Winner's Man

Blue Chipper Back On Top At Busan

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.

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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.

Three-Year-Olds Suffer Reverses / Hunch Continues To Impress

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 Returns To Winner’s Circle With Track Record Setting Effort

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.