It’s been a long time coming but last week, the Korea Racing Authority (KRA) announced the export of two racehorses to Malaysia. The colts, by Vicar and Exploit (with another to follow by Commendable) are the first Korean bred horses to be sold overseas for racing.
The export marks an important milestone for the Korean breeding industry which began in earnest in 1991. Before that, the vast majority of racehorses were imported from the Southern hemisphere or bred locally from a small number of mainly Japanese sires. Now, in addition to those mentioned above, Korea is also home to the likes of Menifee, Forest Camp, Pico Central and Officer while boasting state of the art Stud Farms both in Jeolla Province and on Jeju Island and many more private farms around the country.
With prize-money so high in Korea and with strict limits on the amounts Korean buyers can pay to import a racehorse bought at an overseas sale – $20,000 for colts and $40,000 for fillies – there is not a lot of incentive to sell a promising horse overseas, regardless of whether there is a market for it or not. However, the KRA have always made clear (at least in words if not actions) that their aim is to internationalize the Korean racing industry.
Moreover, if they can create a viable export industry, it is hoped that racing’s image will improve at home. The Korean casinos are (with one exception) only open to foreigners and regularly boast about how much money they generate from overseas. Korean racing is gambled on exclusively by Koreans and therefore is seen as a social problem in many quarters – not by the government, who greatly enjoy the revenues and not by the many social and agricultural initiatives that racing funds – but it still has a bad image.
There is nothing guaranteed to boost the industry in the eyes of Korean public opinion more than having a Korean product that foreigners want to buy.
The target is for fifty horses to be exported annually by 2020. This includes not only racehorses but also potential stallions and broodmares in foal. Initially the target markets are to be the Philippines and Macau, however, long-term no secret is made of the fact that the target is China.
No doubt it will have plenty of competition, but if and when – and in whichever form – betting on racing is legalized there, given its geographical proximity, the KRA plans to become a major supplier of reasonably priced thoroughbreds. It also stands ready to sell its highly developed racing IT infrastructure and other services.
Whether any of this will happen is open to question, although the wining and dining of potential foreign buyers is already taking place. The KRA often talks big on Internationalization but finds itself unable to follow through. Many stakeholders do extremely well out of Korean racing being essentially a closed-shop, both in and out. Nevertheless, this is a milestone of which those involved in bringing it about, will no doubt be proud.