Mister Park

Multiple Stakes Winner Tough Win Retired Aged 9

After a career spanning more than six years and featuring 24 wins and over 2 Billion Won in prize money, Tough Win has been retired. His retirement ceremony took place at Seoul Racecourse last Saturday afternoon.

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Tough Win in the winner’s circle at his retirement ceremony at Seoul Racecourse

Tough Win [Yonaguska – Maggie May’s Sword (Sword Dance)] was purchased for $12,000 at the Ocala 2-year-old sale in June 2009. and arrived in Korea the following month.

He made his racecourse debut that November, being sent off as third-favourite for a class 4 event over 1200M. He won by 16 lengths. The victories quickly piled up and Tough Win was very soon established as the hottest 3-year-old in the country. So it was in July of 2010, unbeaten in 7 starts that he traveled down to Busan to take on his toughest assignment to date, the Busan Mayor’s Cup and a showdown with Dongbanui Gangja.

Dongbanui Gangja (Broken Vow) came in following 12 consecutive wins stretching back almost two years and which included two victories in the Grand Prix Stakes. He was sent off as favourite. Tough Win sat handy early under regular jockey Cho Kyoung Ho while Dongbanui Gangja, with Moon Se Young on board for the first and only time, was away patiently. The older horse improved up to 4th as they began to straighten up and it looked like we were in for quite the finale. We were, but not the one we expected. Dongbanui Gangja spooked and ran wide, ruining his chance leaving Tough Win to get the better of a furious battle with Yeonseung Daero and Vicar Love, winning by a neck on the line.

Dongbanui Gangja’s antics meant for unfinished business between the pair and accordingly, they met again in October in the KRA Cup Classic at Seoul. Dongbanui Gangja ran well that day but lacked his usual spark, lugging 63kg around, and he finished a well beaten 2nd as Tough Win prevailed by five lengths.

So Tough Win was a perfect 9 for 9 heading into the season finale, the Grand Prix Stakes in December of 2010. Tough Win was the even-money favourite, slightly ahead of Dongbanui Gangja, who was looking for an unprecedented third consecutive triumph in the race. It was not to be for either of them as another 3-year-old, Mister Park, up from Busan, upset the favourites to record his 11th straight win on his way to what would become a record-breaking 17 consecutive victories.

Tough Win Grand Prix

Tough Win beat Mister Park and Smarty Moonhak to win the Grand Prix Stakes in 2011 (KRA)

Revenge for Tough Win on Mister Park would come a year later. 2011 started off in mixed fashion, Carrying a very high weight in handicaps, Tough Win suffered a couple of defeats – including one at the hands of a 51kg carrying Dongbanui Gangja – as well as victories before heading south to defend his Mayor’s Cup at Busan in July. It all went wrong as he engaged in an early speed battle with Dangdae Bulpae that scuppered both of their chances leaving the previous year’s runner-up Yeonseung Daero to narrowly defeat Dongbanui Gangja.

The rest of the year would be flawless, however. Three runs and three wins culminated in the Grand Prix Stakes in December when he finally ended Mister Park’s unbeaten record. The precocious 2-year-old Smarty Moonhak was 3rd.  The three of them – quickly dubbed the “Troika” by the Korean racing media – should have been competing with each other in the big races for the foreseeable future. Little is foreseeable in racing, however, and within a few short months, Mister Park’s story would end in tragedy and Smarty Moonhak would be suffering from tendinitis that he would not recover from. The rigors of racing an unrelenting schedule on a hard track took their toll, making Tough Win’s longevity even more remarkable.

He wouldn’t be able to retain the Grand Prix in 2012. finishing 5th behind the emerging filly Gamdonguibada after a year in which none of his 4 wins arrived in Stakes company. He and Smarty Moonhak did face each other in the Busan Mayor’s Cup in July but Tough Win had an off-day, finishing 4th, while Dangdae Bulpae defeated Smarty Moonhak for the win.

