Korea Cup, Sprint run without Japanese horsesKorean horses won big on Sunday, taking the titles for both the Korea Cup and Korea Sprint, the country’s only races in which international horses compete against homegrown and trained horses.
The two races offered the most prize money in the entire racing calendar, a whopping 1 billion won ($820,000) purse for each. It was the fourth year for both the Cup and Sprint races.
The winners of both the Cup and the Sprint took prizes of 570,000,000 won. By comparison, the winner of the most famous race in the world, the Kentucky Derby, receives $1.24 million. So these once-a-year international races in Korea have become extremely lucrative.
Horses from countries such as the United States, Britain, France and Hong Kong flew in to compete. Conspicuously absent were Japanese competitors, which have monopolized both races since their establishment.
In a statement on its website, the Korean Racing Authority (KRA) said it “regrets that it is unable to invite Japan-trained horses to participate in this year’s Korea Cup and Korea Sprint.”
“As many of you [are] aware, tensions between Korea and Japan have escalated rapidly since this August,” the statement read.
“Thereafter the diplomatic crisis has sparked widespread anger in Korea, which affected the KRA with respect to the Korea Cup and Korea Sprint. With public sentiment hardening, we are left with no choice but not to invite Japan-trained horses for this year’s races.”
The decision not to invite Japanese horses this year goes against the reason the races were initially started in 2016.
The KRA, which is the sole racing authority in Korea and is under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, says it established the Korea Cup and Korea Sprint to offer world class races to entertain Korean racing fans; encourage the development of racing as a sporting event and leisure activity in Korea; and provide Korean-trained horses with an opportunity to test themselves against competitive overseas horses. Japanese runners have proven they are the most competitive by winning and placing over the history of both races.
The 1,800-meter Korea Cup has been won by a Japanese horse every year, including the incongruously named London Town, trained by Kazuya Makita, who won both last year and in 2017. Last year, London Town beat Dolkong, a Korean horse.
Japanese horses have also won the 1,200-meter Korea Sprint for the past two years.
And it seemed the absence of Japanese competitors worked in favor of the Korean runners, who dominated the final standings. Moonhak Chief became the first locally trained horse to win the Cup, while Blue Chipper took the title for the Sprint. Korean horses finished second in both races and third in the Sprint.
The races have also played an important role in Korea’s promotion from a Grade 3-ranked country by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) to a Grade 2-ranked country.
When asked if this year’s exclusion of Japanese runners would have an effect on those rankings, a spokesperson for the KRA told the Korea Joongang Daily “that will be for the Asian Pattern Committee and International Grading and Race Planning Advisory Committee to decide. We will accept their decision.”
While the racing authority said it regretted the decision, the spokesperson said it was not worried that it would affect future races and were looking forward to welcoming back Japanese runners in the future.
“The KRA would like to express deep regret to the Japanese connections that entered horses in the races. We extend this regret to racing fans who expected the Korea Cup and the Korea Sprint to have greater diversity,” the statement read.
This is not the first sporting event affected by the ongoing tensions with Japan, which stem from a row over historical issues.
Some ruling Democratic Party lawmakers have even gone so far as to call for a Korean boycott of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, claiming concerns about radioactive contamination.
The Korean Sport & Olympic Committee issued a statement saying it will not boycott the Tokyo Olympics, and that sentiment was echoed by Seoul’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on Monday, which confirmed Korea “will participate in the Olympics” next year.
The friction between the neighboring countries began after Tokyo put trade restrictions on exports to Korea in July, which many saw as a retaliatory measure following the Korean Supreme Court’s decision last year ordering Japanese companies to compensate Korean victims of forced labor during World War II.
While the threat of an Olympic boycott seems increasingly unlikely, the banning of Japanese horses from competing in this year’s Korea Cup and Sprint clearly signals that the ongoing tensions are having a much farther reach than even the diplomatic and economic arenas.
BY ALANNAH HILL [email@example.com]