US–North Korea: are you feeling lucky?

Australians love a flutter and nowhere is there a bigger gamble right now than the US–North Korea summit, due to take place in Singapore on Tuesday, 12 June. Wise punters need a form guide, so we offer our best judgements about the colts and fillies, horses, mares and geldings of the year’s biggest race. Remember: bet responsibly.

The favourites

Donald Trump: 5 to 1. Has a habit of unexpectedly winning Group 1 races. Into this canter the Donald brings quite a bit of lead in the saddlebags—Russian fixers and genre film starlets are a weakness—but give him his due, no past runner from the presidential stable has been able to deliver a head-to-head summit with the North Koreans. Lead trainer Mike Pompeo let slip the Donald’s unusual race preparation by saying that no track work was necessary. Trump will simply size up his opponent on gut instinct and let his natural charm do the rest. One thing’s for certain, Trump won’t take to the course unless he’s reasonably certain of a win.

Kim Jong-un: 15 to 1. Something of a dark horse, with absolutely no Group 1 form, Kim has surprised on the upside by apparently showing a willingness to reverse course on nuclear and missile development. It’s hard to believe that giving up nukes is really Kim’s intention. Sired by Kim Jong-il out of a Kim Il-sung mare, this line has been bred over generations for brinksmanship and aggression but has a poor record in barrier trials. But the younger Kim is different: he has put a modern face on a harsh dictatorship by sponsoring girl-bands and theme parks and visiting cosmetic factories accompanied by close stablemates—his wife and sister. Although past Kims have galloped around the détente track before only to disappoint at the finish, perhaps this outing will be different. Kim’s race prep has included putting his top three generals out to pasture—a sign he’s worried about being nobbled from within his own camp. One thing’s for sure: if Kim starts, he must win, or it’s the glue factory for the whole family stable.

The wider field

Xi Jinping: 40 to 1. Bred for a bigger track than the narrow Singapore circuit, Xi scrambled to reacquaint himself with Kim after the surprise fixture announcement. After six years of cold-shouldering his North Korean stable mate, Xi has twice met with Kim in recent weeks, just to remind little brother where his feed comes from. Xi wants Kim to win on the 12th—just not by much. While China isn’t that fond of North Korea’s nukes, it would rather tolerate those than see its ally merge with the South or, even worse, get pally with the United States. It’s an uncomfortable fixture for Xi, who has drawn an outside barrier here. He has become used to a rails run in North Asia.

Shinzō Abe: 80 to 1. This is an unsuitable track for Abe. It worries Tokyo that Trump might try to fix a result without taking Japan’s interests into account. For example, Trump might settle for North Korea dismantling the ICBMs that can reach the United States but leave short- and intermediate-range missiles able to hit Japan. And if a deal is cut on the Korean peninsula leading to the withdrawal of US troops, Abe would worry that the US was being too naïve and signing a deal that could easily crumble after race day.

Moon Jae-in: 100 to 1. President Moon probably feels he has already run a long race. South Korea has a lot to lose if Trump unilaterally decides to blitz the track, which he was darkly tweeting to do over most of 2017. Moon has worked hard to cultivate Kim, trying to keep the race fixture on and the favourites playing nicely. The South Koreans will continue to feed the North lots of sunshine policy in the hope that the best race outcome is a happy Kim, no need for costly reunification and a nuclear-free peninsula. On the other hand, if the race is called off, Moon finds himself back in the unhappy world of sanctions and the Donald’s tweets of Armageddon. At the pre-race Shangri-La Dialogue, South Korean Defence Minister Song Young-moo was desperately channelling his inner Kim to assure the audience that the North was ready to race. Let’s hope Song is a good judge of horse flesh.

Vladimir Putin: 150 to 1. Vlad, a perennial stayer, just keeps reminding us all that he still has an appetite for racing. Chief trainer Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov recently visited the Kim stables, presumably to remind the North Koreans that Russia is an older, less demanding friend than China, and to remind China that Moscow should never be taken for granted. Putin’s handlers will claim a victory even if Vlad doesn’t show on race day.

Bashar al-Assad: 500 to 1. Who let this bag of bones on the field? Yes, Bashar used to run free with the Kims, but it’s altogether the wrong look now for North Korea to be consorting with Putin’s pit pony. Call for a swab and the course vet.

The course

Lee Hsien Loong: 6 to 4. One of Asia’s smartest gallopers, Singapore has done well to promote its racetrack above all others. At the Shangri-La Dialogue, the race meet was being called the ‘US-DPRK Singapore summit’. Win, lose or draw, the smart money is on Singapore to keep up the image as the thinking-hub of regional security, and as an increasingly useful friend of the Donald. All PM Lee needs now is to find someone to pay for Kim’s rooms.

The prize

The fun thing about this race is that everyone is running without being sure about the prize. The US says it wants ‘CVID’—complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation. That’s technically complex and difficult to deliver and the absolute obverse of North Korea’s generation-long push to be a nuclear-weapons state. Kim wants regime survival and the chance to hand the reins to his son. The fact that Kim hasn’t already been dragged backwards out of a dirty culvert suggests that his nuclear strategy has been working. It’s up to Kim and the Donald to jump the shark together.

Our pick

Don’t be surprised if the race is called off, but if it does go ahead we think that Kim and the Donald will cross the line together. Winning will be the winner in Singapore. Kim and Trump are so invested in the meet that neither can afford to turn up and lose. So, they’ll engineer an outcome that allows them to keep talking, at least long enough to help the Donald with the mid-term Congressional elections and for Kim to kill off any lingering opposition among his generals.

Get set for a second race meet, perhaps in Oslo in December when the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded.