Yoo Mi Ra

Shin Woo Chul Retires From Training / Several Jockeys Retire Or Relocate / New Apprentices Set To Begin At Seoul & Busan

A couple of weeks after Tough Win had his retirement ceremony it was the turn of his trainer for his biggest wins, Shin Woo Chul, to have a retirement ceremony of his own at Seoul Racecourse last week. The 63-year-old trainer has reached the mandatory retirement age for trainers and will not apply to renew his license. 

Shin Woo Chul

Shin Woo Chul (Pic: Sports Chosun)

Shin has trained more winners than any other trainer in Korea – although that record will almost certainly be passed shortly by Kim Young Kwan at Busan – seeing his horses return victorious on 1149 occasions from a total of 8713 starters dating back to 1983.

Tough Win was his best horse although he also trained two-time SBS Cup winner High Point and 2003 Grand Prix Stakes winner Habidongju. Shin’s stable had been winding down recently with only 6 winners from 140 starters in his final 12 months.

Current leader of the Seoul Trainer’s Championship is Seo In Seok with 24 winners although only 8 winners separates him from 10th placed Bae Dae Sun in the ever noncompetitive capital. By contrast at cut-throat Busan, Kim Young Kwan leads with 66 with Peter Wolsley in 2nd on 36.

The end of June is the time when many licenses expire or come up from renewal and there are plenty of comings and goings this year.

Seoul jockeys Seo Do Soo, Kim Seok Bong, Kim Young Jin, Kho Sung Yi and Shin Dae Jun all surrendered their licenses at the end of June after careers of varying length and indifference. Some are likely to apply for training licenses. From Busan, Seo In Sub and Park Sung Kwang have also retired from the saddle.

For reasons recently reported,  a higher than usual number of riding vacancies have recently arisen in the pony racing on Jeju Island and along with a slew of new apprentices, Busan’s Jo Hee Won and Seoul’s Yoo Mi Ra have relocated to the island to become pony jockeys. For both it looks to be a good opportunity to revive careers that had been drifting somewhat.

Five riders have successfully graduated from the academy and have become apprentice thoroughbred jockeys. Two  will begin riding at Seoul shortly. They are 21-year-old Lee Dong Ha, who will be apprenticed to trainer Ha Jae Heung and 27-year-old Lee Cheol Kyung, who will be with Seo In Seok.

At Busan there are three new apprentices. 20-year-old Lee Hyo Sik will be with Kim Nam Joong. Jung Do Yoon, also 20, is apprenticed to An Woo Sung while the first Korean female jockey to be ride full-time at Busan since 2010 is 19-year-old Choi Eun Kyung. She gets a great opportunity to learn, having been placed with South African trainer Bart Rice.

Charming Girl – 0 for 100 – To Be Retired This Month

Charming Girl, the 8-year-old mare who reached the somewhat questionable landmark of 100 starts with 0 victories last Sunday, will be retired later this month.

Charming Girl and Yoo Mi Ra return after another defeat

Charming Girl and Yoo Mi Ra return after another defeat (KRA)

Owner Byun Young Nam said that Charming Girl (Pacific Bounty) will make one more start at the end of September before leaving Seoul Racecourse for good, presumably with a record of 0 for 101.

She will be retired to Gungpyeong Farm in Gyeonggi Province for retraining for recreational riding or dressage.

In her 96th race in May, Charming Girl broke the Korean record for most starts without a victory. She has been ridden on 80 occasions by jockey Yoo Mi Ra.

Charming Girl Enters Record Books With 96th Consecutive Defeat

On Sunday afternoon at Seoul Race Park, Charming Girl was saddled up, led around the paddock and cantered down to the start of race 6, a 7-furlong class 4 event for Korean-bred horses. Then, just as had happened on all of the 95 previous times she had gone through this process, she entered the starting gate, ran as fast as she could and was beaten.

