Masa Tanaka

Ton-Up Tanaka Signs Off From Korea

Masa Tanaka’s time riding in Korea is at an end but the Japanese jockey had time to clock up his 100th winner on the peninsular last Friday, one of three successes on his final weekend.

Masa Tanaka

Masa Tanaka (Pic: Busan Ilbo)

Tanaka joined Busan Racecourse in June of 2013 and returned solid results in his first year even while fellow Japanese rider Joe Fujii was getting most of the acclaim. Tanaka rode 24 winners in his first seven months up to the end of that year.

2014 was a challenging one but Tanaka still emerged with 29 winners from 330 rides. It would be in 2015, however, when his persistence paid off and he became acknowledged as one of the top jockeys in the country. He rode 49 winners this season, taking him to 5th place in the jockey championship.

Although he couldn’t secure a Stakes race victory, he landed a 3rd place on New York Blue in the Asia Challenge Cup in 2014. This year he managed another 3rd, on Ildeung Hanghaesa in the President’s Cup , Korea’s joint-richest race, in Seoul in October.

As has been written many times here, i order to make it in a place like Korea, it is not enough to simply be a good jockey. An open mind, a thick skin and an awful lot of cultural and people skills are required too. If you have an ego, leave it at the airport.

Masa Tanaka fulfilled all of those criteria in addition to being very good in the saddle. He is one of those whose presence here has had a positive impact on Korean racing. He will be missed.

Fujii Tanaka Kobayashi

Masa Tanaka (left) and Joe Fujii are 4th and 2nd in the all-time list of foreign jockeys in Korea (Pic: Hiromi Kobayashi)

Tanaka came into his final weekend on 98 winners but had the 100 wrapped up by race 10 on Friday with victory on hot favourite Indian Star. He added a further victory on Sunday afternoon for long time supporter Bart Rice and while feature race favourite Queen’s Blade – his final ride in Korea – made a mess of exiting the gates, denying him the opportunity of going out with a final win, he ended with a total of 101 wins from just under 1,000 rides.

That took Tanaka to 4th on the all-time list for foreigners in Korea, the top ten of which now looks like this:

1. Ikuyasu Kurakane – 317
2. Joe Fujii – 149
3. Toshio Uchida – 138
4. Masa Tanaka – 101
5. Gary Baker – 77
6. Narazaki Kosuke – 68
7. Darryll Holland – 66
8. Nozomu Tomizawa – 63
9. Hitomi Miyashita – 55
10. Martin Wepner – 49

Tanaka, who is licensed in New Zealand and needs to maintain that license, is expected to be riding there in the New Year.

Perovic Perks Up At Seoul As Foreign Jockeys & Trainers Enjoy Winning Weekend

Borelli, Tomizawa, Rice, Tanaka, Takahashi, Gillespie & Wolsley All With Winners Too

It’s been a mixed couple of months for Djordje Perovic but the “Balkan Wolf” was back smiling again having guided four winners home on what was an all-round good weekend for the foreign contingent in Korean racing.

Things hadn’t been going all Perovic’s way since losing the support of one of his main trainers after the KRA Cup Classic at the end of August. However, other trainers have continued to use him and this weekend it all came together as the “Serbian Frankie” – he has no shortage of nicknames – showed his class with a treble on Saturday and a further winner on Sunday.

Those four winners took Perovic to 28 in Korea. Meanwhile fellow Seoul rider Yuri Takahashi, whose Korean license was last week confirmed to have been extended until the end of April 2016 rode his 16th winner in the country on Saturday.

Down at Busan, Bart Rice saddled two winners on Friday, giving Masa Tanaka his 95th Korean victory and taking the Japanese rider one closer to his stated goal of 100 before his license ends. Rice also provided Italian rider Pasquale Borelli with one of his two weekend successes. Nozi Tomizawa also got home in front twice, the first of them a welcome win for trainer Thomas Gillespie.