Tough Win began 2013 in fine style though, winning three races in the Spring before travelling to Busan once more to take on the Busan Mayor’s Cup for the fourth time. It would end in triumph, as he ran away from Beolmaui Kkum and Dangdae Bulpae in the closing stages to win by nearly three lengths on the line. He followed it up with a 4th place in the SBS Korea/Japan Goodwill Cup in September but the injuries started to mount up – indeed, Tough Win’s Studbook entry lists 621 veterinary visits during his career.

Tough Win Busan Met 2013

Tough Win claiming his 2nd Busan Mayor’s Cup in 2013 (KRA)

Tough Win only ran three times in 2014, each time without success and it looked like all those hard races had caught up with him. Remarkably though at the beginning of 2015 he came back and with a new running style – dropping all the way to the back from the gate, conserving energy and then picking off his rivals in the home straight -he returned to the winner’s circle that January. He promptly came out and repeated the feat in February. Those victories – wins number 23 and 24  – would prove to be the Indian summer of his career and following six subsequent unsuccessful starts, he was finally retired. His last race was in March this year.

Maggie May’s Sword herself was imported to Korea in late 2010 although she only produced one foal who made it to the races prior to her death in May 2012.

In Mister Park’s obituary, it was noted that the lot of a gelding can be to keep on running until the injuries and general wear and tear finally take over. Unfortunately this was true in Tough Win’s case with his retirement coming perhaps a year later than it should but he bows out in good health and is to be sent for re-training as a riding horse. We will be watching carefully. Subsidy, one of the most important racehorses of the past two decades here was to be retrained too but quickly disappeared without trace after retirement. There’s no reason to suggest that will happen to Tough Win. It had better not. With his, for want of a better word, toughness, those wins and his sheer longevity, he retires as one of the greats of Korean racing.

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Mister Park Statue Set For Busan Unveiling

A statue honouring the late Mister Park will be officially unveiled during racing at Busan Race Park this coming Sunday.

The Mister Park statue will have its official unveiling this weekend

The Mister Park statue will have its official unveiling this weekend

Mister Park (Ecton Park) won the Grand Prix Stakes in 2010 and broke the Korean record for most consecutive victories before suffering a fatal injury in a race at Busan on June 23, 2012.

Mister Park with trainer Kim Young Kwan, jockey Yoo Hyun Myung and owner Kwak Jong Soo after winning the 2010 Grand Prix

Mister Park with trainer Kim Young Kwan, jockey Yoo Hyun Myung and owner Kwak Jong Soo after winning the 2010 Grand Prix

The life-size statue took five months to complete and Mister Park’s owner Kwak Jong Soo will attend to officially dedicate it to his horse. A special booklet “I’m Mister Park” has also been produced for the occasion.

Mister Park's final resting place in Busan

Mister Park’s final resting place in Busan

Mister Park, who was 5-years-old when he passed away, ran 22 times, winning on 19 occasions. He was Korean Horse of the Year in 2011. Read more about him here.

Weekend Preview: Tough Win Returns

Grand Prix Champion Back at Seoul

In December last year, Tough Win crossed the finishing line of the Grand Prix Stakes just ahead of the previous year’s winner Mister Park and the two-year old phenom, Smarty Moonhak.

Tough Win – back at Seoul

Racing fans looked forward to a year when “The Troika” would do battle against each other for the biggest prizes the peninsula has to offer.

Fast forward eight months and Tough Win is the only one left. Mister Park lost his life after a race in June and then less tragically last month, Smarty Moonhak was diagnosed with tendinitis following his defeat in the Busan Metropolitan Stakes.

Tough Win has not been without his problems though,. Suffering a bleeding attach in June, he was a long way of his best as he ran fourth in that same Busan Metropolitan but this Sunday, he’s back on home sand in the feature event at Seoul Race Park.

If he’s at anywhere near his best, he will win although the ever dangerous Jumong is likely to give him a good race while it will be very interesting to see what young US import Haedongcheorwang (West Acre), with 6 wins from his 8 starts including 2 at the elite level already, can do with a big weight advantage against a really top class horse. It should be a fascinating race.

