Korea - mid-season progress check - three-year-old's get mixed reviews but seasoned stars perform

With a spate of feature races run and won over the past few months, Royce Newton looks back with a mid-season review of Korean racing and who has impressed, surprised and disappointed as we head into the second half of the year. 

Three-Year-Old Series

Every year we hope for a three-year-old to stand up and take the Korean racing scene by storm, sadly it’s not the case this year. Between the Triple Crown and Triple Tiara, not one filly or colt managed to salute twice in their respective features. So effectively we had five one trick ponies – with punters the victims, left to scratch their heads with burnt fingers on each occasion. 

Global Chukje got everyone excited when he kicked off the three-year-old feature proceedings with an eight-length win in the KRA Cup Mile in April. He was sent out equal second favourite behind Precede in the market before settling in the leading division and blowing his rivals away. Fair to say, the son of Rock Hard Ten had everyone excited that there may be a potential Triple Crown winner on the horizon, that bubble burst at his next start. 

The second leg of the Triple Crown, the Korean Derby took place mid-May where a field of fifteen lined up over the 1800m. After his devastating win in the KRA Cup Mile, Global Chukje was sent out a $1.30 favourite. The only potential problem on paper for Yoo Seung-Wan appeared to be the barrier, when the galloper was assigned gate thirteen in the feature for the colts and geldings. The problem eventuated, when Yoo Seung-Wan failed to get the horse no closer than four wide off the fence for the entirety of the race. He was third coming in to the straight before letting a couple pass him in the straight, running a gallant fifth. 

While this played out Moon Se-Young unexpectedly took up the lead on Wonderful Fly. The Park Dae-Heung trained galloper bounced out of the gates and took up a comfortable lead. Whilst Park Dae-Heung has had a host of feature wins in his career, this was his first Korean Derby winner in twenty-two years of training. Moon Se-Young rated the horse perfectly and he shot away at the top of the straight going on to win by a massive thirteen lengths. With one leg of the Triple Crown left, punters were confident after seeing such a dominant display from Wonderful Fly that he couldn’t get beat in the Minister’s Cup. 

Wonderful Fly, picture Korea Racing Authority

By June, plenty of the boys were found to not be up to the level required, leaving us with a field of eleven to run in the Minister’s Cup. The race was built-up as a Wonderful Fly versus Global Chukje spectacular, especially after Global Chukje had no luck in the Derby. All but three of the runners came out of the Derby, one of those being a Rock Hard Ten colt named Rock Choice. 

The Kang Hyoung-Gon trained galloper had won three races prior to the Minister’s Cup, with a Class Four victory the strongest of them. If punters had not been hurt enough, more pain was on the horizon as Rock Choice settled dead last before starting his run at the 800m pole. Ridden by Lim Sung-Sil, the galloper gobbled up the entire field going on to win by six lengths. Both Global Chukje and Wonderful Fly looked tired horses and it was the fresh legs of Rock Choice who bolted in. 

With a colt taking out the KRA Cup Mile, the hopes of a Triple Tiara winner this year was quickly quashed. The running of the Oaks in mid-May looked a one-act affair on paper after Dae Wan Ma finished second in the KRA Cup Mile. She also took out the Sports Seoul Cup in March suggesting she was set for further success in the three-year-old fillies’ features. After being sent out $1.90 favourite, Dae Wan Ma was found wanting at the 400m mark eventually finishing eleventh in the sixteen horse field. 

Whilst punters watched Dae Wan Ma’s chances fall away, the Busan master Seo Seung-Un was rating Menifee filly Deep Mind perfectly out in front. The Kim Young-Kwan filly jumped out of the gates quick and crossed the field from barrier fourteen. In wet conditions, the track was rated muddy but that proved no issue for Deep Mind as she was never to be caught going on and winning by an impressive eight lengths. Naturally, she would be heavily supported in the final leg, the Gyeonggi Governor’s Cup.

