The winners of last year’s international Korea Sprint and Korea Cup both made their 2023 debuts on Sunday but while Eoma Eoma ran out a comfortable winner at Seoul, Winner’s Man could manage no better than 4th in the feature event of the afternoon at Busan.
Winner’s Man, who also won the season-ending Grand Prix Stakes to take his Group 1 tally to three, was sent off as the odds-on favourite for the class 1 1800M south coast feature. Always prominent, the five-year-old briefly struck the front under Seo Seung-un in the home straight but unlike in his big race wins, he failed to kick on and with half a furlong to go it was clear it wasn’t going to be his day.
Victory ultimately went to the Franco Da Silva ridden Flat Babe, runner-up in last November’s Gyeongnam Governor’s Cup, with veteran King Of Glory rolling back the years with a fast finishing 2nd and Tuhonui Banseok, 3rd in the Grand Prix edging out Winner’s Man in a photo for 4th.
A five-year-old mare by Flat Out, Flat Babe has been something of a revelation in the last few months, rapidly moving from a solid but unspectacular class 3 campaigner to class 1 winner in the space of four races since being upped to racing around two turns. She looks set to be a serious contender in this year’s Queens’ Tour for fillies and mares.
As for Winner’s Man, connections pointed afterwards to it being the first time he had carried 60kg in a race – he was giving 8kg to the winner – in addition to him racing at his heaviest ever bodyweight of 550kg – up 18kg since the Grand Prix. Winner’s Man’s anticipated next run will be in the Herald Business Trophy (2000M KOR-G3) at Seoul on April 16th. There he will renew his rivalry with Raon The Fighter, so impressive last week in his own seasonal opener.
Perhaps it was because of Winner’s Man’s performance earlier in the afternoon, as well as the disconcerting sight of regular jockey Moon Se-young’s name next to another horse, that led to Eoma Eoma being sent off at better than even money for his first outing as a six-year-old at class 1 over 1200M at Seoul.
With the race under handicap conditions, Eoma Eoma would, like Winner’s Man, have been assigned 60kg but trainer Song Moon-gil opted to use apprentice O Su-cheol and take advantage of his 2kg claim. Moon Se-young accordingly climbed aboard Jangsan Laser who was strongly backed into a close second-favourite.
Those who kept faith with Eoma Eoma were rewarded as Algorithms entire was quick out of the gate to be on the early speed with East Jet, racing very keenly and pulling hard. Apprentice O Su-cheol kept his cool though and once he let Eoma Eoma stride out in the home straight, the US-bred sped away for a three-length win with his rivals always at arm’s length.
The next five home were separated by just a length with Moon and Jangsan Laser in 2nd while the venerable Morfhis ran 3rd with a typical Morfhis late run. The victory, Eoma Eoma’s fourteenth in total, completed a treble on the day for apprentice O Su-cheol, who may not get the call once the star horse returns to Group racing, but enjoyed surely the best day of his career so far.
That next run for Eoma Eoma is likely to be the Busan Ilbo Sprint (1200M KOR-G3) on the south coast on April 2nd.
Korea Cup and Sprint champions Winner’s Man and Eoma Eoma both make the 2023 debuts on Sunday. The Cup winner and Horse of the Year Winner’s Man goes in the class 1 race 6 at Busan while Eoma Eoma makes his seasonal debut in the class 1 race 11 at Seoul. There are 11 races at Seoul from 10:40 to 18:00 and 6 at Busan from 11:05 to 15:40. Here are the previews:
Seoul Race 1: Class 6 (1200M) Special Weight A / KRW 40 Million
Three-year-old maidens open the Sunday proceedings. (4) NINE EAGLE is probably going to be one of the shortest priced favourites of the day, having run 2nd on debut over the distance o January 8th, leading for most of the way. He should have come on for that run, he should be on pace again, and this time can go all the way. Nothing else in the race has finished any better than 6th. (7) COLITAS finished in exactly that position on debut in that same January 8th race behind Nine Eagle. He was slowly away that day and went around at the back before running on and should be better for the experience. (2) LUCKY BOUNCE has raced twice, both times well backed after a trial win. Moon Se-young gets back aboard and punters are likely to remain faithful for at lease a place. (8) CHONGAL COLONEL and (10) CLUB D others who could potentially improve.