Charming Girl with owner Byun Young Nam after her 96th defeat. Jockey Yoo Mi Ra, who has ridden her 76 times, looks on (KRA)

Charming Girl with owner Byun Young Nam after her 96th defeat. Jockey Yoo Mi Ra, who has ridden her 76 times, looks on

In finishing 9th of 11 and taking that sequence to 96, Charming Girl broke the Korean record for longest consecutive losing streak. The previous holder of this dubious honour was a New Zealand bred gelding named Dang Naru (Ivory Hunter), who went through his whole career of 95 runs without a victory between 1995 and 2000.

Dang Naru did, however, manage to record one 2nd place finish. Charming Girl’s best finish is 3rd, a position she has achieved on eight occasions.

Charming Girl [Pacific Bounty – Tweddles (Golden Juggler)] made her racecourse debut in January 2008, finishing 10th of 12. She would perform in similar fashion for much of the year, until in October, she broke into the money for the first time, with a 3rd place finish over 6 furlongs. Two months earlier, she had been ridden for the first time by newly qualified apprentice jockey Yoo Mi Ra. Yoo has since ridden her on a further 75 occasions which works out as almost exactly 10% of her total rides to date. It is no coincidence that her win ratio is one of the lowest of all jockeys at Seoul.

Indeed, just as Yoo Mi Ra’s figures do not necessarily do her justice, so Charming Girl is not a terrible racehorse. However, under Korea’s strict class rating system, horses who are talented to a certain extent but reach their limit, have nowhere to go. Once a horse goes up on class, they can never be dropped down again. Over the course of her career, Charming Girl has managed to amass enough prize money – around US $50,000 to date – to be promoted first to class 5 and then to class 4 where she remains. Not fast enough to win, but never able to return to a lower level where she might be competitive.

It is a system that does provide extra security for betting integrity and for ensuring that the majority of uncompetitive horses are retired but it is also one that leaves many racehorses facing an uncertain future once they have reached a level where it is impossible for them to win.

Charming Girl crosses the line at the end of her 96th defeat

Charming Girl crosses the line at the end of her 96th defeat

Charming Girl won’t have any problems. Her owner Byun Young Nam thinks the world of her and has announced his intention to keep running her so long as she is sound – and with no injuries or illness in five years, she perhaps is the soundest horse at the track – with a comfortable retirement to look forward too. Byun was on hand in the unsaddling enclosure after Sunday’s race to welcome his mare back and to pose for pictures.

In Korea especially where purses are high but ownership isn’t something to show off in polite society, racing is about winning. Charming Girl’s career has been about anything other than winning. In 2011, with 60 defeats already under her belt she, alongside the vastly more successful mare Luna, who nearly died aged 2 before coming back from injury to win several Stakes races, was featured in a campaign to promote ownership. The message owner Byun was passing on was that you don’t have to win to have fun.

If every horse was like Charming Girl, we wouldn’t have much of a sport, however, having been a popular fixture of the Seoul track for the past 5 years, she deserved her moment in the spotlight on Sunday. She should break the 100 by the end of summer.

Korean Racing Girls Redux – History of Female Jockeys in Korea

Last Saturday afternoon at Seoul, something happened that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Race 7, an otherwise unremarkable domestic class 4 allowance race, was won by jockey Yoo Mi Ra. The second place horse was ridden by Kim Hae Sun and Ahn Hyo Ri was on the third. Female jockeys had swept the placings for the first time ever in Korea.

Earlier in the afternoon, a horse called Dewma had given Lee Shin Young, Korea’s first female trainer, her 39th winner and the following day, Sunday, saw Lee Ah Na ride Imperial Girl to second place behind Tough Win in the afternoon’s feature event.

It is questionable what would be the more unlikely: that by 2013, South Korea would have a female President or that women would be performing so strongly in the traditionally ultra male dominated world of Korean horse racing.

Korea's first female jockey, Lee Ok Rae in 1975. At the time, the horses were not thoroughbreds

Korea’s first female jockey, Lee Ok Rae in 1975. At the time, the horses were not thoroughbreds

Park Geun Hye was elected the nation’s first female President last month, however, somewhat surprisingly, you have to go back to the now long-gone Ttukseom Racecourse on the north bank of the Han River and to the Spring of 1975 when 21-year-old Lee Ok Rae became the first woman to be granted a jockey license in Korea.