Gillespie has still only sent out 35 runners in total but has 4 winners now and a remarkable place strike rate of 37%. Rice too takes care of his horses and doesn’t send them out for the sake of it and has a place strike rate of 31%. Peter Wolsley also sent out a winner on Friday and remains in clear 2nd place in the Trainer Championship. His place strike rate is also 37% and was bolstered by Ms. Margaux running a very good 2nd in the Governor’s Cup on Sunday.

Those foreign trained or ridden winners in full:

Djordje Perovic: 4 – Saturday Seoul Race 2 (Yeongam Arirang), Saturday Seoul Race 8 (Bulguruisinhwa), Saturday Seoul Race 13 (Sun Strong), Sunday Seoul Race 1 (Cin Cin Jjan)

Nozi Tomizawa: 2 – Friday Busan Race 9 (Professor Silver), Sunday Busan Race 1 (Green Mireu)

Bart Rice: 2 – Friday Busan Race 1 (Jangguneui Huye), Friday Busan Race 3 (King’s Rules)

Pasquale Borelli: 2 – Friday Busan Race 3 (King’s Rules), Sunday Busan Race 3 (Ganghan Namja)

Masa Tanaka: 1 – Friday Busan Race 1 (Jangguneui Huye)

Yuri Takahashi: 1 – Saturday Seoul Race 5 (Samba Festival)

Thomas Gillespie: 1 – Friday Busan Race 9 (Professor Silver)

Peter Wolsley: 1 – Friday Busan Race 5 (Dangdae Queen)

It wasn’t all good news for the foreign contingent though. Italian jockey Nicola Pinna was scheduled to debut at Seoul this past weekend but unfortunately was unable to make weight for his three mounts. Pinna’s disappointment was compounded as the first of those, Jeongsang Daegil in race 2 on Saturday, bolted up at 10/1 under replacement Lee Chan Ho. Pinna will hopefully get another chance next week when Japanese rider Makoto Okabe is expected to start at Busan.

In addition to Takahashi’s extension, the KRA also confirmed last week that Ikuyasu Kurakane (who was suspended this week) has had his jockey license extended until April 2016. Good news for punters and less so for the local jockey colony. “Good”, is the only sensible reaction to that.

Busan has undoubtedly benefited from the presence of foreign trainers and that is set to be extended to Seoul. Applications have been received over the past couple of months and the first overseas trainers to be granted licenses in the capital will be announced soon.

Italian Jockey Pasquale Borelli Set For Busan

There is a new foreign jockey in the weighing room at Busan as Pasquale Borelli joins on an initial license that will run until the end of the year.

Pasquale Borelli is set for Busan (Pic: Supplied)

Pasquale Borelli is set for Busan (Pic: Supplied)

The 32-year-old Italian has landed over 900 wins in a professional career that began in 1999, among them victories in 20 Listed races.

Another Italian licensed jockey, Serbia’s Djordje Perovic has met with sustained success at Seoul since joining earlier this year and despite parting company with trainer Lee Shin Young at the end of August, has continued to show his class and bring in the winners.

Also at Seoul, Japanese rider Yuri Takahashi has been quietly making a name for himself. Like Perovic, it took Takahashi a while to build up some momentum following his July debut but in riding his 10th and 11th winners last weekend took him up to the extremely creditable quinella strike rate of 22%.

Borelli joins Busan where among foreign jockeys Masa Tanaka is currently top man, lying in 6th place in the Jockey Championship with 39 winners in 2015 so far. Ikuyasu Kurakane has picked up where he left off since returning to Korea in the summer while Nozi Tomizawa contines to get plenty of rides and lies in 15th place in the table. Noboyuki Oyama finished up his ten-month stint in Korea at the end of September.

Thomas Gillespie Saddles First Runner & Winner, Bart Rice Trains A Treble, Tanaka Rides a Four-Timer, Ikuyasu Wins Too

It was a good day for much of the overseas contingent at Busan. So good, it’s hard to know where to start.

