Adventures in Central Asia – Turf Talk: 10 September 2018
FOR anyone who has done a couple of terms of School History studying Marco Polo and the Silk Road, any visit to the “Stans” of Central Asia carries with it a sense of the magic of those times.
I have enjoyed Almaty in Kazakhstan since first visiting 15 years ago. The friendly people are utterly
blind to their own varied racial origins and their city has been transformed from its Soviet era architecture into a walkable town of pedestrian precincts, broad boulevards, a stunning new national monument and a kind of café culture that makes the place even more welcoming. Tashkent in booming Uzbekistan and Peshawar in modern Pakistan – and Kabul in Afghanistan if it were not so ravaged – carry the same magic.
Now, a new concrete “Silk Road” is being built. Driving three hours from Almaty to the border crossing into Kyrgyzstan, you are offered a left turn to China and a right turn to Europe. We went straight on. Last week in Kyrgyzstan, the place was teeming not only with visitors from neighbouring countries, plus Russians, Hungarians, Czechs, Poles and so on from the old Soviet bloc on their holidays but also Italians French, Germans as well as Brits, Aussies and Americans visiting the country for the World Nomad Games. Many of those people were there “anyway”.
Kyrgyzstan is breathtakingly beautiful, quite safe, economically sound and self-sufficient, and incredibly welcoming. But the visiting population was boosted by the Games of 80 participating countries…37 sports…2000 athletes/players…. four main locations. Live TV in Russia population nearly 150,000,000 – and plenty of others.
Kyrgyzstan is blessed with the second largest mountain lake in the world. “Issyk Kul” is around 6,300 square kilometres in area and brackish due to a Dead Sea-type section. Around it – much like Kariba in Zim/Zam – are resorts which are full through the height of the summer then more or less empty from 10th September when the glorious weather starts to turn towards the harshness of winter. That being said, another “horde” of Europeans will show up in both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for their ski resorts.
I couldn’t stop smiling, mingling in the resort city of Cholpon-Ata at 11pm, supermarket queuing to top up for the later evening party, chatting to Russians and Turks about everything from football to opera. At the same time, the precinct of the newly made-over Cholpon-Ata Hippodrom (Racecourse) was open for café business, heavily populated with visitors and locals socialising.
The Kyrgyz government contributed 12 million euro to the cost of making over the racecourse in 2016.
Originally built in the Soviet Era, the course now boasts excellent grandstand facilities for a capacity of about 10,000 and a fibresand track of 1800 metres round. For the Games, it served as a main venue with the infield being used for the Opening Ceremony and other outdoor sports.
One of my purposes was/is to assist the Kyrgyz racing authorities in achieving the internationalisation structure that their government requires for further grants of money. This involved conferencing with the China equestrian delegation, the Afghan equestrian delegation (we talked cricket not politics) and our hosts and their neighbours.
The Kyrgyz authority governs flat racing, also National Racing (see elsewhere), and Pacers. Kyrgyzstan is barmy about pacers. Pacers are not trotters. They have riders and have a lateral, two-beat gait with the two nearside legs striding forward together and vice versa. Sorry if you al-ready knew that.
At the Nomad Games there are four horseracing disciplines as well as mounted falconry, mounted archery and lots of kids mounted and showing off. Toddlers ride before they can walk properly and the
horse is everything to the culture.
There are three flat races, one National Race (which we won – I’ll come to that) and a race for pacers. The latter two had the crowd going bonkers.
And bear in mind – there is no betting. We are talking sport here, with runners representing their countries. Kind of. I made one of the Olympic Style presentations of gold, silver and bronze medals on a podium to jockeys. “My” winner (and anthem) was Russian but was actually a Kazakh friend’s horse now trained in Kyrgyzstan and lent to the Russian delegation.
AllanBloodlines has been buying for Kazakhstan for fifteen years. Then last October, we had the privilege of making the first ever purchases from UK for Kyrgyzstan – a mix of yearlings (now 2) and horses in training (now 3). Flat racing is developing whereas National Racing is a national obsession, as it is in Kazakhstan.
Over the years, our Kazakh friends have won most of the meaningful targets. This year, we won the Kazakh Oaks with a Timeform 80s rated filly of particular conformation bought for 18,000 guineas and we won the Kazakh Dante equivalent (and were second in the Derby) with the only son of War Front in those parts, bought for 23,000 guineas (now getting on for R500,000 but a hundred thousand less at the time).
The Kazakh Derby was won by a son of Scat Daddy on which we were under-bidder when our client went AWOL. But we’ll win the Presidents Cup AND go to Moscow to nick some Russian money for him next year.
In the National Racing contest….25 runners…..wait for the distance….a 2 year old costing very little won for the third time over 11 kilometres.
With races for 2 year olds over 11-15 km and for 3 year olds and upwards over 22-35km, I expected carnage when first witnessing a National Racing event way out on the steppes in Kazakhstan 15 years ago. Then, local bred horses were ridden by 12-14 year old boys (bareback) in strong but sensible canter with Dad or Uncle riding alongside like a rowing coach on a bike on the towpath. A high percentage were pulled up when the time was right. At that time, thoroughbreds were just beginning to run in (and win) National Races.
Now it is all thoroughbreds carrying around 30kg of young lad or lass who, these days, has an earpiece into which the owner/trainer/father can give advice including when to pull up. A squad of mounted stewards then shepherds the pulled-up lads and horses off the track while the remainder go on to complete 6 laps of the 1800 metres fibresand. More than half pulled up and trotted home. Prizes in both countries for National Races are cars. They are usually sold immediately, therefore tradeable cars are preferred. Our filly – named Zara by the multi-lingual daughter of our client (after the Russian singer Zara which is the equivalent of naming her Rihanna) – had already won two cars.
“She’s a good 2 year old” said our man, rubbing her nose “She won two second hand Mercedes, far better than new tin from Russia”. He drives a monstrous 5.7 litre Toyota Land Cruiser imported from Dubai.
At Cholpon-Ata in the international games, Zara looked to be going well two laps from home. I dug my close friend – the course commentator – in the ribs – and we all took note. 10,000 people shouted her home (no betting) and she won actual money, specifically 300,000 Kyrgyzstan Som which is something like R60,000.
I spent time in her racecourse stables box four hours later. She was happily munching away on her alfalfa salad, blinking in the soft gloom.
In Kyrgyzstan they need more thoroughbreds. They study European and USA pedigrees fiercely. And when they don’t know they ask. We shall enjoy continuing to help. – tt.