Keeneland Korea Cup

2018 Korea Cup & Sprint – Review

The 3rd Korean Autumn Racing Carnival featuring the Keeneland Korea Cup and Keeneland Korea Sprint has been and gone and once more, the highlight of the local racing season made for an interesting and exciting week.

Korea Sprint 2018

Moanin (purple cap) gets the better of Fight Hero in the Korea Sprint (Pic: KRA)

The Sprint was a well-run race that saw a tight finish contested by two good horses. Moanin – the highest rated horse in the race – ran out the narrow winner under a vigourous ride by Joe Fujii who added the Sprint to the Cup he won two years ago on Chrysolite.

While the decision to enforce the widest gate on Hong Kong entrant Fight Hero attracted some scorn, it allowed the habitually difficult starter a trouble-free trip and possibly crucially, not a bit of sand in his face the whole way around. Under a very good ride by Derek Leung, Fight Hero made the most of that with a great late run that saw him duel with Moanin in the final 300 metres and almost beat him.

Sprint Presentation

Sprint Presentation (Pic: KRA)

Chublicious navigated a trickier route through but also finished off very strongly for 4th. The US-trained gelding had won plenty of admirers throughout the week for his kind and friendly demeanour in the barn but once out on the track, proved he is a proper racehorse too. over the two years that American horses have been coming, they have a 3rd (in last year’s Cup) and back to back 4ths in the Sprint with all three adjusting the surface very well. The Sprint looks a winnable race for a top level American Sprinter.

Wild Dude ran better than he did two years ago, gettng out to a fast start and while he faded, still managed to come home in sixth place. It wasn’t to be for France’s King Malpic, however, who was scarcely involved and came home last.

Doraonpogyeongseon ran 3rd for the second year in succession, consolidating his position as the host nation’s top sprinter even if that means he’s just a little bit below the standard necessary to win a race such as this. Could that standard be achieved next year by Ace Korea? The only three-year-old in the contest was on pace until the final furlong and while the extra power of the older horses then kicked in, he looks a huge prospect for further improvement.

London Town

London Town (Pic: KRA)

As to the Cup, it is perhaps best to simply look on it as simply a sensational performance by London Town. Yes, his form coming into the race wasn’t as imperious as it had been last year but from the moment he set foot on the Seoul sand last week, he looked a winner. Drawn wide again, he was hustled to the front by Yasunari Iwata (who picked up a two-day ban for his troubles) although it was Cheongdam Dokki who got to lead into the corner.

London Town went past Cheongdam Dokki with five furlongs still to run and for a moment it looked like Iwata may have gone to soon. A very very brief moment. From then on, he was relentless and strung the in now way weak field out in the manner of a three-mile steeplchase. Dokki was done, coming home 4th with Dolkong getting the closest on the line. Although “close” is perhaps not the best way to describe a 15-length deficit. London Town had so destroyed the field that Clean Up Joy was able to run on late for 3rd ahead of the tiring Dokki and the game Forest Ranger, who ran a good 5th for Richard Fahey.

Cup Presentation

Cup Presentation (Pic: KRA)

While successful at Group 2  level on more than one occasion, London Town is yet to win a Group 1 race in Japan. Hopefully he can go on and achieve such a feat in the forthcoming months. Dolkong’s 2nd place was the best finish by a Korean horse in the race to date and if his injury problems are behind him, could go on to be a big player in the months to come. Him against Cheongdam Dokki in the KRA Cup Classic next month, if it comes to pass, could be something to savour.

Singapore’s Maximus ran well but was one of those broken by London Town’s surge and ultimately finished 8th. Riven Light ran in midfield in the early exchanges but ended up eased. That was disappointing given the amount of goodwill the horse had generated in the lead up to the race and the star-power he attracted with Rich Ricci, Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh all in the parade ring.

Foster Antonio

Jockey Antonio Da Silva and trainer Simon Foster after Dolkong’s 2nd place (Pic: KRA)

The races were simulcast for betting in numerous countries. The Sprint was shown during the Sunday program at Sha Tin – and Hong Kong turnover on the race was actually bigger than the Korean turnover (Fight Hero started as 3rd favourite in his home country, compared to 2nd in Korea – both markets had Moanin on top). In the USA, TVG showed both races while At The Races’ coverage of the Cup was the first time a Korean race had been shown live on a British racing channel. Domestically, like last year, KBS N Sports recorded the races and produced a 75 minute highlight show (pro-baseball taking priority in the live slot).

In terms of attendance, it was free-entry to Seoul Racecourse on the day although in the end the on-track attendance was almost the exact same as last year at just over 39,000. Betting turnover on the Sprint was  4.06 Billion Won and 5.15 Billion Won on the Cup; the Sprint being slightly down on last year and the Cup a tiny bit up.

