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Third Korean Autumn Carnival is an International Success

Third Korean Autumn Carnival is an International Success

South Korea might not be the first place you think of when it comes to international horse racing events, but then again, even just a few years ago, it would not have been near the top of many lists as an exporter of cars or popular music. Now, both Hyundai and K-Pop are taking their respective markets by storm.

This is a country that likes to forge its own path. Seoul actually had its first official horse race more than 100 years ago, but in this global media age, Korean racing has stated a very clear aim to become an international powerhouse over the coming years. The Korean Autumn Carnival is an important component in that strategy, and the third such festival, which took place earlier this month, built on the success of the first two years, which is truly starting to garner international recognition.

What is the Korean Autumn Carnival?

For those who didn’t catch it, the carnival ran over the weekend of 8-9 September. Like other festivals the world over, it comprised a weekend of back-to-back races, but the showcase events were the G1 Korea Sprint and Korea Cup. The events attracted the attention of the online horse racing community, not least because of the international flavour to the runners and riders.

Willie Mullins was flying the flag for Ireland, or at least his highly-fancied 6-year-old gelding Riven Light was. Following a great performance this summer with back-to-back victories in the Galway Festival last month, the horse made the long trip to Seoul to take part in the Korea Cup under local jockey Jo Sun Gong. Mullins himself was in attendance throughout the event. Meanwhile, five US-bred horses took part, as well as participants from Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, and of course, South Korea.

With such a stage set, it is perhaps unsurprising that the feature races in particular attracted so much attention. Both of the headline races were broadcast live in the US, and the At the Races channel showed the Korea Cup. This was the first time that a Korean horse race had ever been broadcast live in the UK, but it will certainly not be the last.

Online and TV coverage are, of course, important, but what really makes or breaks an event is real world attendance. The organisers made the shrewd decision to permit free entry to the racecourse for the entire carnival. One can imagine what would happen if this was the case at Cheltenham or Ascot, but keep in mind that this is still a growing sport battling to compete with the nation’s current baseball obsession. As it was, the attendance was just under 40,000. Perfect for exactly the right carnival atmosphere.

Cup Highlights

After all the hype and the enormous goodwill he generated in the run up to the event, everyone was disappointed that Riven Light was eased after a strong start. However, he fulfilled a wonderful ambassadorial role, and it seems likely that he will be back next year. The Korea Cup itself, though, was all about the defending title holder London Town. Last year, the Kazuya Makita-trained 5-year-old blew away the opposition, and while his performance was not quite as dominating as it was in 2017, it was obvious that he was the odds-on favourite for a reason.

Ridden by jockey Yasunari Iwata, he was hustled to the outside, where he settled in behind early front runner Cheongdam Dokki. Iwata made his move with 5 furlongs still to run, and while some onlookers wondered if he had broken too early, it soon became clear that he had everything under control. After he crossed the line, there was time for onlookers to go for a figurative comfort break and get themselves a coffee before second-place horse Dolkong came home 15 lengths behind.

It was a commanding performance, and perhaps the biggest surprise is that London Town has still not won a G1 race in his native Japan. Surely, however, that is only a matter of time, and he is one to watch for Asian racing fans.

And the Sprint?

The other feature race was far more closely contested. US-bred and Japanese-owned Moanin ultimately crossed the line in front after a neck-and-neck battle with the 2016 Korea Cup winner Chrysolite.

Perhaps the biggest cheer, however, was for the Hong Kong-bred Fight Hero. The crowd favourite has a reputation for being an unpredictable and troublesome starter, so the decision to give him the widest starting gate was met with a mixture of approval and derision. Ultimately, he ran a solid race under Derek Leung, at one point looking to challenge for the lead, and finishing a creditable third.

Looking Forward to Next Year

After just its third year, the Korean Autumn Carnival is becoming a landmark date on the calendar. It is one of those festivals that will just get bigger and better with each passing year, and 2019 cannot come soon enough.

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