While other races may carry more prize money, in terms of honour and prestige, the Grand Prix Stakes is second to none in Korea.
It’s a race that has had movies named after it and is, perhaps, the only domestic horse race to register in the national consciousness.
Sunday December 15 at Seoul Race Park sees the 32nd edition of the race. It’s young in international terms, but in a country where the private ownership of racehorses – and therefore prize money and big Stakes races – go back less than two decades, it is positively venerable. With race fans invited to vote on which horses they want to see in the starting gate, it is the undisputed Championship race in Korea. There is no question of the best horses trying to avoid each other as there is nowhere else to go. In the Grand Prix, the best face the best.
This is because whereas the Classics are restricted to Korean bred entrants, the Grand Prix is open to all. Indeed in the previous 30 editions, home-bred horses have ended up in the winner’s circle just four times (including Mister Park who was born in Korea after his dam was imported while in foal). Fillies or mares have won the race five times with Ka Shock Do taking back-to-back wins in 1990 and 1991.
The origin of the winners also shows the change in influence on Korean racing. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the vast majority of horses imported to Korea were from the Southern Hemisphere. This is reflected by Australian or New Zealand breds winning thirteen of the first sixteen runnings, compared with just one American. Since the turn of the century, the majority of imports have come from the USA and American breds have won seven out of the last nine editions.
As recently as 1999, a non-thoroughbred was triumphant. Saegangja was by the established sire Fiercely, however, his dam Chuk Je, was not in the studbook. That won’t happen again as year on year, Korean racing gradually becomes more mature.
Last year’s winner Gamdonguibada is likely to be among the favourites to retain her crown. 2011 champion Tough Win (Yonaguska), won the Busan Mayor’s Trophy – also known as the “Summer Grand Prix” – and while he has not looked at his best this autumn, can’t be ruled out.
2012 Korean Derby winner Jigeum I Sungan (Ingrandire) makes his first attempt on the race while Smarty Moonhak (Smarty Jones), who was 3rd in 2011 at the age of 2, is set to complete a remarkable recovery from over a year off with tendonitis by taking his chance too.
As ever, there are one of two who will be notable by their absence. Dangdae Bulpae has tried and been found wanting in this race before with the 2300 metre distance beyond him and he didn’t even appear on the ballot paper this time around.
Also likely to swerve the race is Indie Band, who was last seen breaking Dangdae Bulpae’s three-year stranglehold on the President’s Cup last month.
One who will definitely be there though is 5-year-old mare Secret Whisper (Sea Of Secrets). Last year, Joe Fujii became the first foreign jockey to win the race and in Secret Whisper, Peter Wolsley has an opportunity to be the first foreign trainer.
One other first already assured this year is that the race will be simulcasted to Singapore – the first time a Korean race will be shown live overseas.
Next Sunday, Gamdonguibada and Tough Win will seek to join Dongbanui Gangja, Ka Shock Do and the great Po Gyeong Seon as double winners of the race and prevent a new name being added to the list of horses below who, for one year at least, can claim to have been the undisputed best.
2012: Gamdonguibada (USA) [Werblin - Radyla (Country Pine)]
2011: Tough Win (USA) [Yonaguska - Maggie May's Sword (Sword Dance)]
2010: Mister Park (KOR) [Ecton Park - Formal Deal (Formal Gold)]
2009: Dongbanui Gangja (USA) [Broken Vow - Maremaid (Storm Bird)] The now seven-year old two-time champion is a likely starter this year.
2008: Dongbanui Gangja (USA) [Broken Vow - Maremaid (Storm Bird)]
2007: Bally Brae (USA) [Yarrow Brae - Political Bluff (Unaccounted For)] – Also has two second places to his name, in 2006 and 2008. Like his great rival Subsidy, Bally Brae too passed away this year after a short illness having been retired to the Korea Horse Affairs High School.
2006: Flying Cat (KOR) [Western Cat - Flying Wood (Tapping Wood)]
2005: Subsidy (USA) [Mr. Prospector - Foreign Aid (Danzig)] The last son of Mister Prospector died in a paddock accident earlier this year.
2004: Value Play (USA) [Mt. Livermore - Return Of Mom (Deputy Minister)]
2003: Tempest West (USA) [Silent Tempest - Westabout (Gone West)]
2002: Bohamian Butler (USA) [Patton - Circus Princess (Forli)]
2001: Tahamkke (NZ) [Dance Floor - Cantango (Danzatore)]- has gone on to become a moderately successful sire in Korea
2000: Cheolgeoun Party (KOR) [Big Sur - Party Paint (Acaroid)] – The only Korean bred filly to win.
1999: Saegangja (KOR) [Fiercely - Chuk Je] (non-thoroughbred)
1998: Sin Se Dae (AUS) [Avon Valley - Meroo Star (Starboard Buoy)]
1997: P’Ulgeurim (NZ) [Crested Wave - Evocative (Sea Anchor)]
1996: Hula-Mingo (NZ) [Broadway Aly - Zamatina (Zamazaan)]
1995: Dae Kyeun (AUS) [Northern Regent - Romantic Evening (Sunset Hue)]
1994: Ji Goo Ryeok (AUS) [Pine Circle - Perfect Choice (Lunchtime)] – The first year prize-money was awarded, Ji Goo Ryeok’s connections took home 50 Million won. This year’s winner will receive as record high of nearly 300 Million, the most in its history. The Korean Derby and the President’s Cup are both worth more to the winner.
1993: Gi Peun So Sik (NZ) [Bolak - Belserena (Serenader)]
1992: Chun Pung (NZ) [Coral Reef - Little Jo] (non-thorougbred)
1991: Ka Shock Do (NZ) [Engagement - Nursery Rhyme (Namnan)]- With her second , she became arguably the greatest filly to run in Korea. In all, she won twelve of her thirteen starts.
1990: Ka Shock Do (NZ) [Engagement - Nursery Rhyme (Namnan)]
1989: Cha Dol (USA) [Mr Redoy - Honest'N Do Right]
1988: Wang Bang Wool (AUS) [Moon Sammy - Aqua Nymph (Crepone)]
1987: Cheong Ha (AUS) [Suliman - Pigalle Wonder (Exalt)]
1986: Po Gyeong Seon (NZ) [Danseur Etoile - Leonotis (Lionhearted)] – with twenty wins from twenty-five starts, he is, along with Saegangja and J.S. Hold one of the three
1985: Po Gyeong Seon (NZ) [Danseur Etoile - Leonotis (Lionhearted)]
* Although this is the 32nd running of the Grand Prix, Korean racing records officially only go back to 1985.
* This is an updated version of a post that appeared on this blog in the build up to last year’s Grand Prix. And the year before and the year…etc.