South Korea was, at the time, under the authoritarian rule of President Park Chung Hee – father of the new President Park Geun Hye – who had recently survived the second of three assassination attempts – this one had resulted in the death of his wife. Then, as now, racing held a near monopoly on gambling and Ttukseom was full to bursting on each race-day.

Lee Ok Rae graduated in the same class as Bae Dae Sun and Ji Yong Cheol, who would go on to become two of the top riders of their generation and today are among the country’s most successful trainers. Assigned to trainer Kwon In Deok, on March 17 that year, Lee rode in her first race.

In true storybook fashion it was a winning debut as in race 4 that day, she partnered horse number 1, “Kansas” to victory over five and a half furlongs.

Lee continued to establish herself over the coming months, however, in August that year, disaster struck in the shape of a fall in which she sustained injuries that would end her career. She retired just six months after her first ride with seven wins from forty-eight starts. No Korean woman would ride in a race for the next quarter of a century.

By the time they did, Park Chung Hee had been dead for two decades and his once bitter enemy Kim Dae Jung was now President of South Korea. Seoul had hosted the Olympic games in 1988 and Ttukkseom Racecourse was closed as the huge new track at Gwacheon opened, having been constructed on the site of the Olympic Equestrian events. At the turn of the millennium, the KRA made an effort to get more women into the sport.

From left: Lee Ae Li, Lee Keum Ju and Lee Shin Young in the early 2000s (KRA)

From left: Lee Ae Li, Lee Keum Ju and Lee Shin Young in the early 2000s (KRA)

In 2001, two jockeys were granted licenses, Lee Keum Joo and Lee Shin Young. They were followed a year later by Lee Ae Li and Park Jin Hee. Lee Keum Joo and Lee Ae Li are these days occasional riders, the former having only ridden sporadically since her marriage while the latter, despite retaining her popularity with punters with her “Ae Li Gongju” (Princess Ae Li) image complete with pink silks and boots, has only ridden 50 times in the past year.

Of Lee Shin Young and Park Jin Hee, we will return to shortly.

Tragedy struck the next intake. Granted a license in 2005, Lee Myoung Hwa took her own life shortly afterward. She was found to have been suffering from depression that is believed to have been exacerbated by worries about constant reducing to make weight. A year later, newly licensed Kim Seo Jin quit before her first ride.

In 2006, female jockeys received mainstream publicity in Korea with the release of the movie “Gaksoltang” (Lump Sugar). Starring actress Im Su Jeong as a jockey and largely shot at Seoul Race Park, the movie is, for its acting and focus on the horse as a star, arguably one of the best racing movies ever produced (Click here to see trailer.). KBS Television produced a one-off documentary about Lee Ae Li to coincide with the film’s release.

Na Yu Na after winning the Jeju Cup (KRA)

Na Yu Na after winning the Jeju Cup (KRA)

Meanwhile, down on Jeju Island Kim Joo Hee and Na Yu Na became the first women to receive jockey licenses for the pony racing there. Kim was formerly a promising athlete while Na was an Aerobics instructor. Both have become prolific winners with Na becoming the first woman to reach first 100 – and now 200 – career winners as well as landing the prestigious KRA Jeju Cup.

Na and Kim have found it easier to compete riding the Jeju ponies than their counterparts have on the thoroughbreds on the mainland and in a short time have risen to first and third in the all-time female winners list. They’ve been joined in recent years by Kim Da Young who is also winning regularly.

Back in Seoul, Yoo Mi Ra qualified in 2008. She along with 2010 graduate Park Jong Hyun have struggled to gain much of a foothold but are still working hard although Yoo did make all to win that historic race on Saturday.

2010, however, saw another desperately sad turn of events, one that shook everybody involved in racing here. Having begun racing at Seoul in the same graduation class as Lee Ae Li, Park Jin Hee moved to the new track at Busan when it opened in 2005.

She started riding winners and became well established but in 2009 her form began to dip. One Friday in March 2010, she failed to appear for her rides. After the alarm was raised, she was found dead in her apartment. She was 28.

Park Jin Hee

Park Jin Hee

Park Jin Hee left behind a detailed suicide note, outlining what she believed to be unfair treatment and bullying in racing in general and that she in particular had suffered, principally from trainers. The recriminations were bitter with the jockeys and trainers unions engaging in furious rows.

Nearly three years on and for all that Busan is a much more progressive track than Seoul in terms of its raceday operation, its rules and its openness to foreigners, no Korean woman has been licensed at the track since.

Later in 2010, the Korean movie industry once more turned its attention to female jockeys as Kim Tae Hee starred in “Grand Prix” Unlike Gaksoltang, however, this was not a movie to live long in the memory.

At Seoul Lee Shin Young, who qualified as a jockey nine years earlier, sat and passed the exam needed to gain a trainers’ license. She continued riding for nearly a year until, with 90 winners to her name, a barn became vacant. On July 1, 2011 and still only 31 years old, Lee Shin Young surrendered her jockey license and became Korea’s first female trainer.

Kim Hae Sun is winning on the track

Kim Hae Sun is winning on the track

She has started well, saddling 35 winners including one in a listed race.

Her barn now has 24 horses in it, including Feel So Good, the first Korean bred horse to win a race in the US and she is thought of as one of the most promising talents on the backstretch. As a jockey she had an aggressive style which landed her in the stewards room far too often.

It is an attitude has served her well in an environment where many people were hoping for her failure.

On the track, Lee Shin Young’s protegé is Kim Hae Sun who has 80 winners to her name. A product of the Seoul Jockey Academy, which has started to churn out a series of promising young riders who have been putting their elders to shame, Kim along with 2011 graduate Lee Ah Na and 2012’s Ahn Hyo Ri, have every chance of making it to the very top.

All time List – (Winners/Rides as of January 2013):

1. Na Yu Na* – 219 (1829)
2. Lee Shin Young – 90 (895)
3. Kim Joo Hee* – 88 (1542)
4. Kim Hae Sun – 80 (1147)
5. Lee Ae Li – 53 (1062)
6. Park Jin Hee – 38 (651)
7. Kim Da Young* – 35 (450)
8. Lee Keum Ju – 19 (755)
9. Lee Ah Na – 12 (165)
10. Ahn Hyo Ri – 9 (134)
11. Lee Ok Rae – 7 (48)
12. Yoo Mi Ra – 7 (629)
13. Park Jong Hyun – 2 (110)
14. Lee Myoung Hwa –
15. Kim Seo Jin –

*Jeju Pony Racing

** There have also been three Japanese women riding in Korea and all of them have been successful. Mai Beppu rode at Seoul in 2011 while Hitomi Miyahsita rode plenty of winners at Busan in 2009/2010. Akane Yamamoto also had a successful speel at Busan in 2011/2012. Unfortunately, Akane suffered a serious injury in a paddock accident in Japan last year.

*** This post is an updated version of one published on this blog back in 2009 titled “Korean Racing Girls”. Much of the information for that original post was sourced from the excellent Korean language blog “Enjoy Horse Racing” whcih is still going strong.

Seoul Round Up: Unexpected Victory while Curlin’s First Korean Runner Wins Again

Seoul Race Park wrapped up its 2012 program today with a bumper fourteen race card which saw a shock in the feature race and also some potential emerging talent for next year finding their way to the winner’s circle.

Open Wide: Byeokdu, son of Curlin, won for the second time in four starts

Open Wide: Byeokdu, son of Curlin, won for the second time in four starts

Being the first horse by US champion Curlin to find his way to Korea, there was always going to be plenty of attention on two-year old colt Byeokdu (Curlin – Vague Notion).

After finishing fourth in his first two starts, he pulled himself together and became a winner last time out and today, he made it two wins in a row.

Under Jo In Kwen, Byeokdu looked to be having a difficult time finding a gap as the field entered the home straight, however, after finally freeing himself with a furlong to run, he cruised into the lead and over the line with a length and a half in hand. He will be one to watch in 2013.

Seoul’s final feature race of the year had an unexpected result. Favourites Tongjesa, Ace Galloper and Magnifique were beaten as 40/1 outsider Victory (Osumi Jet) came down the outside of the track to surprise everyone. Ace Galloper managed second place but the other favourites were nowhere as 50/1 Cheot Insang rounded out the placings.

Victory. a five-year old gelding now has 6 wins from his 32 race career. This was his first at class 1.

The long shots weren’t finished there. In the track’s final race of the year, 102/1 chance Cheonguntaehu (Capital Spending) pulled off a remarkably convincing win ahead of 13 rivals. It was only the second win of the five-year old mare’s 31 starts, her only previous success coming in November 2010. That day she was ridden by Lee Keum Joo; today it was another female jockey, Yoo Mi Ra who rode her, scoring just the 6th win of her own career.

Connections of Horse Of The Year Jigeum I Sungan (left) and Champion Jockey Moon Se Young (second from right) collect their awards

Connections of Horse Of The Year Jigeum I Sungan (left) and Champion Jockey Moon Se Young (second from right) collect their awards

Despite the sub-zero temperatures and biting wind,
a short ceremony was held to give out Horse and Jockey of the Year awards. Korean Derby and Minister’s Cup winner Jigeum I Sungan (Ingrandire) took the Horse Of The Year honours while Moon Se Young, champion jockey by a record margin and with a record number of winners was awarded Jockey Of The Year.

Next weekend, Busan takes centre stage as it hosts its final meeting of the year. Racing returns to Seoul on January 5th when the Herald Business New Year’s Commemorative Stakes will be the feature.

Closing Day 2012 - Seoul Racecourse, December 23

Closing Day 2012 – Seoul Racecourse, December 23

Weekend Round-Up: Ghost Whisper & Imperial Star Win Features While Foreign & Female Jockeys Are On Target

Filly Imperial Star stepped up to Class 1 for the first time at Seoul Race Park on Sunday and, after three consecutive second placed finishes, made no mistake as she swept to the win in the feature race.

Imperial Star and Won Jung Il win Sunday's feature at Seoul (Pic: Ross Holburt)

While she benefitted from the late scratching of another filly, Mustang Queen, who beat her in the HRI Trophy last month, it was a performance full of promise from Imperial Star (Nihon Pillow Neil) and was her fifth career win.

Down at Busan, Peter Wolsley’s Ghost Whisper (Gotham City) was in unstoppable form as he cruised to victory in the first of co-feature races. It his third straight win and his seventh in ten starts. It was also South African jockey Gerrit Schlechter’s third victory of the weekend and his biggest since starting at Busan earlier this month.

Ghost Whisper is now established as Aussie trainer Wolsley’s stable star. In the second of the day’s co-features, the horse who formerly had that status, Gyeongkwaehanjilju (Tapit) put in a second consecutive disappointing performance since supposedly recovering from whatever ailed him in the season-ending Grand Prix Stakes last year.

While at Busan, the foreign jockeys were on top form – Yukio Abe also got three winners on Friday, at Seoul it was the turn of the women.

Yoo Mi Ra drives Real Play to victory (Pic: Ross Holburt)

It had been nearly two years since Yoo Mi Ra last tasted victory. However, she brought that dismal run to an end with a smart victory in Saturday’s race 8 on Real Play (Field Asuka). In the time since her last winner, Yoo Mi Ra has been overtaken by two other young female jockeys.

Kim Hae Sun Returns to the Winner's Circle for the second time today

Lee Ah Na was among the winners on Saturday while on Sunday it was the turn of Kim Hae Sun, who earlier in the year ceame the quickest woman to ride out her apprenticeship, to hit the board. Kim took two wins, first on Naejangsan (Menifee) and then later on Ecoroof Star (Exploit).

It takes the 23-year-old to 52 career wins and another step towards joining the top ranks of Korean jockeys – almost all of whom she is already more talented than.

Next week Stakes action returns to the peninsula in the shape of the Gukje Sinmun Cup at Busan. Meanwhile, Smarty Moonhak (Smarty Jones) is among early entries for next Sunday’s feature race at Seoul with a 50/50 chance of running.