The official events were slightly more low-key this time around although that’s not necessarily a bad thing and the barrier draw taking place in the parade ring on the Thursday before the race instead of at a hotel seemed to work. Naturally, however, there was still a K-Pop group performing before the Cup presentation. On track, with horses representing nine different nations (including Korea), it was the most diverse event yet. The presence of the Melbourne Cup Trophy touring the racecourse also added a pleasingly cosmopolitan touch.

CupPRes

Customary annual picture of Keeneland’s Chip McGaughey, this year assisted by Seungho Ryu and Andrew Hawkins,  along with K-Pop group WJSN (Pic: KRA)

There will be murmurings of disquiet locally about both races being won by Japanese horses and that visitors from across the East Sea have now won five of the six carnival races across the three editions (Hong Kong’s Super Jockey in the inaugural Cup being the odd one out). However, the Sprint was an exciting race while the Cup saw a genuinely world-class performance. The event continues to slowly but surely make its mark in the racing calendar and its development in years to come can play an important role in the integration of Korean racing on the international stage, which in turn can strengthen its standing at home.

 

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2018 Keeneland Korea Cup & Sprint Previews

It’s the big one. The 2018 Keeneland Korea Cup & Sprint takes place at Seoul Racecourse on Sunday September 9. Free entry to the racecourse for the 10 race-card which gets under way at 10:45am. The big races are at 3:45pm and 4:55pm respectively.

KEENELAND KOREA SPRINT – 1200M

Korea Sprint Overseas Runners:

 

1 PERDIDO POMEROY (USA) He led this race last year until he was overcome with a furlong to run and ended up in 6th. He rebounded with a win a month later at Busan but has been indifferent across four starts since. Last raced three months ago in the SBS Sports Sprint when he finished 7th behind Doraonpogyeongseon and Today. Very fast in a trial at Busan only last week. He’ll aim for a fast start but looks up against it here.
2 TODAY (KOR) He won 10 of his first 12 races to be sent of as favourite for the SBS Sports Sprint in June where he ultimately ran a close 3rd to Doraonpogyeongseon. He then went to Singapore to run in the KRA Trophy at Kranji in July where he overcame a bit of bad luck to run a strong 3rd again behind Singapore’s Skywalk and Rafaello. From Korea’s top stable, he should be near to the pace here and should go close.
3 ZENTENARY (USA) Ran in this race last year, showing close to the front early on but was quickly bettered. Enters in good form with a win and 2nd place from his latest two starts but in much softer company than this. Will aim for a quick start and try to hold on for as long as possible. Outsider.
4 GEUMA RAPID (AUS) Started his career very promisingly but has been hampered by a succession of injuries. He’s one start into a comeback following nine months on the sidelines and offered few clues running 10th of 12. Hard to recommend.
5 ACE KOREA (USA) This up and coming sprinter is the only three-year-old in the race and accordingly gets a weight allowance. Two very smart wins in the Spring led him to take his chance in the SBS Sports Sprint in June but he had a hard time and finished well back behind three others who go here. Returned to Busan and was an eye-catching class 2 winner at the end of July. Trained by Australian Peter Wolsley, he could make for an interesting outsider.
6 MORNING DAERO (USA) It’s been over a year since his latest win, which was at 1400M last July. Best finish in 2018 so far was 2nd place at this distance in March. He only beat one home on his latest outing a month ago and he’ll be among the outsiders here.
7 DORAONPOGYEONGSEON (USA) Third in this race last year, he returned to Seoul in June to win his second consecutive SBS Sports Sprint at this distance beating Today and establishing himself as Korea’s top sprinter. Stretched out to a mile to win another big Stakes race at Busan last month. He’s versatile so the draw shouldn’t be an issue for him and is in top form. A big chance.
8 KING MALPIC (FR) King Malpic is a prolific winner in France, including three consecutive triumphs between April and June this year at La Teste De Buch and Chantilly at distances between six furlongs and a mile. His latest outing saw him run 2nd of 9 in the six-furlong Group 3 Prix de-Ris-Orangis at Maisons-Laffitte on July 15th. This is a tougher test but the form is good. As with all European runners, how he copes with the sand will be key to his chances.
9 MOANIN (USA) Winner of the Listed Coral Stakes at Hanshin over 1400M in March, that was his first win since the Group 1 February Stakes at Tokyo all the way back in 2016. He won six of his first seven starts and has been racing in top level company since. He’s never actually tackled a distance as short as 1200M but that’s unlikely to trouble him. JRA horses generally have little difficulty adapting to the track and a jockey who knows Seoul very well has been booked. A big chance and very possibly the one they’ll need to beat.
10 WONDER BOLT (USA) Very experienced eight-year-old who finished runner-up to Singapore’s El Padrino in the Asia Challenge Cup all the way back in 2014. It’s been more than two years since his last win but he’s still a regular place-getter in class 1 handicaps. Most recently ran 2nd over 1800M. Usually ridden patiently these days but this is a tough ask.
11 WILD DUDE (USA) Winner of the Grade 2 Kona Gold Stakes at Santa Anita in 2016, he ran in this race two years ago finishing 9th of 16. Since then he’s done his racing in Dubai where he hasn’t quite managed to re-capture the best of his American form although his latest efforts have been encouraging. He last ran on Dubai World Cup night, finishing 4th of 8 behind Mind Your Biscuits in the Golden Shaheen where he ran on well to finish within four-lengths of the winner. Not necessarily among the favourites but he surely improves on two years ago and could offer some value.
12 CHUBLICIOUS (USA) A Group 3 winner in the United States, he enters in very solid form having finished 1st or 2nd in six of his seven latest starts dating back over a year. They include the aforementioned Group 3 at Laurel Park, when he was the longest shot on the board – as well as a victory in a Listed race at Monmouth Park this June. He only beat one home on his latest outing at Delaware Park on July 14th but American-trained horses with similar records ran well here last year and Chublicious could be a factor.
13 FIGHT HERO (GB) Fight Hero will be looking to emulate Super Jockey, who won this race for Hong Kong in 2016. He arrives having finished up the season a winner over the all-weather at Sha Tin on June 24th at this distance, coming from off the pace. All his wins have been over 1200M and if he adapts to the sand, he like any Hong Kong sprinter, has every chance.

