Korea Racing Authority

Round-Up: “Let’s Run”, Daily Double, English Form, Track-Rider Op Story Goes Global

Much as I don’t like doing “Round-Ups” I’ve been busy lately and am a long way behind. I also don’t like writing in the first-person on this blog so without further waffle, here are some things that have been happening:

As a wise man rcently said, You Run, I'll Bet...

As a wise man rcently said, You Run, I’ll Bet…

Anyone who has visited Korean race courses over the past couple of months will have noticed that the KRA has been making subtle hints that we may wish to call the organisation “Let’s Run” from now on. Quite why is anybody’s guess but the rebranding is now almost complete and the pliant local Racing media are dutifully referring to the Racetracks as “Let’s Run Park”. Like it or not – and anything that removes the words “Racing” and “Racecourse” is questionable – it’s here to stay.

On to gambling matters and Busan Racecourse – sorry, “Let’s Run Park Busan”
– is taking the first tentative steps towards “exotic” betting as it introduces a “Daily Double” from June 27. In Korea, laws literally need to be changed before any new bet type can be introduced so it isn’t going to be operated through a pool but instead through a lottery. Punters will have to choose the winners of the last two races on the card on each Friday. If they get them correct, they win access to a draw to win a guaranteed KW 10 Million.

Recently, punters have been leaving the Busan track early on a Friday (due to its dreadful location half in Gimhae and half in Busan and connected to Busan City by only one bridge next to which an awful lot of construction is going on right now) and handle is down on the last two races. Seoul, despite having no transportation issues, is likely to follow suit with this kind of activity soon and with any luck, it could be the first step towards getting regular multiple race betting.

Also in gambling news, things are getting easier for English-speaking punters here as the KRA is making full and comprehensive past performance information for all meetings at Seoul available for free download from its website. The move is designed to coincide with the start of regular simulcast broadcasting which starts next week.

Finally, the story of the Korea Racing Authority doing right by a track rider taken seriously ill at Busan in April has made the American Bloodhorse magazine. Khayalethu Jeyu, one of 11 South African work riders at the southern track, was rushed to hospital by KRA ambulance after experiencing severe headaches while riding work.

Upon hearing of the discovery of several imminently life-threatening tumors, the KRA stepped in and paid for his treatment. Read the full story here.

Hyun Myung-Kwan Appointed KRA Chairman

The Korea Racing Authority has announced the appointment of a new Chairman. Hyun Myung Kwan will be inaugurated for a three-year term at Seoul Racecourse on Thursday.

Hyun Myung Kwan (KRA)

Hyun Myung Kwan (KRA)

A native of Jeju Island, the 72-year-old Hyun began his working life in the 1960’s as a civil servant at the Board of Audit and Inspection but has spent most of his career at Samsung.

He eventually rose to become Chairman of Samsung C&T and was a close aide of Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun Hee.

More recently, Hyun also worked on President Park Geun Hye’s election campaign.

He succeeds outgoing Chairman Jang Tae Pyeong and his term will expire in December 2016.

His thoughts on who will win next week’s Grand Prix Stakes are, as yet, unknown. No doubt he is studying the form right now.

Three Korean Colts Head To USA For Training And Racing

Three young Korean colts flew to the United States this week as the Korea Racing Authority (KRA) continues in its efforts to improve the competitiveness of domestically bred racehorses.

The 2-year olds will spend most of the year in Ocala training and if all goes well racing, before eventually returning to Korea.

Better Than You (KRA)

Better Than You (KRA)

Last year, Feel So Good (Ft.Stockton) became the first Korean bred horse to win a race in the United States after as he triumphed at Calder Racecourse on his third start after spending 15 months in Florida.

He returned to Korea immediately after his win and won his first race in his homeland very easily.

Busan trainer Kim Young Kwan was tasked with selecting the most promising candidates for the project and he chose 3 colts.

They are Seoul Bullet [Peace Rules – Wild Guess (Wild Rush)], Gangnam Camp [Forest Camp – Gimoa (Land Rush)] and Better Than You [Ft.Stockton-Gochiryeong (Proud And True)].

Seoul Bullet (KRA)

Seoul Bullet (KRA)

All were bred by the KRA and would have gone through the 2-year-old sales this spring. Instead, they will be sold to private owners on their return to the states and if they race, will run in the KRA’s colours.