Busan Race 1: Class 6 (1200M) Special Weight A / KRW 40 Million
Three-year-old maidens with four of the twelve racing for the first time. (5) ARBELOUR is the pick, having improved at start number two on February 5th. Racing on pace and running 2nd over this distance. Without an apprentice claim, he comes up a full 4kg in the weights but from a good draw he can get an easy lead and can prove too good. The main danger is (12) RAON STRONG. He debuted in that February 5th race and ran a creditable 4th behind Arbelour, having settled in the middle of the pack. The wide draw shouldn’t be a problem and he should have derived benefit from that run. As for the debut-makers, (9) TAEWANG SINGI was on pace in his trial and crossed the line in 3rd place in a good time. (8) QUEEN OF JOY similar looked promising in her heat and is capable of a bold showing first up. Returning to the experience ones, (7) GREY CHAMP improved at start number two and can continue to make progress here.
(5) Arbelour (12) Raon Strong (9) Taewang Singi (8) Queen Of Joy
3, 5, 9, 12
Seoul Race 2: Class 6 (1300M) Special Weight A / KRW 40 Million
Maiden three-year-old fillies and it’s hard to go too far past (3) SARYEONI TYCHE. She’s run 3rd and 4th in tow starts so far, sitting handy over 1000M and then settling back at 1200M. She draws nicely, the additional half furlong should suit, and she probably won’t need to improve very much to win. (8) GANGCHEOL YEOGEOL has shown good consistency in her latest three appearances with a 4th place over this trip the most recent. She can settle in midfield here and has a strong finish on her. (9) HERO QUEEN was a touch disappointing at her latest start on January 28th when failing to run on. She had finished off very nicely in her preceding two outings though and in this company is worth another chance today. (7) BEAUTIFUL MELODY and (1) SMARTY GLORY others who may improve.
Busan Race 2: Class 6 (1600M) Special Weight A / KRW 25 Million
Competitive maiden with a few looking ready to win. (4) PEGACORN is one of them as he comes in after a career to date best of 2nd place over 1400M on January 27th when settling handy, dropping back and then running on, only going down by a head. The further step up in trip can suit and he has a good chance. (9) K GOLD BAR is another of those in the “ready to win” category. He enters off a solid 4th place over 1300M at the end of January he too may like the chance of a longer distance today. (5) HAMAN BAEKISAN is one of only three of the twelve to have prior experience of racing over a mile. He settled right back out of the widest gate on February 3rd before running on strongly for 3rd. The same apprentice enables him to carry the same light weight here and he can be running into some money again. (11) WONDERFUL CHANCE has five-lengths to make up on Pegacorn and also carries more weight than he did on January 27th but, along with (8) ADELE HORANGI, warrants consideration as a place chance.
(4) Pegacorn (9) K Gold Bar (5) Haman Baekisan (11) Wonderful Chance
3, 4, 9, 11
Seoul Race 3: Class 6 (1700M) Special Weight A / KRW 25 Million
Another maiden and a couple of prolific non-winners have solid claims to finally get on the board here. (3) EUREKA stepped up to 1700M on January 28th and beat several of these on his way to a career-best 2nd place racing handy throughout, although well beaten by a good winner. He carries the same weight, draws a similarly favourable gate, and can go one better. (7) HOUYHNHNM was 3rd in that race at what was start number seventeen. He is in the best form of his career having run 2nd at the start prior, also at this distance. He settles back and runs on and he has as good a chance as any here. (8) CAMINO comes up in trip having led and ultimately finishing 3rd on his second start on Christmas Day. He comes up in the weights without an apprentice claim today but should be competitive in this company. (10) FIRST CHOUX and (1) SSANG OK RU among others in the minor money hunt.
