12/05/2016 3:10PM

Korea raising its profile

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Barbara D. Livingston
Grade 1 winner Take Charge Indy will stand at Jeju Stud Farm in South Korea.

The Korean racing and breeding industry is headed into 2017 with momentum after a year of significant accomplishments.

In the past 12 months, Korea was elevated into Part II of the International Cataloguing Standards Book; sent its first runners to the Breeders’ Cup and the Dubai Carnival; hosted the inaugural Korea Cup meeting in association with Keeneland; found increased purchasing power at major sales; and imported a number of prominent stallions to bolster its stock.

Korean owners and breeders have placed a premium on American stock to build their industry because racing in their country is conducted exclusively on dirt due to frequent wet weather. Thus, they’ve come to shop the U.S. yearling sales and have brought U.S.-based stallions to stand in that country. Nine American-bred stallions appeared among Korea’s top 10 general sires of 2015, led by dual classic-placed Menifee, who has stood overseas since the 2007 season.

The recent acquisition of well-bred Grade 1 winner Take Charge Indy, who will stand at Jeju Stud Farm in South Korea after beginning his stud career at WinStar Farm, represents a significant move for Korea, perhaps the nation’s most important import since juvenile champion Hansen, by leading sire Tapit, for the 2014 season. Take Charge Indy, who scored his signature win in the Florida Derby and won or placed in six other graded stakes, is by breed-shaping sire A.P. Indy and is out of Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady, also the dam of champion Will Take Charge.

“The [Korean Racing Authority] has had strong interest in the horse, and they simply made an offer that was too good to turn down,” WinStar president and chief executive Elliott Walden said. “Take Charge Indy is a great-looking son of A.P. Indy, and he’s been given a terrific shot, with three large WinStar crops in the pipeline. We wish the KRA the best of luck with him, and the good news is we have the option to bring him back to America in the future.”

The buy caps an active year for Korea in the stallion market. In the last 12 months, the country also acquired Metropolitan Handicap winner Divine Park, the sire of multiple Grade 1 winner Lady Eli; multiple Grade 1 winner Colonel John; and graded/group stakes winners Old Fashioned and Plan.

Korean interests also have increased purchasing power as they shop for mares to support the new stallions. For many years, their activity at U.S. sales was curtailed because the national government, which regulates Thoroughbred industry activities, imposed a price limit for imported horses. With racing on the rise in the country, those restrictions are soon to be eliminated, and buyers have been more active and at higher levels as a result.

“[Relations with] the Koreans are something we’ve been working on for many years,” Keeneland’s Geoffrey Russell said after Korean interests spent more than $1 million on 33 horses at the Keeneland September yearling sale. “They came in first and bought quantity because they needed horses. Now, they have enough horses, and they have stallions. They’re moving up their program dramatically. They’re building a new racetrack there at the moment.

“They are trying to become a major player, and they need more quality horses. So, they’re going to be slowly moving up the food chain.”

In all, various Korean interests purchased 70 horses for $1,797,200 at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale. The group was led by the $100,000 mare Memories of Mystic, in foal to Bodemeister; the Dixie Union mare is the dam of stakes winners Mystic Love and Bridget’s Big Luvy.

Future Korean-bred and -trained runners are likely to get their chance at international competition after an ambitious 2016 for the program. Earlier this fall, KRA Stud Farm’s J. S. Choice started in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, finishing 13th. According to Breeders’ Cup statistics, the Kentucky-bred colt was believed to be the first starter for Korean interests in a Breeders’ Cup race.

J. S. Choice, a 2015 Keeneland September yearling purchase, was not exported to Korea, as most of the outfit’s purchases are, but remained in the U.S. and was sent to Todd Pletcher. The colt was second in the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park to punch his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup.

J. S. Choice races under the banner of the KRA Stud Farm and is the only starter in North America in that stable name. KRA Stable has appeared more frequently but still sparsely. In 28 starts on this continent, the latter has one win – Feel So Good took a maiden claimer in September 2012 at Calder to become the first South Korean-bred to win a race outside of his native country.

Korea also caused a stir when it started its first two horses at the Dubai Carnival at Meydan earlier this year. Korean-bred Success Story, by Peace Rules, finished third in a pair of handicap races, the latter of which was won easily by California Chrome in his local prep for his Dubai World Cup win. Cheongu, a Kentucky-bred Old Fashioned colt, finished fifth and ninth in a pair of handicap races.