searching for unique irish double in seoul
THIS week has consisted of an unusually diverse international experience for me. On Monday, I headed west to sample Ballinrobe's unique charms for a couple of run-of-the-mill mounts that failed to make much of an impact.
Less than 24 hours later, I was en route east -- to Korea. I landed in Seoul on Wednesday ahead of this weekend's International Jockeys Invitational Challenge. I'm not accustomed to globetrotting, so it's nice to be involved in such an exclusive event. The chance came about courtesy of Irish Thoroughbred Marketing (ITM), which organised the trip in co-operation with the Korean Racing Authority.
Jim Bolger, with whom I have been based since May and who is in the midst of the busiest time of his year, made my decision to accept the invitation very easy. He simply told me if I wanted to do it, he had no objection, so here I am.
Along with a delegation from Turkey, South Africa, Australia, Japan and Malaysia, I will represent Ireland in a two-race test against the local jockeys on tomorrow and Sunday. No matter what you do, it is a privilege to be able to represent your country, so I am especially grateful to ITM for giving me the opportunity.
Yesterday morning was the first time that I set foot on the racecourse in Seoul. The racing officials went through the rules and regulations with all of us and thankfully there were no surprises in store on that front.
We then sat down to lunch at what is one of the most stunning racecourses you will ever see. Seoul is just an unbelievable venue, so I can't wait for the activity to get under way tomorrow.
The track is a dirt one rather than turf and I am due to get my first taste of it at around 6.0 this morning when I am scheduled to exercise a few horses for a local trainer. Getting a feel of the circuit and the surface will be vital ahead of tomorrow.
The Invitational was meant to be a four-legged event, but two of the races didn't have enough entries, so it had to be reduced by half. With fewer chances, then, points are going to be at a premium, and knowledge of the course could prove crucial.
After lunch yesterday, the draws were made for the two races. However, at the time of writing, I still have absolutely no idea what my prospects are -- suffice to say my Korean is not what it might be!
I'll do my research in the meantime, though, and the racing officials that I have been dealing with here will no doubt help me on that score. From the moment I touched down at the airport on Wednesday afternoon, everyone has been extremely helpful.
My girlfriend Sarah and I are staying at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Seoul. A representative from the hotel met us at the arrivals gate and everyone we have dealt with since then has simply wanted to please. That has made us both feel so relaxed. And the city is just incredible, with the population said to be about 10 million. When you look out the window of the hotel, you get some idea of just how massive it is.
The traffic is frantic all night long, and the views of the mountains in the distance make for a surreal landscape. It is a long way removed from what I'd be used to, although Sarah has had no trouble familiarising herself with the city's famous shopping markets.
Anyway, I am here to win races, and it would be great to secure the title for a first time for Ireland. Wayne Lordan, Pat Shanahan and Niall McCullagh have all taken part in the Invitational in recent years without much luck, so maybe we are due some.
Given that it is a similar sort of concept to the Shergar Cup that the Irish team won at Ascot last week, it would be a real coup if we could make it a quick double. Stranger things have happened, I reckon.
For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend, check out www.goracing.ie