This decade there have only been four different President’s Cup winners. From 2010 to 2012, the great Dangdae Bulpae monopolised the race. Indie Band and Gyeongbudaero then each took a turn in the winner’s circle before Triple Nine won the first of what would be four straight successes in 2015.
There will be a new name on the trophy this year. Now aged seven, Triple Nine is back in training but he hasn’t made the starting gate and instead sixteen horses will vie to succeed him in winning the President’s Cup (KOR G1-2000M), the nation’s richest age-open race for Korean-bred horses at Seoul Racecourse on Sunday afternoon.
It’s a deep field. The last two Korean Derby winners, Ecton Blade and Wonderful Fly, are present but both will be outsiders in a bunch headed by Simjangui Godong. The three-year-old ran 2nd in the Derby and 6th in the Minister’s Cup but has since embarked on a purple patch of three wins including the Ilgan Sports and HRI Trophies.
Jockey Moon Se Young had more than one option but ultimately plumped for Simjangui Godong. However, a heavy fall on Saturday that landed him in hospital, seems likely to rule him out of the mount and a chance of winning one of the few elite races still to elude him.
Simjangui Godong, picture Korea Racing Authority
Speaking after Thursday’s barrier draw, Moon had been bullish about Simjangui Godong’s chances and excited to ride a horse on whose sire, Jigeum I Sungan, he finished 3rd in the race in 2013. “I rode his sire in this race. We didn’t win it, but he was a great horse and I would love to win on his son. He’s a good horse, so it’s down to me. He’s so good that we can overcome even one mistake – obviously if we make more, it will be difficult”.
In gate 5, Simjangui Godong also has the plum draw. “In the President’s Cup, it’s so hard to win if you’re not within the inside 10. Gate 5 is perfect”, said Moon. Should Moon not make the race, a replacement rider has yet to be confirmed.
New Legend hasn’t quite lived up to his early promise. A Korea bred, he spent the early part of his career in the United States, even winning at Arlington Park, and for his first few outings back home looked unstoppable. The he hit the elite level and things haven’t been so easy with his latest being a disappointing run in the Keeneland Korea Cup (KOR G1).
This time though, New Legend faces only domestically-bred rivals and Kim Uk, assistant trainer to Kim Young-kwan, believes better is to come. “There is a myth that Menifee’s progeny aren’t good around 2000M or further, but we know that’s not true after Gyeongbudaero and Power Blade (both Grand Prix Stakes winner at 2300M). But we heard it again after New Legend was beaten (in May’s YTN Cup). We think he’s ready. After the Korea Cup he had a bit of a rest then we brought him back and started training him early with this in mind. We put him through a trial, and he went really well, and we think he is a chance here.”
Another serious chance is New Legend’s stablemate Captain Force. The four-year-old, by Peace Rules, is a winner of nine from twenty so far, but last raced in June. That doesn’t concern jockey Lee Hyo-sik. “He has been out a while and we initially wanted him to run once before this race, but we trialled him and felt he wasn’t ready so went back to training. We trialled him again at the beginning of October and were really happy with him so decided to come straight here. He did his fast work on Thursday and he was excellent. He’s exactly where we want him to be.”
Busan’s strong challenge is fortified by Final Energy. The Testa Matta gelding ran 5th behind Blue Chipper in the Keeneland Korea Sprint (KOR G1) in September but showed his staying credentials when beating fellow contender here Toham Ace in a strong race over 1800M five weeks ago.
Jockey Lim Sung-sil won this race on Indie Band in 2013 and likes what he sees in Final Energy. “It’s his first time around 2000M so we’ve been working on his stamina. He’s got good gate speed so I wasn’t worried about the draw although getting gate 7 is great, we just have to make sure he sees out the whole race. If he does that then he’s right in there. He travelled well, has eaten well and he likes it at Seoul – the stable here is bigger!”
There are plenty of other contenders too. Among the three-year-olds, Minister’s Cup winner Rock Choice takes his chance while top filly Clear Geom will also be in the gate. Among older contenders, the prolific winner Dokdo Jigi, a winner of eight from eleven lifetime starts, returns to action for the first time in five months and while he was given an easy time in a barrier trial last week, has plenty of quality about him. As for foreign interest, Thomas Gillespie saddles Toham Ace while Richard Oliver rides Ecton Blade and Ioannis Poullis gets the big leg-up on New Legend.
The President’s Cup is race 9 on an 11-race Sunday card at Seoul Racecourse.