At first glance, Thursday's 3RD-race triumph by the David Braddy-trained Feel So Good appeared to be little more than a non-descript midweek maiden-claiming victory at Calder, but the tremors that emanated from that win were felt from south Florida to east Asia as the gelding made Korean racing history by becoming the first Korean-bred horse to win a race outside its homeland.
"There were five of us from Korea that were here watching the race," said Byung-un Ko, a representative of the Korean Racing Authority (KRA) Racing Management Team. "We really didn't expect the horse to win, but as soon as we knew he did, we started hugging David (Braddy) and thanking him, and we called the KRA to tell them. Then we sent all the pictures and videos to South Korea to release the news to the papers and television stations.
"I haven't been back to experience how big the story was, but the guys I spoke to at home said it was huge news, and that all the people were very happy for what had happened. And I can tell you that when I posted the news on my Facebook page, people replied that we had made history."Korean racing dates back to the early 1900s, but the nation's raid on international racing is a relatively new endeavor, evolving from a spirit that appears both pioneering and sporting in nature.
"We started racing in Korea around 1922, but we didn't send horses overseas until a few years ago," Ko explained. "The reason that changed was because we wanted to find out how our racing had developed over the years; we simply wanted to see how our horses compared to the American horses and we wanted to challenge ourselves."
The first horse sent from Korea to the United States was Pick Me Up, a winner of seven races and approximately $450,000 in his native land who traveled from the Asian continent in 2008 to compete in races at Delaware Park, Charles Town and Laurel Park, where he found little success in just three starts.
"That horse was a good horse at home, and we thought he would be successful in America," Ko said of Pick Me Up. "But he didn't have any good results in his races and was sent back to Korea. We were bothered by this, so we set out to find the reason why our horses could not beat the American horses. We wanted to find out if it was a training problem or the horse's problem.
"So this time, even though Feel So Good is a Korean horse, we had him in the U.S. since he was young, and the horse learned to race here and was taught by American trainers," Ko said. "I think maybe we found out that the problem is not the horse."
Feel So Good first shipped to Calder in August 2011, and after his seven-length win on Thursday, which came in his third career start, the gelding will depart the Braddy barn Sunday morning to begin a lengthy return trip to Korea that will eventually lead to the sales ring where the KRA will seek a private owner for the horse.
"In our country, the KRA doesn't own any racing horses," Ko said. "But this case was a special exception because it was viewed as an experiment. And it was already decided that the horse would go back whether or not he won or lost the race (on Thursday). So he'll leave Calder tomorrow, spend 10 days in quarantine, and then go back to Korea where we plan on selling the horse. We are hopeful that the selling price will set a new record."
While the KRA will no longer have ownership of Feel So Good when the gelding returns to Korea, the silks worn in Thursday's race by winning jockey Manoel Cruz, inscribed with the KRA logo, will forever link the two.
"This win is a very memorable and important thing for us," Ko said. "So after the race, the KRA called me and ordered me to bring the jockey colors back as soon as possible. When I get back to Korea, we will put those colors up in our racing museum, along with the photos that Calder and its photographer were kind enough to give to us."
Despite the impending departure of Feel So Good, the Braddy barn will retain a certain amount of Korean feel to it over the next month as prospective trainers Hee-jin Yang and Min-Sung Gu, who arrived with Ko from Korea this past week, are scheduled to stay for a one-month apprenticeship.
"Our racing society has always been kind of conservative, but these days we are trying to do international things," Ko explained. "We try to send jockeys all over the world, we just won a race in the U.S. with one of our horses, and now these two new trainers will stay to learn how to manage a stable.
"And even though we haven't decided yet if we will send more horses back to the United States, I think we will be happy to send more. We believe that Mr. Braddy is one of the leading trainers in Florida, and I think that in the future we'll do more business with him and with Calder."