Korea’s Sport of Kings

Written by on November 28, 2011 in Lifestyle

Thunder is the only word that can describe it. The low, pounding roar that begins in the distance and slowly grows as the storm approaches. Looking up into the clear, blue skies one will not see any dark clouds; but rather the galloping hooves of the dozen thoroughbreds racing along the rail, battling for fist place. This is where the action is. This is Korean horse racing.

“It has been more than 80 years since modern horse racing was introduced in Korea. Throughout its history, Korean horse racing has seen many achievements, including the enaction of the KRA laws, the construction of three race parks, the hosting of two Asian Race Conferences and the inclusion to PART III of the International Cataloging Standards,” states Kwang Won Kim, Chairman and CEO of the Korean Racing Association (KRA). “The Racing Industry,” he continues, “in Korea has been developed rapidly of the past decade, and as of 2007, overall attendance figures have exceeded 21 million.”

Those in Korea can view these live racing events each weekend at one of Korea’s three horse racing establishments: Seoul Racecourse Park, in Busan, or Jeju. Seoul’s Racecourse Park is located right on Line Number 4 and averages 10-12 races every Saturday and Sunday (with opportunities to view concurrent races on Korea’s other two tracks). The Gwacheon Racecourse was built as part of the 1988 Olympics and weekly races began at the facility in 1989. Despite hosting races for more than 20 years, admission remains a paltry 800원.

Once inside the gates, two grandstands await spectators: Happyville and Luckyville. When filled, these facilities will hold close to 80,000 individuals. On an average race day, the numbers are less, but navigating through the smoky hallways will require some finesse, as many avid participants roam back and forth between the betting cages, parade grounds and track. While most of the materials are printed in Korean, those seeking assistance in English, Chinese, and Japanese are in luck. Visiting Luckyville’s fourth floor Information Desk will provide instructions and betting forms in those languages.

There’s no shortage of food either. Both grandstands are filled with convenience stops as well as a number of restaurants. In fact, it is possible to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner inside the gates. A tunnel leading from the car park to the center of track will take one to the Family Park. This area was created especially for the young ones. Race simulators, playgrounds, and scenic paths can provide hours of enjoyment.

Simply watching the races is fun. But actually participating in the sport provides a thrill like nothing else. Looking at the race information, a choice must be made on one or more horses. In all, six different kinds of bets can be made:

Win – Pick the horse that will finish first.
Place – Pick a horse that will finish in the top three (or top two if there are less than eight horses running).
Exacta – Pick two horses. Specify with horse will finish first and second – in that order. This is a very popular bet. Most will chose one horse to win and then place several bets with varying second place horses.
Quinella – Pick two horses to finish first or second in any order.
Quninella Place – Pick two horses. Win if they finish in the top three in any order.
Trio – Pick three horses. Win if they finish in the top three in any order.

Each race lasts less than 2 minutes and provides gripping excitement. Once the bell rings, the steeds gallop out from the starting gate. The announcer feverishly calls out the numbers and places when the horses pass each marker. When the jockeys turn their massive beats around the last corner, everyone jumps to their feet, shouting for their horse, hoping that their words of encouragement will spur them on to victory… until at last the horses cross the finish line.


Address: Gyeonggi-do Gwacheon-si Juam-dong 685
Phone: +82-2-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese); For more info +82-1566-3333 (Korean)
Web: www.kra.co.kr (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
Operating Hours: 09:30 ~ 17:30
Admission Fee: Racing day – 800 won (Free non-racing days).
Directions: Get off at Seoul Racecourse Station (Seoul Subway Line 4) and go out through exit 3.

About the Author

Steve Miller

Steve Miller, the QiRanger, is Korea’s best-known travel video blogger-journalist. His videos have been viewed by millions and seen on media outlets in throughout the word. In addition to sharing his entertaining and informative videos, he writes about life abroad and releases a popular podcast. Steve appears regularly on international radio stations, talking about travel, Korean culture and East Asian news. He’s also appeared on Arirang Television sharing unique aspects of Korean life. You can follow Steve on Twitter @QiRanger or visit his site QiRanger.com.