(3) Eureka (7) Houyhnhnm, (8) Camino (10) First Choux
1, 4, 8, 10
Busan Race 3: Class 5 (1300M) Handicap / KRW 40 Million
Fillies and mares only and (5) THUNDER FURY looks to be the one to beat here. She’s only finished outside the top-four on one occasion and enters off a close runner-up finish in a very similar race over class and distance on January 27th when settling midfield and running on well. She draws nicely here to stalk the early leaders and can prove too strong. (1) GRAPHENE RAP WORLD had a poor day at the office in the same race when showing prominently early before weakening. Her form before that was good and she may have come on for what was her first try at tis distance and from the inside gate she can lead again and stay in it longer. (7) DOCTOR TIFFANY was a good winner over 1000M on debut in January before being stepped up to a mile for her first try at this class on February 5th. She showed at the front but ultimately finished 6th and may find today’s assignment more suitable. (6) WORLD CLASS CAT and (3) DOCTOR KONGSUNI other place chances.
(5) Thunder Fury (1) Graphene Rap World (7) Doctor Tiffany (6) World Class Cat
1, 7, 10, 11
Seoul Race 4: Class 5 (1300) Handicap / KRW 40 Million
A competitive race. (4) JILJU DAESE ran 2nd on debut before getting her maiden win at start number two over this distance at the end of last October. She hasn’t raced since but looked well enough when not asked to do too much in a trial last week. She is up in class from since we last saw her but has every chance of making a big impact first up here. (7) LONDON SKY come sin off a 2nd and a 4th place both at this class and both at 1200M. He likes to settle back and run on and with Lim Gi-won climbing aboard today, he will have plenty of backers. (1) ROCK IMPACT comes up in class after a good win over this distance on January 28th when coming from off the pace. He comes down 2kg in the weights, draws well, and can measure up in this company. (6) HUIMANG CHAMP and up in class (12) SAINT LUCCA among others to keep safe.
Musket Man was Leading General Sire in Korea in 2022. Korea Cup and Grand Prix Stakes winner Winner’s Man saw his sire to the title accounting for almost 30% of his earnings of 6.5 Billion Korean Won.
Musket Man finished 700 Million Won ahead of nearest rival Cowboy Cal despite having just 304 race starters compared with Cowboy Cal’s 1,003. The late Menifee was 3rd with Hansen and Old Fashioned rounding out the top five.
Standing privately for owner Son Chun-soo, who heads up the Raon breeding and racing juggernaut, Musket Man arrived in Korea in 2016 and spent his early years covering mostly Raon’s own mares. Aside from the exceptional Winner’s Man, he has also produced the Group race winning fillies Raon Pink and Raon The Spurt, along with Seoul’s 2022 champion juvenile filly, Raon Giant.
In his first four seasons in the country, Musket Man covered no more than 64 mares in a single year. However, this jumped to 74 in 2020 and then 108 and 99 in 2021 and 2022 so he is likely to be in and around the top of the list for years to come.
The final crop of Menifee, who died in 2019, scored well enough to see their late sire to the Leading Sire of Two-Year-Olds, the bulk earned by Champion Juvenile Speed Young.
Emerging sires include To Honor And Serve and Girolamo, both of whom had their second local crops running with To Honor And Serve cracking the top-ten. The highest placed non-Korea based sire on the General list was Algorithms in 23rd place, almost all earned by Korea Sprint winner Eoma Eoma.
December saw the passing of Isidore Farm’s Ecton Park, who dueled with Menifee for years at the top of the Leading General Sire table, beating him in 2018. That was a standout achievement as Ecton Park was standing privately for a commercial fee whereas Menifee was owned and stood by the Korea Racing Authority.
Winner’s Man and Raon The Fighter turned the 40th running of the Grand Prix Stakes (2300M) into a match race and just as in the Korea Cup, it was Winner’s Man who ultimately prevailed as the pair duelled the final two-furlongs at Seoul Racecourse on Sunday afternoon.
With Raon The Fighter having blitzed the KRA Cup Classic while Winner’s Man laboured to 3rd in the President’s Cup on their respective post-Korea Cup outings, punters were predicting a form reverse and sent Raon The Fighter off as the odds-on favourite.
