Friday, September 17, 2010

Heart & Seoul: Sales-tips and Korean racing

When a dozen of my 187 juvenile sales tips of 2010 found themselves shipped overseas to Korea, I thought their careers might be difficult to follow.

While their races won't be as easy to keep up with as if they were racing Stateside, with charts posted by Equibase some 30 to 60 minutes after each race, I've learned that it isn't all that tough to find out what and how a racehorse is doing within the confines of Korea. And this is how things work, per my understanding.

With much help from the proprietor of the Horse Racing in Korea blog, I've learned the whereabouts, connections and even training condition of 11 out of the 12 horses I tabbed this spring who were sold to Korean interests. And the first of those horses, a Forest Camp filly bought at OBSAPR and renamed Our Camp (formerly called "Off to Granny's") has made her first two starts -- one a definite learning experience, and the second an impressive near-miss.

I've also learned much about how the Koreans manage their Thoroughbred racing industry. It's terribly different from here in the States, perhaps in some refreshing ways.

From a purely racing perspective, in Korea a maiden runner cannot start in an official race until he has passed muster in a trial run under race conditions. The horse must not only behave himself sufficiently and break reasonably well from the gate, one presumes -- which is enough in the States for the animal to earn its "gate card" and start racing -- but also must achieve a certain minimum speed for the distance, in company, under the competitive conditions of the trial, in order to hopefully assure that he will be competitive when asked to race "for real."

Another striking difference between Korea and the States is that there are few races carded strictly for juveniles.

Korean racing is primarily divided into classes based on accomplishment, not age. There are four classes for foreign-bred horses, and an animal can only move up from the lowest ranks, Class 4, once it has earned a certain amount of prize money.

This means that many juveniles will first appear in "weight for age" races, facing much older horses. In her August debut, Our Camp was sent off at 50/1 odds in a race that included many 2-year-olds, several 3-year-olds, a 4-year-old, and a horse that was age 5, albeit 0-for-27 lifetime. Our Camp (pictured above walking in the paddock and also with jockey Park Byeong Yun) finished ninth of 12 in a race won by a 2-year-old, covering five furlongs in 1:03.8.

(My source at the Racing in Korea blog suggests that due to training methods in that country, a young horse like Our Camp might be running five furlongs, "five seconds slower than they would be back in the U.S.")

While juveniles are facing older horses in these races, at least they're bad older horses. And some races exclude juveniles, so the ones that don't, I'm told, are carded primarily with 2-year-olds in mind, though what are almost universally unaccomplished older horses are eligible, too.

Another visible difference between the racing industry in Korea and in the United States is in the amount of information available on each horse and its condition. The information at present is available only in Korean, but (by American standards) a jaw-dropping volume of data is at the fingertips of Korean fans and gamblers.

"Korean racing has very strict rules on transparency," I'm told. "The racing authority is terrified that at any moment, the government might shut them down, so integrity is very important."

Novel concept: "If a horse -- any horse -- visits the vet, for example, it gets recorded and published. They don't do timed works here, but all visits to the track in the morning are recorded. It's intended to mean that every punter has access to the same information and that nobody can set up a betting coup. Of course, very few people actually read it all, but you can go to a computer terminal at the track and pull up complete, up-to-date information about any horse in the country."

That is the kind of information you couldn't get in the States without going to every barn, speaking to every trainer (and vet), and usually be told to take a very long walk off a very short pier.

Meanwhile, some splendid information is maintained even in English for every horse in the country by the Korean Stud Book. Here are examples for sales-tip Fleeting Joy, a son of Kitten's Joy who debuted with a place-finish at Busan. First, his main information page, complete left-side, right-side and head-on photos, country of origin, sire and dam's names, color and current owner in Korea; then his pedigree; his complete, 25-generation sireline, showing he traces to the Darley Arabian; 15 generations of dams, dating to a British mare named Bavarian, born in 1826; and finally, his race-record, including the most basic of past-performance lines.

So, without further ado (and with much help from my source who is handling the translation from Korean), here's the current rundown on my 12 sales picks of 2010 to have reached Korean shores.

Choego Chansa: Trained at Busan by Min Jang Gi. "Working well" and participated in a race trial in August. She finished just sixth of eight, but with a time that "scraped by" as fast enough to begin entering real races. Her debut in an official race on Sept. 10 was better by competitive standards, fifth of eight, earning (if this currency converter is correct) $1,936.

Dr. Drewman: At Seoul with trainer Kim Sun Gun. No official works as of late August (remember, works aren't timed, just recorded and reported) so he might be some time away from racing. But no reported medical problems, either.

Our Camp: Training at Seoul with Ha Jae Heung. Sixth of 11 in her race trial; ninth of 12 in her debut start. But, on Sept. 12, she "closed like a train" to come up just a half-length short, placing second to a 4-year-old (who was 0-for-19 prior, but still, twice her age), earning $8,034.

Fleeting Joy: A Jang Se Han trainee at Busan. "Working well" and passed race trials Aug. 7, then came home second in his debut on Aug. 29, earning $5,180.

Sniper King: Training with Kim Chang Ok at Busan. In late August, it was reported that he hadn't worked during the week. "The vet's diagnosis at this stage is simply 'exercise fatigue.'" Before that, he was reported as working well. Qualified for competitive races with a fourth-place finish out of nine in a trial on the weekend of Aug. 7-8. Bounced back from his "fatigue" to debut on Sept. 5 at Busan, with a third-place finish from eight starters, earning $2,912.

Myeongpumtansaeng: Name is recorded in the U.S. as two words, for some reason. Training at Busan under Choi Gi Hong. Only two works in July, became a regular worker in August. Probably a few weeks away from a trial.

Hanhyeolcheonyong: Name is recorded in the states as beginning with the letter M, not H. The first bit of bad news. This horse is at Seoul with Choi Hye Sik, but was diagnosed with lymphangitis in July and is undergoing treatment. Lymphangitis in horses is an inflammation associated with the lymphatic system, most commonly caused by a bacterial infection.

Daebak Chance: In training with Kim Jeom Oh at Seoul, this horse appears to have "cut himself up pretty badly" in July and is still recovering.

Sand Kahn: With Yoo Jae Gil at Seoul, but being given time off to mature a bit. Likely to resume training sometime in September.

Sand Hi: At Busan with Lim Geum Man. "Took awhile to settle," but went into full training in mid-August and "looks to be working well so far."

Viva Ace: This gelding by Macho Uno was the last to be named. Little information was available about him before, but now that he has a moniker, that should change.

Kidari Joe: Son of Tiznow is due to debut on Sunday in Race 4 at Busan. He is the 13-horse in a field of 14 -- pretty bad break on the post-draw -- and is one of six 2-year-olds facing seven 3-year-olds and one 0-for-17 4-year-old colt. Good luck to Kidari Joe.

Oh, and before we go, how pretty is the splash page for the Korean-language version of the Korean Racing Authority's Web site? And check the title in the browser top bar, in English: "Life & Love with KRA."

Life, love, racehorses. I'm not sure anyone could paint a better picture of how I'd want to live out the rest of my own life.


  1. Dear Sir, I am from MALAYSIA,and been in the racing game for38years,you name it i ve been it,from rider,trainer,commentator,stipe,handicapper,starter,general manager,PR director,right now i am the official senior starter for MALAYSIA racing.I find your blog interesting and easy reading enjoyed it much Keep writing,sir

  2. Thanks very much! Good luck to you, and enjoy the trip to Korea!


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