40/1 chance Captain Yankee swooped late to cut down the favourites and claim the first leg of the 2022 Korean Triple Crown, the KRA Cup Mile (Korean 2000 Guineas) at Busan Racecourse on Sunday afternoon.
With the fancied Aspen Taeyang a late scratching due to a hind leg injury, last year’s Champion Juvenile Complete Value was sent off as hot favourite for the 1600M first jewel, ahead of Winner Star, with Man Of The Year and Seungbusa the only other two in single digits in the markets.
When the race began, Beolmaui Star got the best of the start from gate number one and was joined on the early pace by Man Of The Year and Complete Value with Seungbusa looping across from gate ten to join them. Captain Yankee meanwhile sat in midfield as the front-runners set a fair pace.
The lightly raced Beolmaui Star would quickly weaken while Man Of The Year was always wide and never convincing and as the leaders entered the home straight, his challenge faded, leaving Seungbusa and Complete Value up front alone.
At that point it seemed it would be a duel of stamina between Seungbusa and Complete Value; a battle that only Complete Value could win. He did, seeing off Seungbusa with just over a furlong remaining. Victory seemed a formality but that was to reckon without the long-shot Captain Yankee, who began to rally and then close in on the leading two.
Captain Yankee would ultimately come through the gap between Complete Value and Seungbusa and go on to win by a full two-lengths on the line. Complete Value was 2nd with Seungbusa a further length and a quarter back in 3rd. It was a full eight-lengths back to the fourth placegetter, Unju Hero.
Winning jockey Jo In-kwon told in-house broadcaster KRBC that while he was confident in his horse, it wasn’t plain sailing: “I knew the pace would be very fast, but those leaders were so far ahead at one point that I thought that we would end up too far back and he might give up.”
“He hates kickback so I kept him wide and out of the sand and that gave us more to do, but just when I thought it might be too much, he responded so well and gave me his very best.”
Jo In-kwon is widely considered one of Korea’s most accomplished riders, but this was only his second Group winner since being licensed in 2008. It was his first big race win of any kind since 2012, when he was a fresh-faced rookie, about to go away to do his compulsory national service.
Now a grizzled thirty-five-year-old family man, Jo In-kwon admitted that he was nervous as Captain Yankee closed to victory: “I was very excited in the final furlong, but I tried to keep calm and make sure that we made no mistakes.” They did not, although it must be noted the jockey was deservedly – and perhaps leniently – fined half a million Won for his excessive and unnecessary whip use in the closing stages.
On pulling up, Jo sent a personal message to his young children, which was picked up by the on-board microphone he was carrying. “Yes, that was lucky, wasn’t it?” he laughed, referencing how the onboard “jockey cam” in the race was supposed to be carried by Moon Se-young, before Aspen Taeyang was found lame. Jo In-kwon offered to carry the camera, despite being on a 40/1 chance.
Captain Yankee is by Old Fashioned, who stands privately in Korea at Challenger Farm. He is out of Can’t Rezist (by Action This Day) and was bred by Lee Kwang-lim. The Cup Mile was his sixth race start and his fourth career win.
The second leg of the Triple Crown is the Korean Derby over 1800M at Seoul Racecourse on Sunday May 15th.