Korea started sending horses to the US in 2008. They chose an experienced racehorse, Pick Me Up (Time Star), and sent him to Fair Hill for three months during which he race three times. It did not go well with Pick Me Up heavily beaten in each outing.

Gangnam Camp (KRA)

Gangnam Camp (KRA)

The following year it was the turn of Baekpa (Revere), winner of the 2007 Korean Oaks. She too failed to make an impact.

Following these two disappointments and facing criticism at home from Korean racing fans (who pointed out that you need only look at the times run in Korea compared to those elsewhere to judge what the current standard of racing was), it was decided that a different approach was needed.

A small number of horses have since been sent to Ocala including Winner Force (Lost Mountain) and Powerful Korea (Distilled), both of whom have become winners on their return. Feel So Good is, however, the star pupil and allowed the KRA’s Ko Byoung Un to utter the memorable quote that “…maybe we found out the problem is not the horse”.

"Hey? This doesn't look like the way to Prestige Class...this is Korean Air, right?" (KRA)

“Hey? This doesn’t look like the way to Prestige Class…this is Korean Air, right?” (KRA)

Seoul Bullet, Gangnam Camp and Better Than You flew Korean Air Cargo from Incheon to JFK Airport in New York on February 13. Whatever happens while they are away, we can definitely be assured that the problem will not be the horse.

Record Breaking $225,000 Filly Arrives In Seoul

The most expensive imported racehorse in Korean history has arrived at Seoul Racecourse. The filly, by Henny Hughes and out of the Cape Town mare Cape Discovery, was purchased by owner Oh Ho Kuk at the OBS Spring Sale of Two-year Olds in Training in Florida this April. Having cleared quarantine, she arrived at the track earlier this month.

The Henny Hughes filly, with trainer Choi Bong Ju (left) and owner Oh Ho Kuk (right), who has become the most expensive imported racehorse in Korean history

The filly, who remains unnamed, was the fastest under-tack in the lead-up to the sale, posting a time of 9.8 seconds for 1 furlong – considerably faster than anything has ever run in Korea. According to The Bloodhorse, family members include G2 winners Unbridled Energy and Heart Of Joy and G3 winners Inexplicable, Midnight Cry and White Mischief.

The filly is by far the most expensive purchase made by a Korean buyer since the price cap for imported fillies was removed on a trial basis earlier this year. The cap, which existed to promote the local breeding industry, had been increased in recent years from $20,000 all the way up to $70,000 before being removed completely in order to provide not only a better standard of racehorse but also to improve the breeding stock. Great news for OBS and others who already see the lower end of their sales propped up by Korean buyers but also, the Korea Racing Authority hopes, for the nation’s own breeders.

The cap remains on colts and geldings, however, with the breeding industry here now sufficiently developed in terms of facilities and well stocked with an ever-improving standard of stallion, the KRA believed that the time was right to remove the cap for fillies for racing (mares imported solely for breeding purposes had never been subject to the cap). To encourage the import of quality fillies, the “Queens’ Tour” of valuable Stakes races was introduced this year.

The KRA wants Korea’s breeding industry to develop to such an extent that ultimately the country becomes a net exporter of racehorses. Last year, several horses were sold to Malaysia and ultimately Korea, like every other country in the region (and most of the world) has its eye on China as an export market if and when they begin importing horses.

Of course, on the track the challenge remains for these expensive fillies to be able to live up to their potential as Korean training remains significantly below international standards. The Henny Hughes filly has been sent to the barn of Choi Bong Ju who, although 49, has only been training since 2007 after retiring as a jockey. Choi told the media that he “doesn’t feel a burden” in being put in charge of the star newcomer. Likewise owner Oh has insisted – publicly anyway – that his trainer is under no pressure. We will see.

“This is a Korean horse. It doesn’t understand Western ways”

That was definitely the money-quote from John Glionna’s Los Angeles Times profile of Busan trainer Joe Murphy, a report which reflects the reality of the challenges faced by those brought in by the Korea Racing Authority (KRA) to implement its oft-stated goal of “Internationalization.”

Over the years, I’ve written on this topic several times with regard to, amongst other things, Korean horses racing overseas and foreign jockeys coming to Korea. But what is internationalization, why are they doing it and why isn’t it working?

Competitors pose prior to last year's International Jockey Challenge in Seoul

The KRA started the process in 2004 with a dubiously named “Five-Year Plan”. That year they inaugurated a series of exchange races with other Racing Authorities and also established an annual International Jockey Challenge. The aim was, by the end of the five years, to regularly have Korean horses going overseas to compete while welcoming international competitors to Korea.

There were a number of reasons for doing this but one key factor was the desire of the KRA (or more specifically, the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry under whose jurisdiction the KRA is – it has always been a matter of debate as to how interested the KRA really is in changing things and how much is forced upon them) was to improve the domestic image of horse-racing, making it a vital part of the economy.

Racing has a near-monopoly on legal gambling and as such has a dreadful public image and is persistently the target of populist anti-gambling groups who seek to impose even tighter restrictions on racing. Under the auspices of the National Gaming Control Commission, this has involved the enforced closure of the KRA’s internet and telephone betting services and an order for it to close several of its Off-Track Betting sites.

To fight this image, the KRA has become one of the largest charitable organizations in the country, has constructed family leisure parks at its tracks to get families in and sponsored the production of racing movies such as “Gak-seol-tang”, “Grand Prix” and “Champ”. Alongside this, they are fully aware of the importance of National pride in Korea. An internationally competitive racing industry would be a secure industry.

The KRA set about trying to improve its breeding, training and riding. The results have been mixed. The first aim has been successful. The Jeju Stud Farm was already operational but the addition of the Jangsu Farm in 2007 (with a foreign Manager), the lifting of restrictions on spending on broodmares and a bigger budget to import stallions. Korea now has an impressive Stud line-up with the calibre of foals much better than it was a decade ago and the importers know what they are doing. However, for the most part, when they reach the track they’re still slower than the very average two-year-old imports – Korean buyers are still only allowed to spend $20,000 on importing a colt for racing.

That’s where the training comes in and that’s where the problems start. Training and conditioning here is substandard. Joe Murphy is only the second foreign trainer after Peter Wolsley who has just completed his fourth year at Busan. The Australian is finally in command of a decent string of horses but at 18 months in, Murphy is in roughly the same position as Wolsley was at the same point.

Wolsley stuck it out and to his credit, Murphy despite the difficulties, speaks very highly of his Korean co-workers and says he enjoys life at Busan and intends to stay to make a success of things. However, it is fair to say that a system which requires three years of toil for little reward isn’t likely to attract much talent going forward.

Why is it like this? Why doesn’t the horse “understand western ways”? A lot comes down to money and control. The KRA administers racing but it would be quite a stretch to say they control it. There are four sets of license holders; Owners, Trainers, Jockeys and Grooms. These groups – and the organisations that represent them wield the real power. With prize-money so high, as far as many are concerned the system is not broken and doesn’t need to be improved.

At Busan, it is only the owners who can change things. It was owners who wanted their horse ridden by Japanese jockey Toshio Uchida and now it is owners who want Peter Wolsley to train their horses. When they win, they can start to influence the locals in a postive way as happened with the introduction of pacifiers as approved racing gear a couple of years ago; the first two horses home in the Grand Prix Stakes, Tough Win and Mister Park, were both wearing the equipment that Wolsley introduced to Korea.

Interestingly, it is at Seoul, where hostility to foreigners is such that not a single trainer has been invited and where no foreign jockey can be said to have been a success, where there has been visible progress and that has come in the saddle. The KRA’s Jockey academy, headed by a South African, has been turning out some good young riders. At Busan, Murphy points out the problem of younger jockeys showing far too much respect for their elders but at Seoul, if the likes of Jo In Kwen, Jang Chu Yeol and Seo Seung Un respect their elders then they have a funny way of showing it. All are genuine talents but there is no-one similar at Busan.

There have been some improvements, for instance, The KRA’s English language webpage has got much better over the past couple of years and a foreign steward is a permanent fixture on the panels at both Seoul and Busan (although they have stopped producing English language reports).

Korea also exported some racehorses to Malaysia last year, a first for the industry. Additionally, like they’re doing with young jockeys, the KRA is sending groups of trainers abroad – not only to the US but also to Australia and the UK (with no raceday medication allowed in Korea, it is thought these two countries are better options for trainers).

However, for every step forward in Korean racing, there are two steps back. A foreign Master Farrier left Seoul last October after being frustrated in his attempts to improve the generally poor shoeing quality of racehorses here. The local farriers have a good union and a good income. Meanwhile horses continue to have bad shoes.

Then again, the Korean horses probably wouldn’t like or understand those western shoes.