The final leg took place late June where Deep Mind was sent out a $2.40 favourite with plenty of support for the new kid on the block – Dia Road. Dia Road had won three from three going into the feature and looked a big chance. Whilst Dia Road looked to have the race won, Korean racing’s favourite son Moon Se-Young was flooding down the centre of the track on outsider Clear Geom. Dia Road was holding sway until the 100m mark where Clear Geom started to reel in the margin, eventually taking out the final leg in the shadows of the post. As with the final leg of the colts and geldings, Clear Geom had not lined up in either of the prior legs of the Triple Tiara. Deep Mind never looked a chance and plodded home for fifth. 

The below summarises the feature racing of the three-year-old Triple Crown/Tiara.

Race Sex Horse Jockey Trainer Winning Price
KRA Cup Mile Both Global Chukje Yoo Seung-Wan Choi Sang Sik $6.30
Korean Derby C Wonderful Fly Moon Se-Young Park Dae-Heung $9.40
Korean Oaks F Deep Mind Seo Seung-Un Kim Young-Kwan $23.20
Minister's Cup C Rock Choice Lim Sung Sil Kang Hyoung-Gon $21.60
Governor's Cup F Clear Geom Moon Se-Young Kim Soon-Keun $16.50

Dolkong firing after Dubai

Korea’s international star Dolkong resumed late June in the Busan Mayor’s cup where he took on some of the nation’s best over 1800m. The Listed Curlin Handicap (Dubai) winner settled midfield before being set alight by Johan Victoire prior to straightening up. The five-year-old let down nicely to win the race suggesting he will be one of the main hopes as the Korea Cup approaches early September. Dolkong’s earnings now exceed 1 billion KRW after taking out the Group 2 (Korea) feature. The galloper is now stabled with Bae Dae Sun. He finished second in last year’s Korea Cup and backed it up with a fourth in the Grand Prix. 

Silver Wolf best of the girls

Australian-bred Silver Wolf continues to show just how special she is and that she is by far Korea’s best mare. The Oratorio (IRE) seven-year-old has hit a rich vein of form winning all three starts this year including the Ttukseom Cup, Chairman’s Cup and the Donga Ilbo Cup. She defeated both sexes in the Chairman’s Cup with her closest rival Mask who was just under two lengths away in second. She continues to show how versatile she is winning races between 1200-1800m this year. She will potentially back it up in the KNN Cup at Busan for the fillies and mares. It will be interesting to see which way her connections go with her come September when the Korea Sprint and Cup roll around. She finished fifth in the 2017 Korea Cup.

Cheongdam Dokki off the boil

Korean fan favourite has not been able to show his brilliance at his two most recent starts. After beating Triple Nine in the KRA Cup Classic last year we have seen him race five times for just the one win. That win came in the Herald Business Cup over 2000m in a field of eight. Since then he finished fifth in the YTN Cup where he never looked likely and followed it up with a ninth in the Busan Mayor’s Cup behind Dolkong. You can put a line through his most recent start when getting a nose full of sand when dipping at the start. He lost considerable ground then finished ninth never in the race. Fans will be hoping he can get back to his best but it’s unlikely he will be sent out favourite at his next start.  

Gaon Champ - where to now?

Gaon Champ has been one of the most progressive sprinters we have seen in Korea in recent times. Since September 2017 the son of Ecton Park has won nine races from twelve starts including the Busan Ilbo and most recently the SBS Sports Sprint both at Group Three (Korea) level. In his most recent win he held off some handy types when leading throughout including Doraonpogyeonseon, Global Captain and Ace Korea. Connections have elected to go into a 1800m event mid-July which racing fans will watch with interest. He was stretched out to 1600m earlier on in his career but has never gone over this journey and at this grade. He is limited with sprint options now having a Korean rating of 120. The next feature sprint race he can be set for is the Invitational Korea Sprint. 

Where is Triple Nine?

Four-time winner of the Group 1 (Korean) President’s Cup Triple nine is currently spelling at Jangsu Farm. He was sent to the paddock last December after winning the Grand Prix and resumed training earlier this year in March. He was being prepared throughout April before being sent back to Jangsu on May 12. Whilst there appears to be no major issue he has always been a horse difficult to get right. Hopefully punters will see the 4.2 billion KRW (3.6 million USD) earner back in training in the near future.