Busan has a pair of class 1 feature races on Sunday while all three south-coast based foreign jockeys; Gerrit Schlechter, Narazaki Kosuke and Joe Fujii all have plenty of decent looking rides over the weekend.

Here’s what’s happening when and where on what looks set to be a very wet weekend:

Friday August 31

Busan Race Park: 11 races from 12:00 to 18:00
Jeju Race Park: 9 races from 13:40 to 17:30

Saturday September 1

Seoul Race Park: 12 races from 11:00 to 17:20
Jeju Race Park: 9 races from 12:20 to 17:20

Sunday September 2

Seoul Race Park: 11 races from 11:00 to 17:50
Busan Race Park: 6 races from 12:15 to 16:35

Mister Park, Champion Racehorse, 2007-2012

Mister Park, 2007-2012 (Picture: KRA)

The lot of a gelding is often to keep on running until either age or injury catches up. But for Mister Park it wasn’t supposed to end like this. Not now, not in the prime of what was already a glorious career. Going into race 5 on Sunday, a simple tune-up for bigger challenges to come, he had won 19 of the 21 starts he’d made and on a warm afternoon in Busan, there was no reason to think this would be anything other than routine win number 20.

He was carrying 63kg in this mile-long handicap. It was a lot, the most he’d ever carried and 8kg more than any other horse in the race. A lot of people were not very happy about the new increased weights that had recently come into force, but it wasn’t cause for much concern. After all, the favourite really was 8kg better than the others and, like most horses, he had carried more than that weight on many mornings in trackwork.

The gates opened and Mister Park broke well, settling into third place and, as they exited the long back straight and rounded the home turn, he seemed to be well-positioned to make his move. Suddenly though, something looked wrong. He was too wide and then too slow. Then came the stumble, the awful sign that this was serious.

For those of us watching on TV from Seoul Racecourse, that was the last we saw of him. The race went on but as the remaining field crossed the line, the track TV coverage immediately cut back to the scene. Unprecedented. In Korea the coverage is strictly business, a game of numbers where all that matters is in which order they cross the line; show the race, confirm the finishing order and the pay-outs and move on. But not this time.

Few had noticed that Ebony Storm, the 2008 Korean Derby winner, had won the race but everybody knew something terrible had happened on that final corner. Usually when an odds-on favourite has lost, regardless of the circumstances, there is agitation and anger among the crowd. But not this time. At Busan and at Seoul there was silence. As the live shot returned, the racecaller didn’t know what to say. In the end, all he said was what everybody already knew: “That’s Mister Park”.

Mister Park was standing, tall and proud but his head was bobbing up and down. The vet and the ambulance were there. His jockey had taken care of him, stopped him, dismounted and supported him, taking as much weight off his stricken leg as possible until help arrived.

It looked like a fracture but the emergency team got him off the track and into the KRA’s Equine Hospital. The live-feed cut back to Seoul where the Sports Chosun Cup was about to start and then, predictably, rumours began. Around the paddock in the capital, there were loud shouts from some in the crowd for Tough Win, Mister Park’s great rival, who was scheduled to carry even more weight in a later race, to be scratched (ultimately he would race and win, although not without cost).

Those initial rumors were encouraging. Ligament damage. We’d seen that before with another popular horse – Baekgwang had recovered from ligament damage. Pictures of Mister Park in the hospital were circulated and speculation moved on from his chances of not just surviving but even actually racing again.

Later though, around 7 in the evening and with the tracks empty, the truth came out. A complete rupture of the distal sesamoid ligament with little prospect of any meaningful recovery. Owner Kwak Jong Soo took the decision to allow his horse to be euthanized.

Mister Park and owner Kwak Jong Soo

Two months ago Mr. Kwak had been up at Seoul Racecourse to visit an exhibition in honour of his horse. Mister Park [Ecton Park-Formal Deal (Formal Gold)] had set a new Korean record of 17 consecutive victories.

