Raptus finishes 2nd in Korea Sprint; Sekifu finishes 3rd in Korea Cup
On Sunday, Sept. 4, Seoul Raceourse once again hosted the Korea Sprint and Korea Cup, both international competitions over dirt boasting purses of KRW1 billion, with KRW550 million to each winner. The Korea Racing Association’s biggest event, the Grade 3 double returned following a pandemic-induced 2-year timeout.
Challengers from the U.K., Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan participated in the gala’s fifth edition, but this year both victories went to the home team, with victory denied the perennially unconquerable Japanese for their first time.
An approaching typhoon had turned the track heavy on raceday, but the skies held for both events. First up for Japan was the Masahiro Matsunaga-trained Raptus in the 1,200-meter Korea Sprint. Computer Patch, trained by Matthew Chadwick and runnerup in this year’s Grade 1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize, carried the flag for Hong Kong. Eight-time winner Celavi from the Michael Clements stable represented Singapore. The U.K. sent Michael Appleby’s Annaf, with the ride going to Jockey Kota Fujioka.
The Sprint, the seventh race on the card of 10, got under way at 15:35 local time over the wet ground. Raptus went off the favorite in the field of 12, with the 5-year-old Eoma Eoma close behind in the wagering.
Raptus, a 6-year-old gelding by Deep Brillante, made his way to the top under jockey Hideaki Miyuki. On the rail as the field turned out of the backstretch, Raptus was joined by Annaf, then by Eoma Eoma, who had quickly made his way up from the farthest gate under jockey Moon Se Young.
Still looking strong with 300 meters to go, Raptus held his lead against Eoma Eoma, but was eventually worn down a handful of strides out and beaten by half a length. Six lengths later, the 5-year-old mare Raon First followed in third, with another Korea native, the 4-year-old colt Daehan Jilju, in fourth. Computer Patch made the board a close fifth, with Annaf in seventh place.
“He was a bit worked up, as usual, but I thought it wasn’t too bad,” Jockey Miyuki, who has ridden all but three of Raptus’s 22 starts, said. “Heading into the homestretch, I thought we were going to win, but we weren’t able to pull away. In place, with just a little more, I do think we could have made it, but this time the others were strong.”
The 13-strong lineup for the 1,800-meter Korea Cup featured three overseas runners, one each from England (the Jane Chapple-Hyam-trained Intellogent), Hong Kong (Matthew Chadwick’s Kings Shield), and Japan.
Japan’s hope for its fourth win of the race was Sekifu, a 3-year-old son of Henny Hughes hailing from the Ritto stable of former jockey Koshiro Take. Already a seasoned traveler, Sekifu was runnerup in this year’s Grade 3 Saudi Derby and eighth in the Grade 2 UAE Derby. In June, he was a neck shy of winning the Grade 3 Unicorn Stakes over Tokyo dirt 1,600 meters.
The Japanese runner was once against the race favorite, with Raon the Fighter, at 10 for 12, and Korea Derby champ Winner’s Man filling the top three spots at the betting windows.
Off at 16:35 local time, Sekifu kept pace behind the front-running Raon the Fighter and looked strong until the turn for home. Winner’s Man, buffeted on both sides just out of the gate, had settled in toward the rear with three horses behind him and stayed there until beginning his drive turning out of the backstretch.
Gaining steadily up the outside under jockey Seo Seung Un, Winner’s Man was already within striking distance of the top as they straightened for home. Sekifu, who had a 2-kg advantage over the rest of the field, was unable to narrow the gap to Raon the Fighter, still out in first.
Winner’s Man continued to close and caught Sekifu at the 100-meter mark, then Raon the Fighter just three strides out to win by a length. Sekifu followed runnerup Raon the Fighter a length later in third.
“I could feel he was in good shape when I got on in the preparade ring,” Kota Fujioka, who partnered with Sekifu for the first time, said. “And, as I had imagined he would, he was able to get a smooth trip to the front from the gate. I had heard that his responses at the crucial moments were a bit slow and I could feel that, but he rallied and really gave it his all until the very end.”
The inaugural Korea Sprint in 2016 went to Hong Kong’s Super Jockey, with Japan-based horses winning in 2017 (Graceful Leap) and 2018 (Moanin). The first three editions of the Korea Cup were claimed by Japan runners, Chrysolite in 2016 and London Town in 2017 and 2018.
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