Mr. Afleet was Wolsley’s 2721st Korean starter and his 50th winner of 2018 at a strike rate second to only the stable of Kim Young-kwan. However, the bare numbers belie the scale of the achievement, one few would have seen coming when the trainer arrived at the track for the first time.
That was back in 2007 when after stints in Dubai and China, Wolsley arrived at Busan as the first foreigner to be granted a license to train in Korea. He found himself in charge of a small string of horses, most of which were off-casts the other trainers didn’t want. It can hardly have been a very rewarding start. Slowly though, those horses began, if not actually winning, then performing above expectations. Even more slowly, yet surely all the same, owners began to take notice.
The winners would come with an initial trickle developing into a constant stream. Wolsley saddled his 100th winner in May of 2011 and then in September of the same year, recorded his first Korean Stakes win, albeit in unconventional style as his Khaosan was promoted to victory in the Group 3 Owners’ Cup after the first horse over the line was disqualified.
Never Seen Before gave Wolsley his first Three-Year-Old Classic winner when victorious in the 2014 Minister’s Cup but the highlight arrived in the 2015 Grand Prix Stakes when his three-year-old unbeaten colt Bold Kings held off the likes of subsequent winner Clean Up Joy and Triple Nine to record a memorable victory.
Bold Kings was ridden by Jo Sung Gon, who also partnered Mr. Afleet in the milestone win and has been Wolsley’s most regular jockey over the years. While Wolsley has never quite managed to beat big rival Kim Young-kwan to the Trainers’ Championship, he has only rarely been outside the top three.
In other Korea Racing Authority news two exciting colts continued their progress in early January, 2019, both winning but in differing styles as New Legend breezed to a third straight victory at Busan while Road Winner had to work to take out the day’s feature at Seoul.
In fairness to Road Winner, his was a considerably stiffer assignment. The Grand Prix Stakes had proved too much, too soon, for him in December, yet he began his four-year-old campaign as the prohibitive favourite in a Class 1 handicap over 1800m and under a very light weight, was expected to dominate his thirteen rivals from the start.
Road Winner had other ideas, however, and jockey Kim Yong Geun was quickly in for a tough afternoon at the office as Gaeuli Jeonseol and Argo Brain took the early lead. At times it was an exhausting watch as jockey Kim grappled with his mount throughout the back-straight and around the home turn, simply to keep him in contention and even with just over a furlong to go, the favourite was still in 11th place.
Then suddenly, something changed. In sight of the line, Road Winner focused and with gaps opening up, unleashed a burst of speed that took him past everything else, striking the front with just a few strides to go and hitting the line with half a length in hand. They all count, and the Discreet Cat colt moves on to six wins from nine career starts and career earnings so far of well in excess of US$300,000.
Down at Busan, the talk was all about New Legend. He began his career in the United States landing a win at Arlington Park last summer before returning home in the autumn. The Menifee colt has thrived since landing on the sand at Busan and on Sunday made his third local start having breezed through his first two with ease.
At a Class 3 over 1800m it was never likely to be too testing for New Legend but regardless, the manner of his run, racing in company until the home straight when with the merest shake of the hands by jockey Lee Hyo-sik, he worked his way up through his lower gears suggesting there is plenty more to come to win by a commanding 6L.