Korea Cup & Sprint 2017 – The Review

The 2nd Korea Autumn Racing Carnival took place at Seoul Racecourse over the weekend. There’s no need to re-tell what happened here as pleasingly, the race has received plenty of international coverage, save to say that Yutaka Take guided Graceful Leap to victory in the Sprint while in the Cup, London Town downed last year’s winner Chrysolite to make it a Japanese one-two.


London Town and Chrysolite dominated for Japan in the Korea Cup (Pic: Ross Holburt)

On the track, London Town was simply sensational. He came in having broken the 1700M track record at Sapporo less than a month ago and absolutely dominated the Cup, taking well over a second off the Seoul 1800M track record in the process. Last year’s winner Chrysolite had absolutely no answer. That said, the Japanese pair finished a full 17-lengths clear of Papa Shot in 3rd and demonstrated just how good JRA horses, even those not quite at the very top, really are.


London Town in the Korea Cup Parade Ring (Pic: KRA)

Graceful Leap’s Sprint win was naturally less emphatic but it was still convincing. Korean Triple Crown winner Power Blade ran a huge race in 2nd place and while he was never likely to be as inconvenienced as some others by the wide draw, one can’t help but wonder whether he would have got much closer had he been able to begin from a more favourable gate. Doraonpogyeongseon ran on very nicely too proving himself a real racehorse. In the Cup for Korea, while Champ Line put in a good run, ultimately it was all about Triple Nine as it so often is. He and Power Blade have turned into such good ambassadors for Korean racing that how to replace them when their powers begin to wane is starting to be an issue. But of course, that’s part of what makes racing so fascinating.


Graceful Leap and Yutaka Take cross the line in the Sprint (Pic: KRA)

The performances of the two American-trained horses was one of the Carnical’s highlights. In the Sprint, The Truth Or Else was drawn in gate 1 but jockey Dylan Davis was forced off the rail and went wide to find a run. He closed very strongly for 4th place and a tidy prize that fully vindicated the decision of his enterprising connections to bring him. Trainer Kenny McPeek was a boisterous presence throughout the week and led his charge in the parade ring himself prior to the race. Picking up an even tidier prize was Papa Shot, 3rd in the Cup despite having to recover from some interference four furlongs out.


Take returns to scale (Pic: Ross Holburt)

McPeek estimated that The Truth Or Else would be ranked around 20th in terms of sprinters in the United States and one wonders what one ranked even higher could achieve especially as the nature of the Sprint makes it by no means a race that JRA horses will automatically dominate. As for Papa Shot, he’s a very solid horse but no superstar but looks the kind of horse you’d love to own. Bill Nader, representing the man who does own him, Barry K. Schwartz, made the point before the race that Papa Shot had run at all sorts of tracks in the US and almost always gave a good account of himself. Those tough and grinding types can find their reward on the Seoul sand and while at 1800M, it would take something special to beat a JRA horse or a Hong Kong galloper that gets on with the track, a really top American horse might just be able to do it.

One disappointing note was the performances of the Hong Kong horses. With the races being beamed live to a busy Sha Tin, it was a pity that neither Lucky Year nor Circuit Land made any impact in the Sprint and Cup respectively. Circuit Land perhaps had some excuses having been prominent early but was then forced to check with four furlongs to go as a result of a poorly judged manouevre by Lee Chan Ho on Dynamic Jilju. However, Papa Shot was also disadvantaged by that incident and overcame it and jockey Nash Rawiller admitted his mount never really looked to be in the hunt. Meanwhile, Lucky Year didn’t get the start he needed and once the sand started flying, his race was over.

However, Super Jockey won the Sprint last year and both Circuit Land and Lucky Year appeared to pull up fine so hopefully the races will still prove attractive to Hong Kong connections in 2018.


Graceful Leap (Pic: Ross Holburt)

It was tough too for the French contingent. City Money unfortunately was scratched from the Sprint after picking up an injury between the airport and the racecourse on his way in. Meanwhile Skiperia and Nimr found life difficult in the Cup although Nimr’s 6th was by no means a bad performance. The enthusiasm that all connected with the horses brought, as well as the always jovial presence of “France Sire” providing coverage was a big enhancement to the weekthe always jovial presence of “France Sire” providing coverage was a big enhancement to the week and hopefully more French challengers will return in future.

