London Town

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Japan Doubles As London Town & Moanin Win Keeneland Korea Cup & Sprint

For the second year running, Japanese-trained horses emerged victorious in the Keeneland Korea Cup & Sprint. For London Town in the Cup, it was just as much of a procession as last year but in the Sprint, Moanin had to battle all the way to the line to see off a valiant challenge from Hong Kong’s Fight Hero.

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Too good. London Town with Dolkong a distance 2nd (Pic: Ross Holburt/Korea Racing Authority

While his form coming into the race hadn’t been quite as imperious as last year, once he stepped onto the sand of Seoul, London Town stepped up. Local bettors remembered him too, sending the five-year-old by Kane Hekili off as the prohibitive favourite in a field that was reduced to fourteen, due to the scratching of Ennobled Friend.

Cup Presentation - KRA

Korea Cup Presentation (Ross Holburt/Korea Racing Authority)

London Town was drawn wide and this time he was taken on early by Korea’s big hope Cheongdam Dokki under Manoel Nunes. However, ridden by Yasunari Iwata, London Town asserted his dominance in the back straight going past Cheongdam Dokki and then stretching the field out as he galloped away around the home turn. The race was essentially over with the only questions being who would run 2nd and whether London Town would break his own track record.

The answer to the second question was “yes” with London Town shaving one-tenth of a second off the 1800M mark he set a year ago. The answer to the first was Dolkong as the Simon Foster trained four-year-old finished strongly up the rail, abeit a full fiteen-lengths in arrears. Clean Up Joy also finished well for 3rd place ahead of a tiring Cheongdam Dokki and the very game British challenger Forest Ranger.

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Moanin (far side) sees off Fight Hero (Pic: Ross Holburt/KRA)

Moanin won the Sprint but had to work hard under Kanichiro Fujii as Fight Hero pushed him all the way to the line after the pair had come from well-back. Korea’s Doraonpogyeongseon was 3rd with US-trained Chublicious in 4th and up and coming local hope Ace Korea in 5th.

The official attendance on course at Seoul Racecourse was 39,228. Local betting turnover on the Sprint was KRW 4,062,473,800 and KRW 5,154,087,500 on the Cup.

Moanin Joe Fujii - Ross Holburt KRA

Joe Fujii and Moanin (Pic: Ross Holburt/KRA)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.