsan OTB Controversy Rumbles On

Lots to catch up on…

Lets Run

Joe Fujii underwent surgery on his broken shoulder on Monday. Fujii fell heavily coming out of the gate in race 4 at Busan last Sunday, breaking his scapula. While he was originally hopeful of being back within 6 to 8 weeks, a visit to a Seoul specialist confirmed the need for an operation which is likely to keep him out for between 3 to 4 months. The Japanese rider hopes to be back in time for either the Busan Owners’ Cup or the President’s Cup at Seoul.

Speaking of falls, Park Tae Jong, is currently sidelined from a bad one suffered a month ago. “President” Park is currently on 1881 winners, by far the most of all time by a Korean jockey. However, he could be about to have company in the “Thousand Club” after Moon Se Young’s victory on Yeongsan II on Sunday took the 33-year-old to 987.

Three Korean horses arrived back from the United States last week and will go through a Seoul sales ring in a few days time. Gangnam Camp, Seoul Bullet and Better Than You have spent the past 17 months in Ocala training and, more recently racing. None of the three actually managed to win a race Stateside.

Gangnam Camp managed a 2nd place from his 7 starts while Seoul Bullet secured one 3rd place from his 4. Better Than You, however, was unplaced in all of his 4 starts. Seoul Bullet did achieve the rather dubious honour of getting himself claimed at one point though.

2013 Minister’s Cup winner Major King, who had been racing fruitlessly in the North-East US for the past few months, joined them on the flight home, however, last year’s Derby and Oaks winning filly Speedy First remains in the US.

Meanwhile, there is no end in sight to the long-running dispute over the relocation of the KRA’s off-site betting Plaza in Seoul’s Yongsan district. The new plaza finally opened amid tight security and vehement protest at the end of June and the dispute – originally started by the fact that the new Plaza is a block closer to a school than the old one – has now become something of a political football between governing and opposition parties.

Counter protests by Unions with interests in the racing industry have also taken place at the site with the most memorable banner being one imploring the other side to “Please Stop Insulting Racing Fans”, a reference to the ongoing campaign against the Plaza which has, among other things, sought to link the presence of Plazas with a rise in sex-crimes.

Pro-Plaza counter-protestors at Yongsan

Pro-Plaza counter-protestors at Yongsan

While the KRA has been busy producing glossy videos on the history of the Plazas and the community facilities they provide on non race-days, playing those videos at Seoul Racecourse seems somewhat like preaching to the converted. It’s certainly unlikely to change the minds of the anti-Plaza campaign which has raised a petition with 50,000 signatures calling for the Plaza’s closure.

Best to finish on news from the track and this coming Sunday sees the Busan Metropolitan City Mayor’s Stakes – colloquially known as the “Summer Grand Prix”. It’s been the lowest key build-up to the Metropolitan since Seoul horses became eligible to run a few years ago although the expected presence of the likes of Oreuse, Gamdonguibada, Cheonji Bulpae, Cowboy Son and Indian Blue among others, should make for an interesting race. We’ll start the full previews later this week.