By Jon Lees
New ground will be broken at this year’s Breeders’ Cup, with the international racing event set to attract its first ever runner from South Korea.
By winning seven of his eight career starts, Blue Chipper has been championed as potentially the best horse ever trained in his home country.
He will travel from Seoul to Santa Anita this week, having been pre-entered for the Dirt Mile – in which he is set to be ridden by this year’s Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Flavien Prat.
Blue Chipper’s enterprising owner Choi Byeong-bu and trainer Kim Young-kwan decided to explore the possibility of the four-year-old running at the Breeders’ Cup – after exhausting suitable opportunities at home.
By dual-Classic winner Tiznow out of a Dixie Union mare, the Kentucky-bred made a winning debut as a juvenile but then missed most of his three-year-old campaign because of injury.
When he returned to action in April this year he won by 13 lengths – and after two more victories, he captured the Busan Owners’ Cup, a local Group Three, by 10 lengths in a track-record time.
He recorded his latest victory in the six-furlong Keeneland Korea Sprint, a local Group One, overcoming a wide draw and an international field to become the country’s first winner of the £650,000 prize, which will be shown live on Sky Sports Racing.
Seungho Ryu, the Korean Racing Authority’s international manager, will travel to America with the horse.
He said: “After the Korea Sprint, connections said that they knew Blue Chipper was Breeders’ Cup-registered and they wanted to explore the possibility of trying something that hadn’t been done before – and to run on a bigger stage.
“They felt that the Sprint there would be too short for him, and he hasn’t raced at further than a mile, so the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile looked ideal.
“We believe our very best horses can hold their own at Group Three level internationally, and we think that Blue Chipper could be better than that.
“We don’t yet know how good he is or can be, which is one big reason for wanting to go and find out. If he adapts to the surface, then we think he can be very competitive.”
Korean-trained horses have raced overseas in Japan, Singapore and the UAE.
The most notable so far has been Dolkong, who won a Listed handicap at this year’s Dubai Carnival before contesting the Dubai World Cup.
Dora Delgado, Breeders’ Cup executive vice-president, racing & nominations, said: “We were put in contact with a representative from the KRA in September, who indicated they had an owner very interested in running in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
“We’ve been in constant contact with the KRA, the owner and trainer over the last few weeks – arranging all the details and making sure their first Breeders’ Cup World Championships will be an event they will enjoy and will want to return to again and again.
“We are really thrilled to have participation from Korea. This marks a first for us – and although Korea will not take our wagering signal at this time, perhaps this will open a path forward to expanding that opportunity for future events.
“Having runners not only from Europe but Korea, Japan and South America puts the ‘world’ in the championships.
“Our international athletes are making a tremendous effort to get to California, and we will make sure they know how much we appreciate them all.”