Juveniles that have impressed

We have seen some of the new two-year-olds come through in recent weeks none more impressive than the Seoul-based Roller Blade. The son of Officer has won both of his starts, the first in two-year-old company and he then backed it up with a win in Class Five company when demolishing his older rivals winning by eight lengths. He ran a handy 1.13.5 on a dry track last time out when never asked for his full effort. Another that looks promising is the Busan-based Top Day who saluted over 1000m in early July at his first start. He is a half-brother to Friday who has won three from eight. 

Seoul Jockey Standings

The current jockey standings see Kim Yong-Geun leading the jockey standings with 109 wins. The former Busan-based jockey is 27 wins clear of Moon Se-Young who has been sidelined for a significant period of time in the past year. Of the foreign jockeys, Antonio Da Silva continues to ride in good form notching 65 wins. 

Moon Se-Young has the best strike rate with a winning strike rate of 24% and an unbelievable top three strike rate of 54%. Kim Yong-Geun holds a winning strike rate of 18% whilst Antonio Da Silva has the best strike rate of the foreign jockeys at 15%, just ahead of Johan Victoire on 14%. 

In the apprentice ranks, Jo Sang-Beom has ridden 21 winners ahead of Moon Sung-Hyeok on 18 for the past year. In terms of strike rate, Kim Deok-Hyeon has had limited opportunities with just 86 rides but he has yielded 15 wins for a strike rate of 17%. 

The wins and strike rates for Seoul’s top jockeys are shown in the table below:

Jockeys Past 12 Months (1/2/3) Win S/R Place S/R
KIM YONG GEUN 602 (109/74/68) 18% 42%
MOON SE YOUNG 338 (82/65/34) 24% 54%
YOO SEUNG-WAN 565 (71/44/62) 13% 31%
ANTONIO DAVIELSON 427 (65/66/30) 15% 38%
LIM GI WON 403 (59/49/43) 15% 37%
JOHAN VICTOIRE 418 (57/43/52) 14% 36%
LEE HYEOK 472 (54/42/45) 11% 30%
KIM DONG SOO 494 (50/46/57) 10% 31%
Apprentices (Claim) Past 12 Months (1/2/3)  Win S/R Place S/R 
(-1) JO SANG BEOM 342 (21/23/41) 6% 25%
(-3) MOON SUNG HYEOK 222 (18/23/15) 8% 25%
(-2) KIM DEOK HYEON 86 (15/8/9) 17% 37%
(-1) KIM HYO JUNG 279 (15/22/23) 5% 22%

Busan Jockey Standings

With the smaller pool of riders and less races at Busan, You Hyun-Myung has done a brilliant job to notch 114 winners over the past 12 months at a strike rate of 23%. There are a few jockeys battling it out for second including Choi Si-Dae, Lee Hyo-Sik and Brazilian born Franco Da Silva. Whilst You Hyun-Myung is on top in terms of strike rate,, Seo Seung-Un is second with a handy strike rate of 18%. Seo has been playing catch-up having only returned from two-years Natoinal Service this January.

With Park Jae-I and Jeon Jin-Gu having recently ridden out their claims, we currently have just one apprentice at Busan, Jeong Woo-Ju, who is ticking along well with 21 wins in the past 12 months. Busan’s top jockeys are in the table below:

Jockeys Past 12 Months Win S/R Place S/R
YOU HYUN MYUNG 486 (114/77/64) 23% 52%
CHOI SI DAE 437 (59/53/51) 14% 37%
LEE HYO SIK 417 (57/39/41) 14% 33%
FRANCISCO DA SILVA 421 (55/54/47) 13% 37%
SEO SEUNG UN 228 (40/26/26) 18% 40%
LEE SUNG JAE 301 (30/20/23) 10% 24%
Apprentices (Claim) Past 12 Months Win S/R Place S/R
(-2) JEONG WOO JU 245 (21/18/24) 9% 26%