Promising young Singapore-based trainer James Peters brought across Wimbledon for the China Horse Club. After showing prominently early on under Daniel Moor, he faded in the closing stages but reportedly pulled up fine.


One thing that is evident is that despite being in just its second year, the Carnival is already establishing itself as an event in its own right to the extent that what happens in the actual races becomes almost secondary. Everyone knows about the track surface by now – it is what it is – and the atmosphere surrounding the whole week was extremely positive.  The travelling international press corps was larger than last year and within Korea, cable network KBS N Sports broadcast highlights of the races in a 75 minute show at 10pm on the day of the race and then repeated it in primetime at 8:20pm on Monday night. There is a feelgood environment about the event that is perhaps only possible with a relatively young race, enthusiastic connections and still a sense of the huge potential that could be realised in future years. That Keeneland go out on a limb to sponsor the race right on the very eve of one of their biggest and most important sales of the year, perhaps demonstrates this.

On to attendance and turnover.  Attendance was actually down on last year but there is a good reason for that. In 2016, the Korean “Chuseok” Thanksgiving holiday – one of only two weekends of the year with no racing – immediately followed the Carnival. Attendance always shows a spike prior to dark weeks as there is no opportunity for a legal punt for the next 12 days. As it was 39,910 paid ($2 each) to come through the gates at Seoul Racecourse on Sunday compared with in excess of 44,000 last year.

Wagering turnover on the day was also down but interestingly, both Cup and Sprint showed slight increases. The Sprint handled 4.37 Billion Won in 2016 to 4.39 Billion Won this time while the Cup went from 4.8 Billion Won last year to 5.12 Billion Won in 2017 and followed the regular pattern of turnover getting bigger as the day progresses (for obvious reasons, turnover on the final race of the day is always the biggest). Local punters find it very hard to handicap international races due to the form being hard to assess but with more familiarity, it appears Korean racegoers are now prepared to have a go.

Internationally, both races were simulcasted by the Hong Kong Jockey Club and by Sky Racing in Australia. The Singapore Turf Club took the Sprint as did Malaysia while the entire day was available for betting at the Macau Jockey Club. In the USA, Sky Racing World distributed every race to  ADW’s. TVG Network broadcast both Sprint and Cup. Overall international turnover slightly exceeded domestic turnover (Hong Kong obviously accounting for the vast majority). Dubai Racing TV also screened both big races live.


Laboum in the winner’s circle (Pic: Ross Holburt)

This is Korea. There needs to be progress year on year. Local assessments will probably focus on the dominance of the Japanese runners and that one fewer country was represented than in its inaugural year (the USA joined but the UK and Dubai didn’t send any runners this time). However, that should be countered by the sheer quality of London Town’s performance and also by the positive showing by the US runners. There’s a year to go until the next Carnival. The Korea Cup & Sprint have not yet come of age, but they are very much on the right course.

Ttukseom Cup D-5: Japan’s Esmeraldina Heads 13 Left In

There are thirteen left in this coming Sunday’s Ttukseom Cup at Seoul Racecourse, the track’s first International Open race. They are headed by Japan-based Esmeraldina, who arrived in Korea last week.



Esmeraldina’s connections have shrewdly opted to give the ride to Busan-based Japanese jockey Joe Fujii, a man who has won three big Stakes races in the Korean capital before; the Grand Prix Stakes, the Korean Derby and the Jeju Governor’s Cup. The four-year-old Esmeraldina has reportedly settled into Seoul Racecourse very well.

The other Japan-based filly initially entered to run, Robe De Soie, was unable to make the trip after suffering a bleeding attack.

Four are set to travel up from Busan with Heba and New York Blue among them with the rest coming from the home track.

We will have a full preview after final declarations later in the week but in the meantime, here is a run-down of those left in with pedigree (Starts/1st/2nd/3rd) and home track:

Ttukseom Cup (KOR G3) – Seoul Racecourse – 1400M (Fillies & Mares 5yo and down) – June 7, 2015

Cheonnyeon Dongan (KOR) [Ecton Park – Honeycakes (Hennessy)] (22/10/5/3) Seoul
Ua Deungseon (KOR) [Menifee – Singgeureoun (Mr. Adorable)] (13/6/0/1) Seoul
Geumbit Hwanhui (KOR) [Peace Rules – Sincheongchun (Silent Warrior)] (16/5/3/2) Seoul
Joy Lucky (KOR) [Vicar – Proper Gun (Prosper Fager)] (16/10/1/0) Seoul
Esmeraldina (USA) [Harlan’s Holiday – Tasha’s Star (Spanish Steps)] Japan
My Day (KOR) [Touch Gold – Smart Advice (Smart Strike)] (30/11/7/4) Seoul
Bichui Jeongsang (USA) [Wildcat Heir – Persimmon Honey (Colonial Affair)] (12/5/4/0) Seoul
Heba (USA) [Peace Rules – Sue’s Temper (Temperence Hill)] (30/7/5/1) Busan
Halla Chukje (USA) [Gottcha Gold – C D Player (Montbrook)] (19/3/4/1) Seoul
Golden Lass (KOR) [Ecton Park – Golden Eagle (Big Sur)] (12/4/2/3) Busan
Fly Top Queen (USA) [Henny Hughes – Cape Discovery (Cape Town)] (15/7/1/1) Seoul
New York Blue (USA) [Candy Ride – Aim For The Moon (Deputy Minister)] (17/5/7/1) Busan
Ms. Margaux (USA) [Midnight Lute – Sixtyone Margaux (Cozzene)] (17/1/7/7) Busan

The JRA is Coming! Ttukseom Cup Attracts Two Raiders From Japan’s Premier Racing Circuit

Primary nominations were made this Friday for June’s Ttukseom Cup and the stand-out names among the 22 early entries are two Japanese-trained horses. If they run, they will be the first horses from the Japan Racing Association to run in Korea and also become the first overseas-trained horses to run in a regular Korean Open Stakes race.



Four Korean Stakes races have this year been designated as open to overseas-trained runners this year and it’s the two from Japan who have stepped up to take on the challenge.

The Ttukseom Cup, which will take place on Sunday June 7, is a 1400M race open to fillies and mares and is the first leg of the “Queens’ Tour”. US-bred Esmeraldina and Japan-bred Robe de Soie are both experienced runners in the JRA.

Esmeraldina [Harlan’s Holiday – Tasha’s Star (Spanish Steps)] is a four-year-old who has won three of her eight races to date. She won her only start as a 2-year-old at Tokyo Racecourse in November of 2013 before starting 2014 successfully with a victory at Nakayama before finishing 3rd in the Group 2 Hochi Hai Fillies’ Revue, a Japanese 1000 Guineas Trial, at Hanshin last March.

Her biggest prize was earned through victory in an NAR/JRA Exchange race at Kawasaki, the Kanto Oaks, in June with Craig Williams in the saddle. Since then she’s raced just three times without success, most recently at Nakayama on April 19 this year. Her best (and only) time recorded over the Ttukseom Cup distance of 1400M is 1:22.5 – inside El Padrino’s Seoul Racecourse track record – and was recorded on turf.

Robe de Soie

Robe de Soie

Robe de Soie [Special Week – Velvet Robe (Gone West)] is also a four-year-old. She has four wins from nine career starts. A winner on her debut at Chukyo, she went on to win the Yamaboushi Sho at Hanshin in September 2013. As a three-year-old, she was an also-ran behind Esmeraldina in the Kanto Oaks but would finish the year with back-to-back wins at Hanshin and Kyoto.

She was 7th on her most recent start at Hanshin on April 4. Her best time over 1400M is 1:23.3 on dirt. A dedicated sprinter to the all-rounder Esmeraldina, Robe de Soie comes in here with the more imposing recent form while Esmeraldina has won far more prize-money over her career. It is likely we will see some familiar jockeys riding both of them.