From the plum draw of barrier two Moon Se-young took Raon The Fighter straight to the front and immediately dictated the pace the race would be run at. By the time they left the back straight and began the long turn for home, only Winner’s Man, who as he had done in the Korea Cup, improved up the field in the back straight under jockey Seo Seung-un, along with President’s Cup winner Raon First, remained with him.
Raon First was promptly seen off and Winner’s Man and Raon The Fighter would duel throughout the long Seoul Racecourse home straight. Raon The Fighter held firm, but Winner’s Man loomed up alongside with a furlong to run. Still Raon The Fighter didn’t buckle and matched him stride for stride for half the remaining distance. But Winner’s Man was relentless. At the one hundred metre point, he finally struck the front and this time Raon The Fighter had no more.
It had been a battle of wills and a battle of the two best horses in the country. Winner’s Man now carries off the accolade of Horse of the Year having vanquished Raon The Fighter at 1800M in the Korea Cup and 2300M in the Grand Prix, but Raon The Fighter lost nothing in either of those defeats. And given he remains arguably both the best sprinter and middle-distance horse in Korea, yet has runner-up finishes in both those longer distance Group 1 races, the debate as to which is better won’t go away.
The rest of the field might as well have been running in a different race but there was a stand-out performance by Tunhonui Banseok. The Bart Rice trainee had only raced eleven times previously, but under Park Jae-i, he navigated his way through a tiring field in the closing stages to get within a length and a quarter of Raon The Fighter on the line. Nine-lengths further back, the three-year-old Saryeoni First led the rest home in 4th.
How quickly things change. A year ago, after Haengbok Wangja’s emphatic win in the race, aged just four, he seemed set to dominate. Yet no horse who took part in last year’s race was among the first nine home this year, Simjangui Godong, 5th last year, was best placed in 10th. Haengbok Wangja himself only beat two home, while there was disappointment too for fellow Dubai Carnival hopeful King Of The Match. He was one of those two the 2021 champion finished ahead of.
Winner’s Man is by Musket Man who is owned, perhaps a touch ironically, by Raon The Fighter’s owner Son Chun-soo and is the centrepiece of the emerging Raon breeding and racing empire. Winner’s Man himself is owned by Lee Gyeong-hui. He is out of Winner’s Marine (by Volponi) who was bred and raced in Korea. Musket Man is now assured of finishing the year as Leading General Sire.
For trainer Choi Ki-hong it was his first Grand Prix and his fifth Group race win – all of them with Winner’s Man. Jockey Seo Seung-un rode his first Grand Prix winner. Having already ridden a President’s Cup and Korea Cup winner, he is just missing the Korea Sprint and Korean Derby from the Group 1 set.
With the running of the Grand Prix, the 2022 Stakes race program has finished, although there are still two more weeks remaining of the season, which concludes on Christmas Day. In Winner’s Man and Raon The Fighter, racing heads into 2023 with two genuine stars on its hands.
Raon First, the only mare in the race, produced a home stretch burst up the inside to leave defending champion Simjangui Godong and Korea Cup winner Winner’s Man behind and score a sensational win in the President’s Cup (2000M KOR-G1) at Seoul Racecourse on Sunday afternoon. The five-year-old is the first mare to win the race in its eighteenth year.
Coming in off his remarkable triumph in the international Korea Cup in September, Winner’s Man was sent off as the restrictive odds-on favourite for what is the most valuable race of the year that is restricted to horses bred in Korea. Last year’s winner Simjangui Godong was second in the market, ahead of Heunghaeng Jilju and the three-year-old Captain Yankee. Raon First was fifth in the betting but that was at 30/1, such was the market skewed towards Winner’s Man.
More renowned as a sprinter, Raon First ran 3rd in the Korea Sprint over 1200M the day Winner’s Man won the Korea Cup. But Raon First had raced at 1800M in the past, winning a Class 2 handicap in May of 2021 in addition to harvesting the Listed Donga Ilbo Trophy in restricted company against hopelessly outclassed fellow fillies and mares who she would probably beat at any distance from the minimum up to two miles earlier this year.