Five international runners take on eight local sprinters here and it’s anyone’s race. We’ll go with Japanese raider (9) MOANIN under the guidance of Kanichiro Fujii to get the win but it certainly won’t be easy. US raider (12) CHUBLICIOUS has looked very good since arriving and should take to the track well while Hong Kong’s (13) FIGHT HERO must be respected too. On the Korean side, (2) TODAY has been drawn well and could possibly overturn the form on (7) DORAONPOGYEONGSEON who beat him in the SBS Sports Sprint here in June. Doraonpogyeongseon is the kind of horse who generally steps up when challenged though so shouldn’t be discounted himself. An interesting outsider could be (1) PERDIDO POMEROY. While his Spring campaign this year didn’t go especially well, he was absolutely flying in a trial at Busan last Saturday and from gate 1 will surely lead early. They’ll have to come past him.

Selections (9) Moanin (7) Doraonpogyeongseon (12) Chublicious (2) Today
Next Best 13, 1, 5, 8
Fast Start 1, 2, 3, 8

KEENELAND KOREA CUP – 1800M

Foreign contenders:

1 FOREST RANGER (IRE) Back to back wins in the Group 3 Earl of Sefton Stakes at Newmarket in April and then the Huxley Stakes at Chester in May, the latter race a Group 2 for the first time this year enabled him to take his chance in the Eclipse. He found himself overmatched that day before finishing 5th of 7 in the York Stakes at the end of July. He is a proven top class performer and has won on the all-weather surface at Newcastle.
2 DOLKONG (USA) A rival of Cheongdam Dokki when they were juveniles, his career has been hampered by injury since which has restricted him to just nine starts. He returned to action in August with an effortless victory over this distance in a class 1 handicap and so long as he’s trained on from it – and the word is that he has – there is no reason why he can’t prove he belongs here. Drawn in gate 3, he can take a sit behind the early speed and make his move late on.
3 GREAT KING (USA) Trained by Thomas Gillespie at Busan, Great King has won six of twenty-one in total and three of his latest six. He last ran in early July beating a decent field at 2000M, coming from just off the pace. He looks to still be getting better and while this is obviously a tough assignment, he can acquit himself well.
4 FINAL BOSS (KOR) Korean Derby winner in 2017, he’s been a touch frustrating since, offering hints of real talent but similarly flopping on occasion too. He began the year winning a listed race over 1200M and enters having last run 4th in the SBS Sports Sprint in July. Back up to two turns today, he is versatile – he won the Derby coming home wide and late but has also gone forward too. He’ll be an outsider here.
5 TOSCONOVA CAT (USA) By some margin the lowest rated among the local entrants, the three-year-old has only race nine times for three wins, two of them at this distance. A smart winner at local class 2 on his latest outing in August when he led all the way but this is almost certainly too much too soon for him.
6 RIVEN LIGHT (IRE) He began his career in France winning two of seven starts. He then missed over a year, reappearing with Willie Mullins in Ireland and after winning a Thurles handicap in December 2016, was gelded and sent hurdling. He returned to the flat in April 2017, winning three of five at distances up to ten furlongs before heading to Australia and trying his luck in the Ladbrokes Stakes at Caulfied. He finished 7th of 11 behind Gailo Chop that day and after injury and a lengthy spell, returned to action in style at the end of July, winning a seventeen-runner handicap at the Galway Festival for the second year running. Trainer Willie Mullins has put a Korean jockey on board who knows the track well.
7 DONGBANG DAERO (USA) The last time he came to Seoul he ran a huge race in the season-ending Grand Prix Stakes last December, closing to finish 2nd to Power Blade over 2300M. He’s not won since and his recent Busan form is uninspiring. If the early pace is very hot and the leaders tire, he may make up some ground late on.