Let’s start with the newcomer. Thomas Gillespie joined the training ranks at the south-coast track in June and has put together a string numbering 23 in total. Today he sent out his first runner. Indeed, Mangang (Creek Cat), who was returning from 10 months away from the track, was to be his only runner all weekend. Punters spotted it a mile off and duly sent Mangang off as the favourite.

Under Masa Tanaka, Mangang duly obliged but it was very tight with the gelding just getting up to overcome Pico Taeyang and hold off the fast finishing Big Echo by a neck on the line. May it be the first of many for Gillespie but it wouldn’t be the only close finish of the day.

Gillespie joins two other foreign trainers at Busan. Peter Wolsley evidently took the day off but South African Bart Rice was in fine form. Rice only sent out four horses all day but three of them returned winners. 10/1 shot Gold Bank (Bernstein) crept down the rail under Masa Tanaka to win race 11 before You Hyun Myung guided favourite Captainiji (Mineshaft) to the honours in race 13.

It was quite a bizarre ending to the race with jockey You taking Captainiji down the rail – which had been the place to be all day – while his closest rival Last Ticket shifted well wide only to fly home and be beaten a neck on the line. It was Captainiji’s second consecutive win over 1800M. Rice wasn’t done. Race 14 saw his Alpha Plus (Biwa Shinseiki) get sent off at 8/1 but in the hands of Masa Tanaka, he defied those odds to land a comfortable 5-length triumph.

Bart Rice has now seen six of his last ten runners return home as winners. Since he started in Korea, his win strike rate is 18%; 27% of his runners have finished in the top two while he has managed to get 33% to show. He is currently 14th of 33 trainers in the 2015 Championship in terms of winners but has sent out significantly fewer runners than any other trainer on the list. Except Thomas Gillespie.

It is this care for his runners – that he sends them out only when they are right – that has made Rice the trainer of choice for some of the new foreign owners at Busan. Dr. Joe Dallao, the first foreign owner to be licensed, has two with him and he in turn introduced Barry Irwin, head of Team Valor (owner of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom), who has sent his gelding Swoop to Bart’s barn.

It’s time to talk about Masa Tanaka. In between getting Mangang home for Thomas Gillespie and his double for Bart Rice, the Japanese rider also had time to get the best of a desperately close finish to race 4 on Grageo (Biwa Shinseiki). He coaxed the 8/1 chance into beating the favourite Seorabeol Gongju by a nose on the line and it was one of those instances where the jockey made the difference.

Masa Tanaka (Pic: Busan Ilbo)

Masa Tanaka (Pic: Busan Ilbo)

It was Grageo’s second win. His first was on his racecourse debut back last Boxing Day when he was ridden by Tanaka’s Japanese compatriot Joe Fujii. Fujii won just about every big race during his time in Korea while Tanaka is yet to win a Stakes but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He’s now racking up the numbers and with his four victories today moves onto 84 Korean winners and his stated aim of reaching 100 will surely be a formality.

Tanaka is a very good judge of pace who gets his mounts into exactly the right positions and given the right ride in a big race, there is no doubt that he will get the job done. Held in high esteem among punters and connections alike, it’s hoped he will be here for a long time to come and will soon reset his ambition to 200 winners.

On the subject of getting the job done, we turn to Ikuyasu Kurakane. The Seoul Racecourse “MVP” of 2014, despite not winning the Jockey Championship (for a foreigner at Seoul that is an immense achievement), returned to Korea last week after five months riding at his home track of Kochi in Japan. It didn’t take him long to get back in the winner’s circle as he partnered Rising Bravo (Discreet Cat) to victory in race 6. The “Punter’s Friend” is back.

Peter Hill’s Pegasus Stables on Jeju Island has been a big supporter of Bart Rice and has also sent some horses to Thomas Gillespie (and previously to Peter Wolsley too) and to round out a good day for the foreign influence, the Pegasus owned Binggoragio (Blazonry) was the 20/1 winner of the final event on a long day, race 15.