Chest puffed out with pride, Mr. Kwak nevertheless look shocked that people would come to look at pictures of his horse. Shocked that they wanted to have their picture taken with a cardboard cut-out of his horse. Shocked too to learn that, through the internet, some people in other countries knew his horse’s name, that the gelding he referred to as “Park-shi” was famous beyond traditional Korean racing circles.

Gallery showing all of Mister Park’s win pictures from his record-breaking streak

His horse was a genuine star though. Mister Park’s feats had appeared on the national TV news, extraordinary in a country where racing, while massively attended, is considered a betting game, not a sport, a poor man’s vice. Yet Mister Park had a documentary made about him and there was even a “limited edition” children’s stuffed toy produced of him, complete with his distinctive pacifier headgear. Touchingly these have appeared in a number of the many online tributes that have been paid to him so far.

Part of the “troika” – with Tough Win and Smarty Moonhak – who were expected to compete for the nation’s biggest races later this year, Mister Park was perhaps as close as any horse has ever been to being a household name in Korea.

Champion: Mister Park

Mister Park finished third on his race debut on November 27, 2009 but went on to win his next 17, including the 2010 Grand Prix Stakes. During that time, he encountered and defeated every possible big name rival on the peninsula. Tough Win, Dangdae Bulpae (several times), and Dongbanui Gangja were among his many victims. Completing his record-breaking streak in October last year, he was named Horse of the Year for 2011.

Owner Kwak had always campaigned him conservatively and was desperate for him not to lose his unbeaten record. He had avoided running him in the Busan Metropolitan City Stakes last summer and had to be cajoled by trainer Kim Young Kwan into coming back to Seoul to defend his Grand Prix title at the end of the year and in doing so put his winning streak on the line.

Tough Win got the better of him that day but it was not by much and, as trainer Kim told Kwak at the end of the race in a conversation caught by the TV cameras, Mister Park lost nothing in defeat. With a young, raw and precociously talented Smarty Moonhak just behind them, we may have seen a finish contested between three of the best horses we’ve ever been privileged to have run in this country.

The “Troika” – Smarty Moonhak, Tough Win and Mister Park battle for the 2011 Grand Prix Stakes (Ilgan Sports)

Sadly, there won’t be a rematch. Mister Park deserved better than to meet his end underneath 63kg in a race that would normally be forgotten about the moment it was over. He deserved the opportunity to take his Grand Prix back. Moreover, he deserved the retirement that his owner was determined to give him when he was no longer the best.

Most of all, like every single one of those horses who don’t return home safely after being sent out to run for our pleasure, he deserved to live. Racing will go on, his record may never be beaten. But Mister Park is gone.

Mister Park was special to a lot of people (Pic: News1)

Weekend Round-Up: Sports Chosun Cup / Tough Win Suffers Bleeding Attack / Schlechter Trebles

It was, in no uncertain terms, a catastrophic day for Korean horse racing. A post on the death of Mister Park will be up shortly, however, there are some other things to catch up on.

Those present at Seoul Race Park were still absorbing what they just seen happen at Busan when the field went to post for the 23rd running of the Sports Chosun Cup. The race was won by 2/1 favourite Yacheonsaryeongbu (Vicar).

Yacheonsaryeongbu won the Sports Chosun Cup

Sports Chosun Cup – Seoul Race Park – 1800M – June 3, 2012

1. Yacheonsaryeongbu (KOR) [Vicar – Zabella (Zabeel)] – Lee Sang Hyeok – 2.9, 1.6
2. Shoot In (KOR) [Exploit – Doneitmyway (Northern Flagship)] – Cho Kyoung Ho – 1.7
3. Kakamega (KOR) [Gold Money – Daecheonpung (Fiercely)] – Jang Chu Youl – 4.4
Distances: 0.75 lengths/Nose – 13 ran

Mister Park was carrying 63kg when he suffered his injury, a result of the new increased maximum weights for handicaps. Online reaction in Korea to the event has focused on criticism of the new system.

