After Part One of this story, we really wanted to know about Myung Kwon Cho. We wanted to know the real story, not just the few tidbits that were out there in Google-land. So, we reached out to his son Raxon and found something we feel Stride LIVE readers will enjoy.
story by Scott Serio
photos by Cynthia Lum, Ed Van Meter and Charles Pravata
Fusaichi Pegasus was the last son the legendary sire and racehorse Mr. Prospector to win the Kentucky Derby. South Korean emigrant, horse breeder, trainer and owner Myung Kwon Cho is counting on that bloodline to deliver him his first Derby win.
From his small stable of six horses, Cho has two Kentucky Derby contenders in Premier Pegasus and Riveting Reason and they are both offspring of Mr. Prospector. Speaking through his 17-year-old son Raxon Cho, Myung Kwon said, “I chose Fusaichi Pegasus to breed to Squall Linda mainly for the history of him being one of the last of Mr. Prospector’s children,” and added, “Plus, the price was right.”
The journey to the 2011 Kentucky Derby trail for Cho is marked with an almost stunning level of success in picking the right horses, by a man who arrived in the United States in 1978 having never heard of the first jewel of the Triple Crown. In fact, he had never even seen a horse race.
Myung Kwon Cho was born in North Korea, but grew up in Seoul. He left South Korea and came to the United States for the promise of a better life. He had no family when he arrived, only a dream. His first job was painting apartments. Cho’s current business is exporting clothing back to his homeland. It started as an endeavor to help a friend and turned into a company that now ships clothing around the world. While his business ventures grew, Cho met his wife Lydia and started a family. They have five children.
Then there is the horse racing. Cho went to see his first races at Santa Anita with a group of friends. According to Raxon, “He thought a horse race would be more like the equestrian competitions, where they are jumping over obstacles.” But that wasn’t the case. “Once he saw that they were actually racing, he got really interested in the sport.”
In 1992, Cho finally jumped into horse racing as an owner with the purchase of a $16,000 claimer Zonar. What has followed for the man who has never ridden a horse is nothing short of remarkable.
At first, Cho was just an owner, but now he has a trainer’s license and is involved in breeding. In spite of the shipping export business, which is a full-time family business, Cho thinks he probably spends more time with horse racing. According to Raxon, “For 15 years my father would go to the racetrack at four in morning until 10 am. Then he would go to his business and spend the rest of the day there.” But that wasn’t the end of the day. “He believes that he may spend more time with horse racing mainly because before and after work he is thinking and working horses.”
Cho’s dedication has led to success. He claimed Video Ranger for $30,000 and managed to pull a fourth place finish in the 1990 Kentucky Derby out of him. In 1996, Cho’s first entrant into the Breeders Cup was Critical Factor. This $30,000 Keeneland purchase went on to finish third in the Juvenile. Then there was Nationalore. He finished third in the 1997 Breeders Cup Juvenile as a maiden and ran ninth in the 1998 Kentucky Derby.
That Derby was the first memory of horse racing for Raxon Cho. “I was so young I only remember Kentucky being very cold and wet from the rain,” said Raxon, the second youngest of the elder Cho’s children.
Now seventeen, Raxon is intimately involved in his father’s racing operation and hopes to become even more involved.
“I guess I'm the one to be the most involved, because I was drawn to racing more because my father took me to the races all the time when I was younger,” said Raxon. “ Where as my older siblings weren't as into it. I was getting into it. My dad was picking up in racing with horses like Double Galore, then Street Hero.”
Street Hero was the first true Kentucky Derby hopeful for Myung Kwon Cho. He won the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes at two and finished third to eventual Champion Two Year Old Midshipman in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. But, for all the promise, it was short-lived. Street Hero exited the race with an injury and was retired to stud at Vinery's Lexington operation.
Raxon has a front row seat with his father for this Road to the Roses. According to Raxon, “I think its an amazing feeling to have two horses that could run in the Derby. Its always been my dream, from a horse racing stand point, to go to the Derby,” And as for his father, Raxon added, “It has always been his dream to win the derby and the Triple Crown and this year with two horses it makes that dream closer to achieve.”
Riveting Reason and Premier Pegasus are solid contenders, but making it to the Churchill Downs with a healthy horse and winning the Kentucky Derby is a formidable task. When those two minutes of insanity are over – either you have the ultimate prize in your grasp or you just have hopes for the future. Raxon Cho has a good grasp on the concept.
“I plan to be very involved, I actually think I could get my trainers license by the end of the year,” said Raxon. “I do see myself going to college. I will probably be just a trainer for my dad until he decides that I should do all the other stuff, like owning and breeding. I am learning all tools of the trade but concentrating on training right now.”
When given the option of choosing a role model to emulate, Raxon’s choice is simple. “There is really no one else besides my father. Maybe Bob Baffert just because of the work he has done with horse racing, but other than him, I really have to say my father,” he said.
And if things don’t work out this year, the Cho’s have another prospect on the horizon for 2013. They are still making plans for the yearling. “We have some ideas for name's but nothing yet. Probably something like (something) Hero. He looks just like his full-brother Street Hero. We hope that he runs just well, if not better.”
Myung Kwon Cho’s success is not a solitary venture, he is aided by two assistant trainers, Maria Ayala and Rafael Martinez. When commenting on how integral a part of the operation Ayala is, he said, “My father relies on her quite a bit because she is his eyes. My dad cannot be at the track 24/7 because of work.” Raxon added, “He trusts that she will tell him everything and listen to whatever he asks her to do.”
All of the trust and long hours seem to have paid dividends in 2011. First, there was the Robert B. Lewis on February 12, 2011. Riveting Reason fought Anthony’s Cross to the wire, only to lose by a nose. The stretch drive was stirring and provided one of the more hotly contested prep races of the Derby season.
This weekend Premier Pegasus, or PrePeg to the Cho’s, re-emerged on the Derby Trail. He avenged his third place finish in the February 20th edition of the San Vicente with a 7 ¾-length romp in the San Felipe. PrePeg chased early fractions of 21.75, 44.58 and 1:08.98 and sprinted clear to finish the 1 1/16-miles in 1:41.23 over a fast track.
The next stop for the Cho’s is the Santa Anita Derby, but they think their two sons of Mr. Prospector will carry them much further, hopefully all the way to the infield at Churchill Downs standing next to one of them – wearing a blanket of roses. That is the plan at least.