Chairman Hyun Myung-Kwan Leaves The Korea Racing Authority

So farewell then, Hyun Myung Kwan. On Wednesday afternoon at Seoul Racecourse, a ceremony was held for the outgoing Chairman of the Korea Racing Authority who has retired following the completion of his three-year term.


Hyun Myung Kwan (R) at his retirement ceremony at Seoul Racecourse on Wednesday

All heads of what are known as “public” companies in Korea are appointed by the government and it is almost unheard of for a public company Chairman to serve for longer than three years but until recently the 75-year-old Chairman Hyun looked likely to be an exception and receive an extension. However, that was before the “influence peddling” affair which is currently convulsing Korean politics, business and society.

The significance of the extraordinary ongoing scandal across Korea cannot be overstated (read this and this for the best overview in English). 2.3 Million people demonstrated on the streets of Seoul last Saturday evening demanding the resignation of President Park Geun Hye and her government has effectively ground to a halt with an impeachment vote due on Friday.

This past Tuesday, the Chairmen of Korea’s biggest companies; Samsung, Hyundai, SK, LG, Lotte, Hanjin, CJ and Hanwha, were questioned by lawmakers live on national television over donations to “foundations” set up by the President’s alleged confidante Choi Soon Sil, who is currently under arrest, suspected of essentially running government policy and decision making.

Chung Yoo Ra, the horse loving daughter of Choi Soon Sil was a member of the Korean dressage team that won Gold at the 2014 Asia Games and it is now alleged that much of the machinery of state – both public and private – was mobilized towards getting her into that position and then going forward, to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Along with Samsung Electronics and others, the KRA is one of the organisations alleged to have granted Chung special favors to this end. Accordingly, the Presidential office instructed the KRA to recruit a new Chairman at the end of Hyun’s term.

Hyun’s tenure has been eventful and in terms of international affairs, arguably more progress has been made under him than under any previous Chairman. He green-lighted first the Asia Challenge Cup and then the ambitious staging of the Korea Cup and Sprint earlier this year. Domestically, as a former Samsung executive, he focused on improving customer service. This involved the re-branding of the Off-Track betting centers into “Cultural Centers” with 100% assigned seating, the introduction of the mobile betting app and the upgrading of the on-course facilities including the construction of the massive 128-metre long “multi-vision” screen. Foreign ownership of racehorses has been allowed and the maximum ceiling price on imported horses abolished.

The recruitment process for a new Chairman is underway. The final say over the appointment lies with with the President of South Korea.

Korea’s New Rating System Explained

It is the year of change for horse racing in Korea. The racing calendar has been revamped, foreign ownership of racehorses has been approved (see bottom of this article) and now a new rating system is coming in.

Yeonseung Daero - (Pic: KRA)

Yeonseung Daero usually ran against foreign opposition. In future he will be the rule, not the exception – (Pic: KRA)

Of all the changes, it is the rating system that has caused – and continues to cause – the most debate within Korean racing circles as what it means is that if Korean-bred horses are to win class 1 races, they will need to beat imported opposition. 

The KRA believes this will raise the quality of Korean horses. Local breeders and some owners disagree.

Under the new system, every horse will be assigned a rating from 0-140 to accurately reflect their current ability.  The rating will determine their eligibility for races and their handicap mark.

The ratings are for use in Korea only and are not intended to mirror what a horse’s international rating would be.

Over the past couple of months horses at Class 1 and Class 2 have already been receiving a monthly rating. This will now be rolled out to all classes.

The Current System

There are six classes in Korean racing (only five are used at Busan). Within each class, all races are further split into two categories:

Domestic: Races restricted to Korean-bred runners
Mixed/Foreign: Races open to both Korean and Foreign-bred runners.

Horses move up in class according to points earned for winning or placing in races and prize-money won. They can never return to a lower class, regardless of recent performance.

The New System

All horses will be assigned a rating which will determine which class they are eligible to run in. With the exception of some Stakes races, such as the Korean Derby, eligibility for all Class 1 and Class 2 races will be determined solely by their assigned ratings. The rating band for each class is as follows:

Ratings table








In Summary:

– All races at Class 1 and Class 2 will be open to both Korean-bred and Foreign-bred runners
– Some races at Class 3 and Class 4 will continue to be restricted to Korean-bred runners.
– All races at Class 5 and Class 6 will continue to be restricted to Korean-bred runners.
– Horse ratings may go up or down according to recent past performance. This means that a horse may move down in class as well as up.

On the subject of foreign ownership of racehorses, they will be allowed to buy up to fifteen horses, which is the same as local owners. However, unlike the locals, foreign owners must buy four Korean-bred horses for every foreign-bred horse they wish to import to Korea. This is one reason why it has been a slightly less controversial development than might otherwise have been expected.

Some of the first batch of foreign owners will be able to start purchasing at the 2-year-old sale on Jeju Island in March.

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.

Maximum Stakes Race Field Size Rises To 16

There is a big change coming in Korean racing as the maximum number of horses that can take part in a race is set to rise to 16.

They'll need two more spaces for Stakes races

They’ll need two more spaces for Stakes races

For many years, no more than 14 runners could start in any one race, however, from 2013, that number has risen to 16 for Stakes races with the intention that from 2014, the new higher limit will apply in all races.

Punters are already using the new betting slips which can accommodate 16 runners in a race

Punters are already using the new betting slips which can accommodate 16 runners in a race

The Korea Racing Authority (KRA) has already introduced new betting slips in order to cope with the change and it is possible that next Sunday’s Ttukseom Cup at Seoul Race Park, the first leg of the “Queens’ Tour” series of races that will decide the Champion filly or mare of the year, will be the first opportunity for punters to see the new system in action.

There are still 18 entrants left in the Ttukseom Cup and while in previous years, this would need to be whittled down to 14, this time only 2 will be forced to miss out.

Field sizes in Korea are generally quite healthy. No race can have fewer than seven declared starters and the mean average number of runners is 11. It is very rare for Stakes races to have fewer than 10. The Authority hopes that the increase will result in more attractive pari-mutuel odds for punters as well as more opportunities for owners to enter Stakes events.

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.

Top Sire Menifee Undergoes Surgery

The Korea Racing Authority (KRA) has announced that Menifee, one of the star Stallions of the Korean breeding program, underwent a two-hour operation on January 12 and had two stones removed from his urinary tract.

Menifee (KRA)

The sixteen-year old had been displaying symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection since mid-December. According to the Korean Racing Journal, the KRA consulted with overseas specialists before deciding upon the surgery and flew in two Equine Vets from the USA to take part in the operation at the KRA Stud Farm on Jeju Island.

Initial signs are that the operation was successful and, smooth recovery permitting, Menifee is tentatively scheduled to begin covering mares in late April.

Menifee [Harlan-Anne Campbell (Storm Cat)] finished second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 1999. A $3,000,000 purchase by the KRA in 2006, he finished second in the Leading Sire list in 2011, despite only having two crops of foals on the race track. His chief-earner, filly Useung Touch, won the Korean Oaks.

“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.