She had never tackled 2000M though and she had never faced anything like Winner’s Man around two-turns. Yet she beat him with ease. Settling handy instead of leading, jockey Choi Bum-hyun kept Raon First on the fence, saving ground the entire way around as outsider Jangsan Laser set a tough pace up front, matched by Winner’s Man and in the early stages, by Captain Yankee.
That shape would remain unaltered until the home straight when Captain Yankee quickly folded while Simjangui Godong loomed up to threaten. Staying on the fence, Raon First stole a couple of lengths on the turn and was quickly to the fore, hitting the front with just over 300M to go. It was then that the challenge from Winner’s Man was expected. It came, as did that from Simjangui Godong but any hope they had as quickly extinguished as the mare built up an unassailable lead a long way from home.
Raon First crossed the line two-lengths ahead of Simjangui Godong, who was himself a length and a quarter ahead of Winner’s Man in 3rd. The very game Jangsan Laser was a revelation in 4th, but Captain Yankee, also on pace early, found it hard to cope with the pace and finished back down the field.
Raon First has always done things a little quirkily. She came to prominence in her juvenile season in 2019 when instead of entering the traditional Juvenile Series races, she was pointed to the race that was open to imported juveniles (she is a product of Musket Man and Pink Candy, who both arrived in Korea in January 2016). She duly won it in fine style. Since then, she has mostly been kept in filly and mare company for her Group race appearances – understandable given her superiority and the value of the purses – but after an out of character but excusable well back finish in the KNN Cup at Busan, she has been let loose in the really big races. She moves on to twelve wins from twenty-one starts and six of her last eight.
It was a first President’s Cup win for veteran jockey Choi Bum-hyun and also for trainer Park Jong-kon.
Simjangui Godong ran his usual strong race in 2nd and as for Winner’s Man, who suffered his first defeat in 2022 after six consecutive wins it was a first defeat of 2022.
Seoul Race 1: Class 6 (1000M) Allowance / KRW 60 Million
Juvenile maiden fillies in the opener with six of the twelve racing for the first time. And among those debut-makers is the eagerly awaited (10) RAON EMPIRE. She’s half-sister to Raon The Fighter, currently the highest rated horse in Korea and she looked very well in two trials, crossing the line 1st in one and an unhurried 3rd in a fast time in the second when overcoming gate twelve. She will be a very short-priced favourite. (5) NAOL HAEGBOK did nothing on debut in June but was looked a better prospect when trialing up again behind Raon Empire in October. She should go better this time around. (1) YOUNGYOUNG SOCKS put in the best debut of those that have run before, showing on pace before finishing in the middle of the pack. She should have come on for that run and can improve here. (12) RED TAEPUNG should also improve from her debut while (4) WALGADAK looks the second best of the first timers.
Seoul Race 2: Class 6 (1200M) Allowance / KRW 25 Million
(5) SUPREME STAR looks the one to beat here. Her best result to date came on debut but she has run well in two starts since including her latest when stepping up to this trip and posting a time as fast as any of the others here have managed when 5th. She sat handy that day which she will probably do again, and this time she can stick to her task. (2) DANAEUN ROSE has a 3rd and a 2nd from her first three outings. Her only poor result so far came when drawn very wide and being unable to find a position. That shouldn’t happen here as she can get an easy run to the front and can be in this a long way. (11) WORLD PLAY has run on pleasingly enough across three starts so far and is showing signs of improvement. He should be aiming to better the 5th place scored last time out at 1000M and can be running on late here. (3) VESPER and (7) NEVER NEVER STOP other potential improvers.
