Moanin

Joe Fujii on Korea Cup & Sprint: “Japanese horses have an Advantage”

When it comes to the Korea Cup and Korea Sprint, few know as much about winning than jockey Kanichiro “Joe” Fujii, the only person to have ridden the winners of both races, having guided Chrysolite to victory in the 2016 Cup and Moanin in the 2018 Sprint.

Moanin & Fujii won the Sprint in 2018 (Pic: Ross Holburt/KRA)

Fujii, who remains in hospital in Japan after a devastating race-fall earlier this year, rode full-time in Korea from 2012 to 2015. After returning home, he became the go-to man for Japanese connections bringing their horses to run in big races in Korea, following his success on Esmeraldina in the Ttukseom Cup in 2015.

“I was so happy to get the opportunity to ride Chrysolite in the Korea Cup” recalled Fujii this Cup week.  He was a horse who didn’t like to race among other horses, so the way the race panned out was ideal. Kurino Star O led, and (Chrysolite) was able to sit off the speed and at the end he was very strong.”

Fujii’s 2018 Sprint win on Moanin, can potentially serve as a template for those who have missed out on drawing an inside gate as he emerged from gate nine, while Hong Kong’s Fight Hero, who he duelled with in the home straight and ultimately beat by a Head, started from gate thirteen.

“I knew Moanin was a good horse because he won a Group level race in the JRA but (the Korea Sprint) was his first time running in a 1200M race and I knew Korean horses are very quick out of the gate and very fast in the early part of the race so I couldn’t really keep up with the speed in the early stages. He was off the bridle all the way but once he got out, he really showed a good turn of foot and he fought with the Hong Kong horse. I was never really confident until the last 100 metres because, you know, Hong Kong horses can fight pretty hard.”

Chrysolite & Fujii won the Cup in 2016 (Pic: Ross Holburt/KRA)

Fujii believes that the Japanese horses are in a strong situation compared to other horses coming to Korea, simply due to practical reasons. “I think Japanese horses have a good advantage because the surface of the racecourse is very similar. Transportation wise, Japan to Korea is pretty much next door so it is an easy trip.”

This time around there is one Japanese horse in the Korea Cup, three-year-old Sekifu, who is already a seasoned traveller, while six-year-old Raptus makes his first trip out of Japan to run in the Korea Sprint. Both are strong contenders.

“Sekifu is a horse that likes to get back in his races and can finish very strong. His jockey Fujioka (Kota) is a good jockey.” Similar to Moanin before his Sprint bid, Raptus has been mostly racing over 1400M and Fujii sees no reason that he can’t emulate his performance, especially with a not-so-secret weapon in the shape of his rider. “Raptus has been running in short races and I’m pretty sure he’ll be running in the first three or four. Raptus will be ridden by Miyuki (Hideaki) and he rode Kurino Star O (behind Chrysolite) so he knows the track well.”

As for the pair’s overall chances: “It’s hard to compare with the Korean horses and the other international horses, but (Sekifu and Raptus) have above average form in Japan, so if they do what they have been doing there, I’m sure they will be right up there.”

The Cup, Sprint and Ttukseom Cup weren’t the only big Korean races that Joe Fujii won. “I stayed in Busan and Kim Young-kwan was the champion trainer and he was giving me a lot of opportunities like Speedy First in the Derby and Gamdonguibada in the Grand Prix so that’s why the Japanese connections asked me to ride the Cup and the Sprint. At that time, I wasn’t a jockey in the JRA; I always wanted to be so these victories really opened up my road to becoming a jockey in the JRA.”

Fujii achieved his lifelong goal, but as has been well reported, he now has another, much bigger task ahead of him. “Four months ago, I had a spinal cord injury from the race fall. Ever since then I have been in the hospital. I have been doing a lot of rehab seven days a week, so it is a long long recovery road for me, I’m just trying to get the sensation back into my legs so it is a new challenge for me.”

“I stayed in South Korea for three years; I was so happy with all the people and all the connections giving me a great opportunity and without my South Korea experience I could never ever get into JRA so that was one of my dreams. I won all the big races, the Cup and the Sprint, the Derby and the Grand Prix so the South Korean fans are very important to me, and I hope one day that I can travel again and show my face at the racecourse.”   

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.

Korea Sprint 2018

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.

Foster Antonio

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.

CupPRes

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.

 

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.

London Town - KRA

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.

Korea Sprint - KRA

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)