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Korea review - reality checks for three-year-old's - 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.
 
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