Cheongu set to become first South Korean runner to compete at Dubai World Cup Carnival

Cheongu is one of just eight runners in Dh404,000 contest, one of three dirt races open to thoroughbreds on opening night of carnival at Meydan Racecourse.

Meydan Racecourse is all set to host the Dubai World Cup Carnival. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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South Korea are not regular players on the international stage but the Asian country will take a huge step forward on Thursday night when Cheongu becomes the first Korean runner at Meydan Racecourse.

Despite 18 initial entries to the Longines Conquest Classic Gents Moon Phases Handicap over 1,200 metres Cheongu is one of just eight runners in the US$110,000 (Dh404,000) contest, one of three dirt races open to thoroughbreds on the opening night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival.

South Korea secured gold in the baseball at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, KJ Choi and YE Yang have been making waves in golf for several years and following the 2011 announcement that the 2018 Winter Olympics will be held in Pyeongchang, Korea has been making a mark in snowsports, too.

It is their run to the semi-finals, however, in the 2002 Fifa World Cup that stands out like a beacon in the Korean sporting landscape.

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Should Cheongu run creditably under Royston Ffrench and rally all the way to World Cup night on March 26, Dr Seungho Ryu believes that the whole country will stand up and take notice.

“It has been a dream of mine, and finally that dream has come true,” the International Races Manager of the Korea Racing Authority said.

“It would be silly of me to say now that Cheongu will be good enough for Dubai World Cup night, but if he could just get there it would be like the Korean football team making the World Cup semi-finals.”

Dubai has welcomed runners from the likes of India, Greece, Bahrain, Macau and Turkey in the past and Korea will become the 28th racing jurisdiction to have a runner at this most international of Carnivals.

Cheongu is not alone in making the trip, either, and Success Story will be the first horse bred in Korea to run in Dubai when he takes his chance in a handicap on January 21.

Cheongu has won five of his eight starts in Korea but has travelled before when finishing out of the places both at Kranji in Singapore in July and in Ohi in Japan in October.

Between those races he was third in the Asia Challenge Cup at Seoul to Choegang Schiller, one of Korea’s best horses, and El Padrino, a Singaporean sprinter who was fourth in the Dubai Golden Shaheen in March.

Cheongu is trained by Inseok Seo, who was promoted from assistant trainer five years ago while Success Story is handled by Jang G Min, a former pony trainer who took advantage of the Korean Racing Authority opening up their training licences.

Cheongu is not among the top 100 horses based in Seoul, while Success Story was ranked only the 10th best horse in Busan, the only other racecourse in Korea. Both courses boast sand tracks that race slower than Meydan’s dirt surface.

“We nominated three horses for the Carnival but only these two were accepted, even though we offered travel subsidies,” Ryu said.

“For Class One races in Korea we have prize money over $100,000 so a lot of owners were hesitant about sending over their horses, especially in the middle of our season.

“If one of the horses could win it would shock a lot of Korean owners. We want to encourage owners to race here under the Korean national flag.”

If Korean prize-money is higher than expected, the state of their bloodstock industry is in better health than you might imagine, also.

Their top sire last year was Menifee, the 1999 Grade 1 Haskell Invitational winner. Second in the list was Ecton Park, who was fifth in the 2000 Dubai World Cup behind Dubai Millennium. Other star names include Hansen, the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and Any Given Saturday, the winner of the 2007 Haskell.

Much like the Jinma Lake project that finally got off the ground in Chengdu, China in April 2014 the presence of Cheongu and Success Story is the culmination of over two years work by Seungho at establishing a quarantine protocol for getting horses both to Dubai and perhaps back again for the $1 million Korea Cup in September.

The Dubai Racing Club’s Martin Talty hopes that the Korean horses can open up a new market for the Carnival by running well at Meydan.

“Racing in Korea is huge,” the international department of the Dubai Racing Club said. “Good horses can come from anywhere.

“You can’t say what they are capable of and that is the beauty of it. It would be massive for racing both in Dubai and in Korea if one of them won and it would reverberate around the world as international racing would benefit.”

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