(5) Supreme Star (2) Danaeun Rose (11) World Play (3) Vesper
2, 5, 8, 10
Seoul Race 3: Class 5 (1200M) Handicap / KRW 40 Million
(6) BLACK CHOCOLATE ran out an emphatic winner on debut over this distance on October 16th, settling midfield before cruising away in the home straight. He comes up in class today, but the manner of that win suggests there is more to come, and he is strongly favoured to maintain his 100% record here. (1) JEONGMUN PAPAGO got promoted to this level with back-to-back runner-up finishes at this distance before running 4th of twelve in a fair time on his first try at this class on October 9th. He can build on that here. (2) CONCORD QUEEN already has a 2nd place finish to her name at class and distance and from another good draw today can be on pace and in this a long way. (9) CHANCELLOR weakened late on at his latest start and may be better for being slightly back in trip today. (4) B. J. STORM another in the placing frame.
Busan Race 1: Class 6 (1200M) Allowance / KRW 60 Million
Juvenile maidens in the opener on the south coast. (4) GOODY ran in improved 3rd at start number two over this distance on October 2nd having gone right back from a wide gate and then run on well. He draws inside for the first time here and if he can a little but more prominent, he could win here. (5) FINAL SEVEN enters with a similar record having also improved to 3rd on his second outing on October 9th. He too sat back and ran on and can continue his development here. (8) HAEUNDAE STAR also showed progress when racing for the second time He comes up in trip for the first time here and under a very light weight can be running on well. (3) FLYING TOUCH by contrast ran poorly at her second career start but based on her debut can be given another chance here. There are three debut-makers and among them, (1) MULTI HIT looks to have the best chance of an immediate impact.
(4) Goody (5) Final Seven (8) Haeundae Star (3) Flying Touch
2, 3, 5, 6
Seoul Race 4: Class 5 (1300M) Handicap / KRW 60 Million
It’s long been known as the “Summer Grand Prix”, and this year’s Busan Mayor’s Cup (1800M KOR-G2) didn’t disappoint as Winner’s Man completed a clean-sweep of the Stayer Series at Busan Racecourse on Sunday afternoon, propelling him one step closer to a clash with the internationals in September’s Korea Cup while also confirming a generational change at the elite level of Korean racing.
Despite having won the first two legs of the Stayer Series, the Herald Business Trophy (2000M KOR-L) and the YTN Cup (2000M KOR-G2), Winner’s Man was only sent off as second-favourite for the nine-furlong Mayor’s Cup as punters backed Grand Prix Stakes winner Haengbok Wangja to avenge his YTN defeat.
As it turned out, the perils of anything but a low draw in a big field over the 1800M at Busan, what with its short run to the first turn, ensnared Haengbok Wangja as following a slightly below par jump from the gate, Haengbok Wangja found himself pushed wide on the first corner and trailing the field. While he would ultimately record the second fastest final furlong time of all of them, it was in vain, and he finished 9th.
That left double Classic winner and runner-up to Winner’s Man in the 2021 Derby, Hit Yegam, to claim the early lead with Winner’s Man matching him stride for stride. They would remain that way until the home straight when Winner’s Man finally shook off old rival Hit Yegam, who was the colt who beat him to Champion Three-Year-Old honours last year, and Winner’s Man strode away for a three-length win.
The always prominent Simjangui Godong ran on powerfully for 2nd with up and coming four-year-olds Success Macho and King Of The Match in in 3rd and 4th. Hit Yegam, after his early exertions, was 5th.
“I’m really happy” winning trainer Choi Ki-hong told national broadcaster KBS, which screened the race live on their N Sports channel. “The race played out exactly as we had planned but that was only possible due to the hard work of everyone at the stable who made sure everything was right for Winner’s Man today.”
“(Jockey) Seo Seung-un really played his part too, he gave Winner’s Man the perfect ride. It’s a huge achievement for the horse and for us to win all three races in this series and we’ll make sure to keep Winner’s Man happy and plan carefully for what is to come next”.
Ultimately that could be the Korea Cup (1800M-G3) in Seoul on September 4th with the international race set to return for the first time since 2019. On today’s evidence, Winner’s Man is at least worth a chance against overseas opposition and with Korean-bred runners occupying six of the first seven places in the Mayor’s Cup, there is little to fear, either in the international race or in the imminent resumption of imported racehorses.
