The inaugural running of the Korea Sprint at Seoul Racecourse on Sunday 11th September is part of the first Korea Autumn Racing Carnival. It is an historic occasion and understandably, almost all of the pre-race attention has focused on the visitors attracted to the peninsula. Indeed, even the local media in Korea makes Ireland’s Wild Dude, Singapore’s Super Winner and Hong Kong’s Super Jockey the favourites (in that order). But what of the Korean runners?
There are two thoroughbred tracks in Korea. One is in the capital of Seoul, where the Sprint will be run, and the other is on the South Coast at Busan. There has long been racing in Seoul but the Busan track only opened in 2005 and the two courses started competing with each other in Stakes races in 2008. Since then, Busan-trained horses have gone on to dominate, winning 7 out the past 9 Korean Derbies. And it’s no coincidence that Busan accounts for 7 of the 9 Korean entries in the Korea Sprint.
Busan-based Kim Young Kwan has, in recent seasons, emerged as Korea’s top trainer. This year the 56-year-old Kim saddled Power Blade (who runs in the Korea Cup on the same day as the Sprint) to become the first horse to win the Korea Triple Crown in its current form. Second in the first leg of the Crown was stablemate Ottug Ottugi and that filly would go on to win the Korean Oaks by five-lengths. Despite that and fourth place in the 2000M Minister’s Cup, the final leg of the Triple Crown, she is still seen as a more natural sprinter, so she takes her chance in the Korea Sprint. “This is a tough race for a three-year-old filly but why not? She might not get another chance in a race like this” Kim told the Korea Racing Broadcasting Channel. Ottug Ottugi is very much a front runner and has drawn well. If she jumps well, she is sure to put them under pressure early on.
The other Sprint entry from Kim Young Kwan’s stable is American bred Gamdonguibada. The now 7-year-old mare won Korea’s most prestigious race, the Grand Prix Stakes in 2012 (ridden by Joe Fujii who partners Japanese raider Million Volts today) and has gone on to amass an impressive record of big race wins. However, her one trip abroad, to the 1200M KRA Trophy in Singapore in the summer of 2015, ended in disappointment.
Over the past few seasons, Kim Young Kwan’s biggest rival has been Peter Wolsley. The Australian arrived in Busan in 2007 as the first ever foreign trainer in Korea. After early years of adversity, Wolsley gradually began amassing winners – and owners followed – with his crowning glory arriving in late 2015 as his Bold Kings won the Grand Prix at Seoul. For the Sprint, Wolsley brings Macheon Bolt to Seoul. Possibly more suited to a mile, he warmed up for this race with a good win over fellow Busan runner Gabo Myeongun. He hasn’t drawn well but looks in very good shape and any Wolsley runner must be taken seriously.
Perdido Pomeroy is the Korean horse who has most expectation on him. He has only raced seven times and was beaten by Gamdonguibada in the Busan Ilbo Cup in May but looked very good when he came to Seoul the following month and beat Gamdonguibada, Choegang Schiller and three Japan-trained horses in the SBS Korea-Japan Cup (1200M). He’s had three months off since then but his trainer Mun Je Bok believes him to be just right and he is an exciting prospect. He will be ridden by Triple Crown winning jockey Kim Yong Geun, who should be able to navigate his way to close to the front from gate 8.
Choegang Schiller made a piece of history himself last August when he beat Singapore’s sprinter El Padrino to win the Asia Challenge Cup. El Padrino had won the race in 2014 but with it shortened to 1200M last year, Choegang Schiller was too good. Gabo Myeongun, who also returns this year, was 4th. That performance played a role in enabling Korea-trained horses to run at the Dubai World Cup Carnival this year where one of them, Success Story (unfortunately not fit enough to run this weekend) ran (a very distant) third to California Chrome in the American superstar’s prep race for the World Cup. In another link to this race, Success Story was ridden in Dubai by Irish jockey Tadgh O’Shea, who partners Beachy Head here.
The other Korean runners in the Sprint, Bichui Jeongsang (from Seoul), Supreme Magic and First Magical (from Busan) all have plenty to find and the chances are that it will be an overseas-runner who poses for win pictures with the Asprey-made trophy on Sunday afternoon.
However, the Korean line-up is a credible one with owners and trainers supporting this race with their best horses. Korea has welcomed the world for the first time and is going to at least give it its best shot at beating it. As Kim Young Kwan pointed out, “Why not?”