The development of Korea as a progressive racing country
Horseracing in Korea dates back to the 1920’s with the Korean Racing Authority (KRA) formed in 1942. Sadly the Korean War stalled racing’s development in the 1950’s with the country’s racetracks all used for military training. Fortunately the facilities were quickly restored after the war by the KRA and 1988 Summer Olympics saw the building of an equestrian venue that was later to become the Seoul Race Park.
There are currently two thoroughbred tracks in Korea. Situated in the southern Seoul suburb of Gwacheon, the Seoul Race Park comprises a left-handed 1800m oval track with a 400m home straight and sand based. The two Grandstands allow the track to accommodate up to 80,000 people. A tunnel under the winning post, leads to an infield family park, with entertainment facilities for children. Racing takes place at Seoul on Saturdays and Sundays, with between 11-12 races on each day.
Busan-Gyeongnam Race Park, Korea’s second thoroughbred racetrack is the newest of its three tracks and is situated in the west of Busan. The track is a left-handed 2000m oval, with a 500m home straight and is also sand. The grandstand at Busan can accommodate up to 30,000 and racing takes place on Fridays with 9-10 races carded and on Sundays with a six race card. A third thoroughbred track at Yeongcheon, near the city of Daegu, is scheduled to open in 2019.
The Seoul Race Park has stabling for 1442 horses with 54 resident trainers, while Busan can accommodate 1008 horses and has 33 trainers.
The KRA also operates a racecourse on Jeju Island where races are held using native Jeju Ponies. Jeju Island is also home to the majority of the Korean breeding industry with private operations such as Pegasus Farm and Isidore Farm as well as the KRA’s massive Jeju Stud Farm all being based there.
Jockeys have to be licensed and under contract to ride in Korea and all wear visors as part of their headgear due to the kick back. A number of Japanese jockeys have ridden in Korea such as Kanchiro “Joe” Fujii, who was extremely successful during his three year stint, winning the Derby, Oaks and Grand Prix. British jockey Darryll Holland also rode at Busan for a year while Serbian Djordje Perovic is currently riding at Seoul. There are also three foreign trainers, all at Busan.
Korean Graded races have been included in Part III of the ICSC’s Blue Book since 2005. Seoul Race Park hosts all three of the country’s G1 races, with the Korean Derby (1800m) held in May, the President’s Cup (2000m) in November and the Grand Prix (2300m) in December.
In 2013, the Korea Racing Authority began implementing a series of reforms to raise the standard and competitiveness of Korean racing in order to become more international in outlook. In August of that year, Japanese horses were invited to run in the SBS Cup at Seoul, the first time overseas-trained runners had competed in Korea. Two months later, three Korean-trained horses raced at Ohi in Tokyo in the return leg with one of them, Watts Village, winning the race.
The following year, the SBS Cup became the G3 Asia Challenge Cup with Singapore’s El Padrino the first across the line. In 2015, in addition to the Asia Challenge Cup invitation race, three other events have been designated as international open races. The first of these was the G3 Ttukseom Cup (1400m) in June, won by Japanese raider Esmeraldina under Joe Fujii,
Korea has also recently introduced a rating system which means the majority of races are now run as handicaps. For many years, separate races were held for domestic and overseas-bred horses. From 2015 these were abolished at the higher levels and while some Stakes races – such as the Korean Derby – remain restricted to domestic-bred runners, most of the more valuable races now see Korean and foreign-bred runners competing with each other.
Mr. Yangtae Park, who oversaw the recent developments has recently taken on the role of Executive Director of Racing at the KRA, with a mandate to drive through further development.