All in all it was a cracking day’s sport at Busan. The foreign influence; the South African track riders, the trainers and the jockeys have played an important role in making Busan far superior to Seoul when the two tracks race their horses against each other. 32,000 punters were at Seoul today to bet solely on Busan. In Gillespie, Rice, Tanaka and Kurakane, they were betting on quality.

Weekend Round-Up: Tanaka Takes Busan Feature / Singgeureounachim Evergreen At Seoul / MERS Hits Legal Betting

Esmeraldina’s Ttukseom Cup win was the top story of the weekend, but there was plenty of other action going on too.

Down at Busan, the feature race of the weekend was somewhat overshadowed by events at Seoul 30 minutes previously but it ended in another Japanese success as Masa Tanaka rode 8/1 shot Ildeung Hanghaesa to victory.

4-year-old Ildeung Hanghaesa (Ecton Park), who beat second-favourite Dynamic Dash by 4-lengths, was winning for the 5th time in total and the first time at class 1. As for Tanaka, the Japanese rider has started a countdown to his 100th Korean winner and is now on 72.

In addition to the Ttukseom Cup, there was class 1 action at Seoul too and it was a return to the winner’s circle for the first time in over a year for one of the stalwarts of the track, Singgeureounachim. The 7-year-old was sent off at odds of 35/1 but under apprentice Kim Dong Soo (which got him a 2kg weight allowance) he ran on for victory by just under a length from joint-favourite Best Run. It was a 10th career win for Singgeureounachim (Exploit) on his 50th career start.

Earlier on Sunday at Seoul, jockey Djordje Perovic, who has impressed a number of observers in his short time here so far, got his first Korean winner.

On a weekend which saw attendance at both KBO baseball and K-League football matches drop by 40% due to public fears over the MERS virus (or as Yonhap News ever so slightly melodramatically put it, South Korea is currently “an ailing nation in the grip of a deadly virus”), it was inevitable that racing was going to suffer too.

As it was, while the infield family park was nearly deserted, betting turnover was also down on Sunday to an average KRW 4.1 Billion per race from KRW 4.4 Billion per race last week. It was the lowest of the year so far. Online betting is illegal in Korea and the legal telephone betting service that was previously offered was forcibly shut down by the government a few years ago.

You have to physically go to the track or an OTB if you want a legal punt. The MERS panic is a demonstration of one of the deficiencies of that policy and no doubt the illegal bookies were cheering it all the way to the bank.

Rafale Downed As Goliath Marine Wins Again At Busan

Highly rated 3-year-old Rafale slumped to defeat as trainer Peter Wolsley and jockey Jo Sung Gon cleaned-up at Busan on Friday.

While he was always going to be favourite, Rafale (Colors Flying) was sent off at impossibly short-odds for the 1900M class 2 handicap and while he looked well-placed entering the home straight, it was second-favourite Goliath Marine (Volponi) who sprinted away from the field to claim his 3rd win from his last 4 starts. Rafale, who was 2nd in last year’s Seoul Breeders’ Cup and was an easy winner when tried around two-turns for the first time in January, came home 4th.

Goliath Marine was the 4th winner of the day for Australian trainer Peter Wolsley, who returns to the tope of the trainer’s championship as a result. Earlier, he’d sent out Happy Hana (Biwa Shinseiki) to win race 5 and Choedae Gangja (Didyme) to win race 6 before his up and coming import Different Dimension (Into Mischief) landed a 3rd win in 3 career starts in race 10.

Lee Hee Cheon rode Choedae Gangja but the other three were all ridden by Jo Sung Gon and Jo would also get four winners on the day with a perfectly timed ride on Morning Hwiparam (Everydayissaturday) in race 8. Jo showed his quality in the saddle by bringing the gelding from last to first through a crowd of horses in the home straight, stealing victory on the line by the narrowest of noses.

