Hong Kong hopes of Korean big-race glory sank in the Seoul sand on Sunday.
Glorious Artist ran best of the two Sha Tin-based challengers, running an honest fourth in the KOR G1 Korea Cup (1800m), while Ugly Warrior’s legs laboured to 13th in the KOR G1 Korea Sprint (1200m).
Glorious Artist was trainer Frankie Lor’s first runner outside of Hong Kong and the G1-winning handler was satisfied to take home a fourth-place prize cheque.
“I’m happy, it’s better than nothing! I think it’s ok for my first time overseas,” he said.
The Zoffany gelding was able to stalk the lead from his rail-side starting berth, thanks to a slackening of pace following a frenetic charge to the first turn. Moonhak Chief made a race-winning skirt to the lead half-way down the back and when he kicked for glory off the home turn, the Hong Kong challenger was short of zip.
“He’s not a horse that picks up quickly when you ask him, he just keeps trying – he’s a little bit one-paced,” Lor said after the five-year-old had boxed on to finish six and three-quarter lengths behind the winner.
“He’s not used to a left-hand turn and he was coming here after a month off – if he’d had a run before coming here that would have been better,” Lor added.
Ho, too, was content with the effort.
“He ran well all things considering,” he said. “He handled the track ok – it is still so deep so there wasn't the turn-of-foot like there is in Hong Kong for him.
“We got off the fence like we wanted to. The pace came out of the race, so the one down the outside took off. We still travelled ok but when they were hunting at the 600 to 700 metres, I thought, if I followed, he wouldn't finish, so all things considering, he did well.”
Blue Chipper, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Moonhak Chief scored for trainer Kim Soon Keun and jockey Moon Se Young, and led home fellow Korean runner Cheongdam Dokki. It was Korea’s first win in its biggest contest, Japan having dominated in past years with Chrysolite (2016) and London News (2017 & 2018).
One race earlier, with a contingent of more than 90 connections on course to cheer on the two Hong Kong raiders, Ugly Warrior went to post a warm market leader. But the writing was on the wall from the off: Ho had to scrub the Me Tsui-trained galloper from gate 12 to find an early berth just off the front rank – his arms never stopped pumping.
The gelding’s prominence was short-lived. By the time the victorious Blue Chipper hit the front exiting the home turn, Ugly Warrior was long since done, backpedalling to finish more than 16 lengths 13th.
“He didn’t handle it,” Tsui said, as Ho dismounted the chestnut.
Seoul’s tough kickback was a pre-race concern but Ho felt that his mount handled that potential hindrance just fine.
“The surface was too loose and too deep,” he explained. “The track is wet, which actually helped a little, it’s a bit firmer than it would be usually. He didn’t mind the kick-back, he just didn’t pick up.
“They were very quick and I had to push him out all the way. It was his first time left-handed and when they took the corner, he lost a little bit of balance and I had to track him back.”
Blue Chipper gave Korea its first win in the race. Hong Kong’s Super Jockey won the inaugural contest in 2016, while Japan’s Graceful Leap and Moanin won the past two editions.
Jockey You Hyun Myung drove the Kim Young Kwan-trained winner to a length and a quarter win over Dia Socks, with Gaon Champ third as Korean runners filled the first seven places.