Bearing in mind what had happened an hour earlier, the fact that Tough Win (Yonaguska), who beat Mister Park in the Grand Prix Stakes last year to end the latter’s 17 race winning streak, was scheduled to carry 64kg, there was a great deal of anxiety prior to Seoul’s feature handicap. Indeed, in the paddock there were shouts from some in the crowd for him to be scratched.

Tough Win suffered his first bleeding attack

He wasn’t and he won by just over two lengths, his 17th career victory. Jockey Cho Kyoung Ho did absolutely no more than he needed to in order to win and jumped down from the Tough Win as soon as he could after they crossed the line before walking him back to unsaddle.

The horse looked in good shape but it was later confirmed that he had suffered his first bleeding attack in 21 starts. It automatically rules him out for a month. If he gets another it will be three months, and then permanent.

A nasty coincidence, but on the day we lost one of our superstars, no-one was much in the mood to see it that way. Tough Win’s next target is the Busan Metropolitan City Stakes next month, a race where mercifully, he won’t be required to carry so much.

Ending on a positive note, Gerrit Schlechter kept up his great run of form at Busan. The South African recorded three winners on the day, including two for trainer Peter Wolsley.

Mister Park Euthanized After Race Breakdown

The Korean Racing Journal has reported that Mister Park, Korean Horse Of The Year, Grand Prix Stakes winner, and holder of the Korean record for most consecutive victories, was euthanized this evening after irreparably rupturing ligaments in his ankle during race 5 at Busan Race Park this afternoon.

Mister Park [Ecton Park-Formal Gold (Formal Deal)], who was carrying 63kg, was eased by jockey Narazaki Kosuke while rounding the home turn and appeared to break-down as he was being pulled-up. While initial reports were hopeful that his life could be saved, further examination at the KRA Equine Hospital at the track revealed that the five-year old gelding would not be able to make a recovery sufficient for him to be able to walk again.

Full report to follow.

Weekend Preview: Sports Chosun Cup

Stakes action returns but most eyes will be on Big-Gun tune-ups

There’s Stakes action at Seoul Race Park this Sunday in the shape of one of the longest running fixtures on the Korean racing calendar, the Sports Chosun Cup.

Tough Win takes the 2011 Grand Prix Stakes ahead of Mister Park (right). Both are in action this weekend (Pic: KRA)

However, while a competitive field will line up for the nine furlong race, plenty more attention will be focused on other races. Tough Win runs in the capital and Mister Park runs at Busan as the two top-rated horses on the peninsula continue their preparation to face each other and the young upstart, Smarty Moonhak once more.

Tough Win (Yonaguska) and Mister Park (Ecton Park), first and second in last year’s Grand Prix Stakes, are light-years better than the respectie fields they’ll be running against and for both of them, their biggest opponent is going to be the handicapper. Mister Park will carry 63kg at Busan (Sunday race 5, 15:45) – 8kg more than the next highest rated horse in his race while Tough Win will have to lug 64kg around Seoul – a whopping 10.5kg more than his nearest rival (Sunday race 9, 17:15).

As for the Sports Chosun, 13 class 2 horses will line up and it’s a tough one to call. Yacheonsaryeongbu (Vicar) has good claims as does Shoot In (Exploit), an also-ran on last year’s Classic trail. Seungniuihamseong (Vicar)was third in the HRI Trophy in March and if she runs to that form could also challenge as indeed could a number of others.

Here’s what’s happening when and where:

Friday June 1

Busan Race Park: 10 races from 12:00 to 18:00
Jeju Race Park: 9 races from 13:30 to 17:30

Saturday June 2

Seoul Race Park: 12 races from 11:00 to 17:40
Jeju Race Park: 9 races from 12:20 to 17:00

Sunday June 3

Seoul Race Park: 10 races from 11:00 to 17:45 including the Sports Chosun Cup at 16:15
Busan Race Park: 6 races from 12:15 to 16:45