The Mayor’s Cup also signaled a confirmation of the changing of the guard. Simjangui Godong was the only horse older then four in the top five and the only three runners aged seven or above, occupied the last three places. Longest shot on the board Super Socks was one of those but he was at least in touch with the field.
That wasn’t the case for Cheongdam Dokki and Blue Chipper. The latter bled for the second time in as many races and while he was a winner as recently as January and Dokki as recently as last autumn, it seems that retirement is the best option for both champions now.
Winner’s Man is now where Cheongdam Dokki and Blue Chipper were when they were four years old. The future is a bright one.
Blue Chipper returned to the winner’s circle at long last at Busan Racecourse on Sunday afternoon as Korea’s 2019 Breeders’ Cup hero registered an effortless class 1 win over seven-furlongs.
With the Covid-induced financial crisis still biting, Sunday’s Busan feature was contested for a 1st prize of just KRW 24 Million (US$21,400). Nevertheless, in addition to Blue Chipper the race also attracted the likes of Ssonsal, the up-and-coming sprinter who came in off the back of four consecutive wins, as well as multiple winner King Of Glory and Dubai World Cup Carnival alumnus Today among a full field of fourteen.
None stood a chance as under jockey Djordje Perovic and coming out of gate five, Blue Chipper quickly assumed command of the race, before motoring away from the field in the home straight. Ssonsal, who had to overcome the widest draw, got closest, finishing three-lengths in arrears.
It’s been a long way back for Blue Chipper, who last tasted victory in the Korea Sprint (KOR G1) at Seoul Racecourse in September of 2019. Knowing that he held a Breeders’ Cup nomination, connections then opted to take a chance on him in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup First Mile at Santa Anita where, under an enterprising Flavien Prat ride, Blue Chipper finished 3rd behind Spun To Run and Omaha Beach.
Blue Chipper was then pointed at the Dubai World Cup Carnival and a tilt at the Goldolphin Mile. Disaster struck, however, when on arrival he was found to have travel sickness, the complications of which ruled him out of competing at Meydan. By the time he was passed fit to fly, he returned to a Korea where racing, with no legal remote betting, was amid the still ongoing Covid crisis.
Having returned to training in December – and moved to trainer Min Jang-ki’s stable – Blue Chipper was given a low-key return to racing in February in a race which had no legal betting markets either at home or overseas. Going over a mile he showed at the front early but visibly tired in the final furlong ultimately ending up in 5th. He came out of that race in good order though and the improvement was there for all to see on Sunday.
Where to next is the million-dollar (hopefully not the 24 Million Won) question for Blue Chipper. Now six-years-old, the Tiznow gelding seems unlikely to travel again given the risks involved and with no confirmed Stakes schedule for Korea as the pandemic continues to squeeze prizemoney, it may be some time before he even gest to face the likes of Seoul-based rising-star Eoma Eoma in Korea.
Jockey Kim Hye-sun rode her first winner back since returning from maternity leave just a week ago. The thirty-two-year-old, who is married to fellow jockey Park Jae-I, partnered Haeundae Bada to victory in race 1 at Busan on Sunday. It was career victory number 284 for Kim, who is the most successful female thoroughbred jockey in Korean history. She rode Jejui Haneul to victory in the Korean Oaks in 2017.
In the three-year-old ranks, Winner’s Man returned to winning ways at Busan on Saturday. The Musket Man colt was beaten by the very good Golden Winner on his first try around the Korean Derby distance of 1800M last month and while he suffered another scare this time around, he had enough about him to hold off long-shot Man Of Top by a head at class 3 level for his first success around two turns. Winner’s Man now has a record of five wins and two runner-up finishes from seven starts.
Heat Yegam and Winner’s Man came home as winner and runner-up in Busan’s top juvenile race last autumn but the two up and comers both came unstuck – and yet still emerged with credit – over the weekend. In the older division there were no such problems for Hunch as the four-year-old continued his stately progress towards the elite level of Korean racing with an easy win.