Wolsley wasn’t the only foreign connection at Busan among the winners yesterday. Nozomu Tomizawa rode favourite Daejiui Jilju (Admire Don) to victory in race 3 while his fellow Japanese rider Masa Tanaka scored in race 7 on Triple Nine (Ecton Park). From the Kim Young Kwan stable, Triple Nine has now won three of his four starts to date.

Racing returns to Busan on Sunday when Success Story, Ghost Whisper, Cheonji Bulpae and Gumpo Sky all feature in the main handicap.

Round-Up: Beolmaui Kkum, Success Story, Rafale Impressive Winners / Japanese Riders Going Strong / Opposition To KRA’s Race Plan

While Seoul’s top horse, Wonder Bolt, was scratched from what was supposed to be his 2015 debut in the capital on Sunday, down at Busan there were some strong performances last weekend.

Beolmaui Kkum was a winner on Sunday (Pic: Ross Holburt)

Beolmaui Kkum was a winner on Sunday (Pic: Ross Holburt)

Beolmaui Kkum (Put It Back), who for the second year running, couldn’t quite get it done in the Season-ending Grand Prix Stakes a month ago, returned to Busan and returned to the winner’s enclosure on Sunday afternoon. The 5-year-old carried top weight of 60kg for the 1900M Class 1 race, a full 8kg more than the other nine runners, but that didn’t stop him leading from gate-to-wire, running on for a two length victory, his 12th from 18th career starts.

Another who disappointed on his visits to Seoul last year was Success Story. A late arrival on the Triple Crown trail, he was 4th in the Minister’s Cup and last October and then a disappointing 10th in the President’s Cup a month later. Both those races were run over 2000M but on his return to Busan in December, he blitzed a class 2 field by a full seventeen lengths at 1400M. On Friday, Success Story (Peace Rules) was stepped up to a mile on what was his first try at a class 1 handicap.

And the results were impressive. Jockey Jo Sung Gon took the 4-year-old to the front right out of the gate and the pair stayed there for a very easy 8-length win. Success Story is going to be one to watch out for this year, possibly, with his sprinting credentials as they are, for such event as the Asia Challenge Cup.

There was also interest at Busan last Friday for this year’s Triple Crown. Rafale (Colors Flying), 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup race at Seoul at the end of November, made his own 2015 debut and his first attempt on the Derby distance of 1800M. It was a successful one with the colt streaking away for a 7-length win on the line. Rafale joins Doraon Hyeonpyo at Busan and Cosmos King at Seoul as having made very impressive first tries around two-turns and this year’s 3-year-old crop looks to be shaping up very nicely ahead of the first leg of the Crown, the KRA Cup Mile at Busan on April 5.

In other news, the Japanese jockey contingent continues to go strong. Ikuyasu Kurakane looks set to ride winners right until the bitter end at Seoul. The 2014 Jockey of the Year rode another two on Sunday. At Busan, Joe Fujii continues to be his consistent self, guiding 4/1 chance Battle Master to victory on Sunday while Masa Tanaka’s strong start to the year shows no signs of abating.

Tanaka ride two more winners across the weekend, first on Nobel Shinhwa (Ecton Park) on Friday and then on Sunday on Triple Nine (Ecton Park). The latter was a 5-length win on a favourite for Busan’s top trainer Kim Young Kwan. Even though he managed to pick up a ban as well, that kind of result bodes extremely well for Tanaka. He lies in 5th in the Jockey Championship with 5 winners from 23 mounts, just behind Fujii who is in 3rd with 6 from 33.

On the political front, the Korea Racing Authority’s new race plan for 2015, which has embraced a new rating system, a revamped Stakes calendar and permission for foreign ownership of racehorses, is being resisted by a coalition of breeders, owners and trainers. While such a disparate group is never, within itself, going to have the same priorities, one thing they do appear to agree on was that they were not consulted in the way they would have liked. There are interesting times ahead in the next few weeks