Jeju Race Park opened in 1990. Located 15 kilometres south of Jeju City on the North side of Mount Halla, it’s the smallest of the three tracks with two small grandstands – like at Seoul, the older one is called “Happyville” and the newer one is called “Luckyville”, surrounded by parkland. The unique thing about Jeju is that instead of thoroughbred racing, it plays host to Pony racing.
The Jeju Native Pony – “dedicated as National Monument No. 347” according to the KRA – is one of the symbols of Jeju Island. Jeju has long been renowned in this particular part of Asia for its horses. During the 13th and 14th centuries, Jeju was ruled by the Mongols who supposedly introduced their own horses and the practice of selective breeding with the native horses to produce the distinctive Jeju pony which is exceptionally strong for its size and has excellent resistance to extreme weather conditions.
Horse breeding became a major industry on Jeju during subsequent centuries with pony numbers on the island reaching an estimated 20,000. During the 20th century, however, the demand for working horses dwindled and by the 1980’s the Korean government estimated there to only be 2500 left. It was at this time that the government gave the Jeju pony “National Monument” status and started to look for ways to ensure their preservation. It was then that the KRA stepped in with the idea to race them and built the track and stables for 500 horses.
One of Jeju’s main industries remains horse breeding as as well as the ponies, the vast majority of Korea’s thoroughbred stallions are based on the island with prominant private operations being Pegasus Farm and Isidore Farm (home to stallions Yehudi and Ecton Park) as well as the KRA’s own massive Jeju Stud Farm.
Racing at Jeju takes place every Friday and Saturday (some exceptions). Start time is usually around Midday with on average 9-10 races each day. The races are shorter than those at Seoul and Busan. The track itself is only 1600 metres around and very few races are longer than this distance. Most races are 900 or 1000 metres but it is not uncommon to see sprints of just 400 metres.
There are two types of race; one is designated “Jeju” which is for Jeju ponies and the other is “Halla” which is a type of Jeju/thoroughbred cross. These are larger and faster than the ponies.
There are 36 jockeys attached to the Jeju course, including Na Yu Na, who holds the record for most wins by a female jockey in Korea. The champion jockey in 2014 was Jeon Hyun Joon with 79 wins.
Entry to the track is 2000 won with T-Money card or cash ticket. Jeju is perhaps the most foreigner friendly of the three Korean racecourses with a dedicated “Foreigner Lounge” on the 3rd floor of the New Grandstand.