With In-person attendance severely restricted and online betting remaining stubbornly illegal, it remains to be seen if there will even be a Triple Crown series this year but both Heat Yegam went into their Saturday preps at Busan as odds-on favourites. Heat Yegam, went first, sticking to the 1200M at which he had won all his juvenile starts. Despite having led for much of the way round, the Take Charge Indy colt was passed as he drifted wide in the home straight, ultimately coming home 2nd to the four-year-old Great Boss.
Later on in the card Winner’s Man, 2nd to Heat Yegam last November but considered more of a Classic contender having already won at a mile, tackled two turns for the first time in the 1800M race 9 at class 3 level. From gate 12, the Musket Man colt had to work hard early to get on the pace. He came together with Golden Winner in the straight and ended up being pushed out slightly wide, finishing just under a length in arrears to the Djordje Perovic ridden winner.
Neither lost very much in defeat. For Heat Yegam it was a positive return after a three-month spell while for Winner’s Man, a better barrier may well have seen him victorious. The defeats though may have piqued the interest of connections of another three-year-old at Busan on Saturday who did actually win his race. That was Alpha Again (by Strike Again), who led from gate to wire over 1400M at class 4 level to take his record to three wins from six starts. It is probably enough to get him into the starting gate if and when the KRA Cup Mile kicks off the Triple Crown.
The star of the show at Busan on Friday was Hunch. Peter Wolsley’s American import made three undistinguished starts as a juvenile back in 2019 but after nine months off, he reappeared following the first shutdown last summer looking a much better prospect and has gone on to register five wins from six subsequent starts. The latest of those was in Friday’s class 2 Busan feature when under Perovic, outclassed a very useful set of rivals by five-lengths in the kind of time that would see him close in Group races.
With rating increases still being limited in line with the current reduced prize money, Hunch will get at least one more crack at class 2 before he has to dip his toe into class 1. By To Honor And Serve, more than one observer pointed out that his winning time on Friday was faster than that recorded by a somewhat more established Korean runner by the same sire in his own latest two wins – Cheongdam Dokki. On Friday’s performance, Hunch may end up facing Korea’s favourite chestnut at some point this year.
Seoul’s fifteen-race card on Sunday was a somewhat low-key affair with the feature class 2 handicap being won by Top Brain (Uncle Mo). There were, however, doubles for foreign jockeys Johan Victoire and Antonio Da Silva while trainer Luigi Riccardi also recorded a welcome victory.
Next weekend’s racing in Korea will follow the same pattern with ten races slated for Busan on Saturday and fifteen at Seoul on Sunday.
Eoma Eoma was the star of Friday’s behind-closed-doors meeting at Seoul Racecourse, taking out the class 1 feature and in the process breaking the track record for 1400M,
They might only be racing for small stakes but for the second week running, the form mostly held up. Aside from Eoma Eoma, the shock Korean Oaks winner Uaryung (Testa Matta) showed that her win in Busan in August was no fluke by handily defeating a batch of class 4 gallopers while down at Busan, exciting juvenile Winner’s Man (Musket Man) moved on to three wins from three starts with an easy score over older horses, also at 1400M.
Eoma Eoma (Algorithms) didn’t debut until December of his juvenile season but won his first three races – either side of the first shutdown – in such style that he was allowed to take his chance in both the SBS Sports Sprint and Owners; Cups. He performed valiantly in both finishing 3rd and 2nd to Morfhis and East Jet respectively. Given his lack of experience those were a tough ask but he ran well both times and the manner of his win today, with Moon Se Young needing to do very little in the way of encouragement, suggests he will be the one they need to beat next season.
As it stands, there is a possibility that some spectators can be admitted to the racecourses next weekend, which would mean that racing would return to a more normal Friday to Sunday schedule. However, this morning’s Covid-19 figures showed 138 new local transmissions nationwide with 98 of them in Gyeonggi Province – in which Seoul Racecourse is located. If the numbers remain at that level or higher over the next few days, there is a chance the government may reinstate “Level 2” social distancing, which would in effect put everything back to square 1 and would mean these Friday “zombie meetings”, with no crowds and no betting and low Stakes, would have to continue.