8 DYNAMIC DASH (USA) The six-year-old has won ten of forty and was last in the winner’s circle at Busan in May when he scored over 2000M – it was his first win in two years although he picked up plenty of minor money in the meantime. He’s struggled in his latest two and he looks a touch overmatched here but he still may well beat a few.
9 MAXIMUS (USA) A Singapore-based polytrack specialist, his latest win was at a mile in April. He’s run three times since then including finishing 6th behind Southern Legend in the Group 1 Kranji Mile. He has never raced a further than a mile before but is trained by Alwin Tan, who knows what it takes to be successful on this track having saddled El Padrino to victory in the inaugural Asia Challenge Cup in 2014.
10 PLACES TO GO (USA) Found a rich vein of form when scoring in three consecutive class 1 handicaps between February and April this year but has tended to struggle when faced with really top class opposition. Comes in having run 7th of 10 last start over 2000M and has plenty to find.
11 ENNOBLED FRIEND (USA) Expected to be scratched.
12 CHEONJI STORM (KOR) Always talented but coming into his own this year. He won a local Group 3 at 1200M in March before scoring by ten-lengths in a class 1 handicap here at the end of April at today’s distance. He went to Busan for the Mayor’s Cup on July 1st, again at this distance and got to within three-lengths of Cheongdam Dokki. Still will potential to get better, he will try to sit just behind the early leaders.
13 CHEONGDAM DOKKI (USA) Korean racing’s latest great hope. Four for four in 2018, he has established himself as the top horse on the peninsula. His last defeat came in the Grand Prix Stakes here at the end of 2017 but even that was only after he had set some brutal fractions for the first part of the 2300M. He generally leads and dominates his domestic races although he can be patient if necessary. He can overcome the wide gate to get close to the action early and it should be a chance to see what he is made of. He is Korea’s best chance to get a maiden win in the Cup.
14 LONDON TOWN (JPN) He was a dominant winner of the race last year, making all and breaking the track record in the process. It hasn’t been straightforward since, however, as he’s yet to return to the winner’s circle in five subsequent starts, all of them at Group level. This contrasts with his lead up to the race last year when he broke the Sapporo track record at 1700M. Nevertheless, all those races were in very tough company and even if he is not quite as on song as a year ago, back on the sand at Seoul, he remains the one to beat. Wide draw but that was the case last year too.
15 CLEAN UP JOY (USA) Winner of the Grand Prix Stakes in 2016 he has since seen Cheongdam Dokki usurp him as Seoul’s top horse. Nevertheless, he returned to winning form in March before finishing runner-up to Cheongdam Dokki in two big Stakes races in April and May. He always has to start from the widest gate due to his starting manners and don’t be surprised to see him miss the break slightly. He will get stronger as the race goes on though and can challenge for the minor money.

It’s the moment of truth for (13) CHEONGDAM DOKKI. Korea’s superstar is drawn alongside last year’s winner (14) LONDON TOWN in Korea’s most valuable race and both will be looking to get on the early speed here and they are favourites to dispute the prize. London Town’s build up to the race may not have quite as impressive as it was a year ago but he may still have enough to successfully defend his crown. (2) DOLKONG made a hugely impressive return to racing a month ago. He’ll sit behind the early speed and will come through strongly late on. (1) FOREST RANGER and (6) RIVEN LIGHT have both impressed in work this week and both are established group race horses in Europe. They have drawn well and will be in the hunt. Longer shots who may go well include (12) CHEONJI STORM and Singapore’s (9) MAXIMUS as well, of course, as (15) CLEAN UP JOY.

Selections (14) London Town (13) Cheongdam Dokki (2) Dolkong (6) Riven Light
Next Best 1, 12, 9, 15
Fast Start 3, 5, 12, 13, 14