And it’s prize-money that they come here looking for and that is what makes this race so significant. The Korea/Japan Goodwill Cup in 2013 and last year’s Asia Challenge Cup were both invitational races meaning that the hosts picked up the bill. Win or lose, they couldn’t actually lose. In an Open race that isn’t the case and connections will be paying a substantial proportion of the costs involved in bringing their horses to the race.

The Asia Challenge Cup, which will also feature horses from Singapore and possibly Dubai, remains an invitational and on that weekend in August there will be two further races open to overseas-trained runners; the Singapore Turf Club Trophy and the KRA Cup Classic, as the internationalization program for Korean racing continues to gather momentum.

Korean connections have decided to meet the challenge head-on. In Primary nominations for the Ttukseom Cup, there were a total of 20 domestic entries; 10 from Busan and 10 from Seoul and includes most of the best fillies and mares in the country. We’ll have much more on the race over the next few weeks.

Indian Blue Closes To Sports Donga Success

Indian Blue lived up to her reputation as one of Seoul’s top horses over any distance as she walked off with the Sports Donga Cup this afternoon.

Indian Blue and Ikuyasu Kurakane return as winners of the Sports Donga

Indian Blue and Ikuyasu Kurakane return as winners of the Sports Donga

Remarkably, the 4-year-old Indian Blue (Henny Hughes) had won only 4 of her 15 starts coming into today’s race. However, a 3rd and a 2nd in consecutive Ttukseom Cups, a 2nd in the KRA Cup Classic and a 4th in the Grand Prix Stakes meant the raw statistics didn’t really tell the full story.

Add in a sprint victory over Watts Village, Korea’s “Hero of Ohi” and it was no surprise that punters sent her off the short-priced favourite in a field of 14 for the Sports Donga.

She didn’t disappoint. Under Ikuyasu Kurakane, Indian Blue was inevitably the fastest of a group of closers who took charge in the home straight. Hitting the front with a furlong to run – early by her standards, Indian Blue was pushed all the way by Wonder Bolt but never looked in serious danger.

In third place there was a welcome return to form for 2012 KRA Cup Classic winner Sing Sing Cat but the highly though of pair of Double Shining and Kentucky Galloper disappointed.

Going forward, there are plenty of options for Indian Blue. The remaining legs of the Queens’ Tour will be attractive but so will a the Busan Metropolitan in July. Further on, a second tilt at the Korea vs Japan Goodwill race in August – with its prospect of an international rating and subsequent trip to Dubai – should be on the agenda.

Down at Busan, the JRA Kokura Racecourse Trophy was the main event. And while at Seoul it was one of the up-and-comers taking the plaudits, this race went to one of the elder statesmen of the sand as 8-year-old Full Forest (Full Mandate) took victory by a length.

Debuting in 2008, Full Forest was making his 58th start and recorded his first win since Janaury 2012 – and only his 7th in all. Over the years he’s had many jockeys – including the tragic pair of Park Jin Hee and Yoshi Aoki – but today it was the turn of Kim Yong Geun, who made the race his 4th win of the afternoon.

A fine ride it was too as he guided Full Forest into contention as they entered the home straight before passing long-time leader Star Bolt inside the final furlong to win going away.

Next weekend, Stakes action returns to Seoul in the form of the Seoul Owners’ Association Trophy.

Japanese Jockey Narazaki Kosuke To Debut At Busan

It was Sho Ueno at Seoul last week, this week it is the turn of another Japanese jockey to make his Korean debut.

Narazaki Kosuke

Narazaki Kosuke will have his first rides at Busan this Friday as he fills the foreign jockey slot recently vacated by his countryman Eiki Nishimura.

Kosuke – as he will be known in Korea – is 30 years old and has career figures of 848 wins from 7484 rides since debuting in 1999.

An NAR (rather than the more prestigious JRA) jockey, he has most recently been based at Fukuyama Racecourse in Hiroshima.

Kosuke only has two rides on his first weekend although one is for Busan’s leading trainer, Kim Young Kwan, which is a good sign. The other is for Kim Jae Sub who is one of the biggest supporters of foreign riders at the track.

Two other foreign jockeys have also been granted temporary licenses at Busan. More on that next week.

h/t @LBshaka