Koreans put money on Maryland mounts Exports: An Ellicott City firm is in the middle of efforts to send thoroughbreds from Maryland and nearby states to South Korea in an effort to improve its racing industry.

Horse Racing

April 06, 1997|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

One of these days, a Maryland race horse could be setting records in South Korea.

That's the vision of Maryland agriculture officials and S&K Trading and Consulting Co. of Ellicott City as they work on an export deal that will send horses bred in Maryland and nearby states to South Korea to help build that country's horse racing industry.

"When they approached me about buying race horses to stock the Korean program, I said, 'You're in the right place at the right time. Search no more,' " said Errol Small, chief of international marketing with the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Small took a delegation of South Korean breeders, owners and trainers to meet their Maryland counterparts at Laurel, Timonium and Pimlico race tracks and to thoroughbred horse farms in the state.

"After they saw everything, they said they'd seen a number of horses they'd like to talk about," Small said.

Eighty-seven horses, including 17 from Maryland, will be flown to South Korea on April 14. The horses were acquired by S&K

thanks to a revolving $750,000 loan from Key Bank and Trust in Owings Mills.

"We were turned down by six banks," said Jay Bang, an S&K vice president. "Key Bank took a risk on us and made it possible."

Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Lewis R. Riley sees this "as the first step in developing a long-term relationship with Korean buyers which will benefit farmers in Maryland and throughout the nTC mid-Atlantic region," calling it a perfect example of "private-public sector cooperation."

The April 14 shipment will be the first of four this year that will

bring in $4.2 million. And Bang said next year horses from the area will be exported every 1 1/2 months in a $12 million program. In 1999, income is expected to reach $22 million.

And it will be a new lease on life for the horses involved. Those chosen to make the first trip to Korea are, Bang said, "the bottom of the barrel." He said they are horses that have probably outrun their usefulness at local race tracks.

"But in Korea, they will be top horses and well-treated," Bang said. "These horses are mostly 3 and 4 years old; some are 2 years old. The reason they want this level and not top of the line right now is because they will be going to the track and running against the Korean horses already there.

"If they brought in top-of-the-line horses to start, it would not be a race. So this is the beginning of a gradual building process."

The South Koreans have seen the success horse racing has had in Japan and have decided to expand their industry. It appears the country has the fans to support it.

Last year, in a nation that is about the size of Maryland, with just one racetrack operating 94 days a year, South Koreans bet $3.7 billion at the track and at off-track betting parlors.

The average daily attendance was 70,000 -- major league in any sport.

Compare that with the handles in the United States, where Tim Capps, the executive vice president of the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association, said $12 billion was bet at about 80 tracks across the country.

"It's a real growth market," said Capps. "It's one of the few avenues not yet developed and a tremendous opportunity to get in on the ground floor and develop a major export market for the state."

Kwan Shin, a former senator in South Korea, chairman of S&K and a man who likes to go to races at the tracks here, said that before World War II there were nearly a dozen race tracks in Korea. But the industry was wiped out by the Korean War.

Now there are proposals to build two more tracks this year and perhaps as many as eight more by 1999. With just 1,500 race horses currently in the country, importing horses has become necessary and opened up this opportunity for Maryland and S&K.

"At first, we were kind of scared about taking this on," said Bang, who with his S&K partners, Kwan Shin and sons Tae and In, had never before dealt in livestock. "I was no farmer. I was actually afraid of horses. But this is a gold mine."

Pub Date: 4/06/97

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