Nearly 7,000 kilometres all told- Turf Talk: 26 February 2018

HORSE transport is hard work. Especially when the second leg is 5,200 km with 4½ days on the road almost non-stop in snowy conditions.

Cape Town to Joburg is a long way you reckon? About the same as Tipperary to Newmarket. This drive is like Cape Town to Nairobi. Plus snow, few road markings and poor visibility.

Two weeks ago, this column chatted about New-market February Sales purchases, some of which were bound for Kazakhstan. In years gone by, we used to drive them to Dover or Folkestone, pop over
to Calais on a ferry then a shortish drive to Amsterdam to pick up a KLM twice-weekly cargo flight direct to Almaty in south east Kazakhstan not far from the Chinese border. There was no export quarantine and the paperwork (as from The Netherlands to Kazakhstan) was easy.

The cost was not insignificant – a 6 hour flight or so plus the trip from UK – but it made sense. Nowadays it doesn’t. The airfreight has skyrocketed. So they go all the way by road. First stop is Poland.

The journey to Poland – around 1600km from Newmarket all told – is straightforward enough. Across the channel by ferry or Eurotunnel (35 minutes from Folkestone) to Calais then straight on eastwards through Germany to Poland, an easy run on great roads. This time, our team diverted in France to collect additional passengers, overnighting in France as a result.

Poland becomes the exit point from EU which has VAT connotations, particularly obtaining proof of export to ensure not having to pay UK VAT. Poland is – shall we say – an interesting place to get documents organised and for that reason the horses get a week to relax in good Polish accommodation developed over several years of this routing. Poland itself buys plenty of horses in training in UK.

We make a huge fuss about the condition of feed straight after Horses in Training Sales which can be a recipe for colic having suddenly gone from full training to doing nothing (and eating the bed). Not only that, but the planned delay also represents a form of quarantine to satisfy the Kazakh authorities who have a customs union with Russia, but not with Poland.

There were never any rules for UK to Kazakhstan because it was a pretty outlandish idea before we were invited to make it happen fifteen years ago. UK export stamps and health checks for travel supported the main documents drawn up in The Netherlands before flying.

Setting off from Poland sometimes involves a very large, smart Mercedes taking plenty but on this trip, our buyers wanted to mollycoddle their latest just-turned-3 year old purchases in a 3-box but for two, plus a heavy trailer accommodating a 5 year old gelding keeping company a newly 2 year old filly (by Sir Percy, a granddaughter of the Champion Ramruna) – embarrass-ingly cheap – I’d have bought her to race in UK.



Our close associate, the manager of the Kazakh stud and racing operation, had not only flown from London to Warsaw to “see them in” for their week’s stay, then himself flown on to Almaty, but then flew back to Poland to join the truck to supervise the feeding and hydration during the drive.

Of the 4.5 days’ drive from Poland, 15 hours was spent at the Poland – Belarus border. Ask any transporter about Polish border crossings. The “expertise” is not dissimilar to running from South Africa into Zimbabwe. But after that it is plain sailing through Belarus and on into Russia with Smolensk being a recognisable early sign post to pass heading for Moscow.

After that border crossing, “non-stop” is more or less accurate. Feeding and watering aside of course, while two drivers alternate between the driving seat and a cot in the back. Our manager slept fitfully in the passenger seat but got a bit of cot time towards the end. He was a tired man when he finally got home.

The Ural Mountains cover vast territory from the Arctic southwards across Siberia all the way into northern Kazakhstan. Winter driving can be quite “hairy”. On this occasion, the snow was “only” about a metre deep everywhere and clear on the roads, so although difficult to judge where the road ended and the rough ground began – and with no central road markings – it wasn’t so bad this time.

Serena Williams famously remarked that there were “a lot of ovas” in tennis tournaments. Way back in September 2016 this column wrote about one of them – and it is a fact that if you stick “ova” on the end of some of the cities and towns on the route, you get the names of plenty of wannabe lady Grand Slammers.

IT was no surprise to see trainer Harold Crawford’s four-year-old Perovskia hang tough to win the R150,000 Listed Jet Master Stakes over 1600m at Kenilworth on Saturday.

Assistant trainer Michelle Rix told Turf Talk a few weeks ago: “Perovskia is a game horse. He hates being passed by other horses, he can’t handle it. He likes to win. He’s improving still, we’ll look for a small feature in Durban or keep him in Cape Town during winter if there is anything suitable here.”

Jockey Corne Orffer confirmed Rix’s thoughts in an interview at Vasco’s Tavern last Thursday, noting how hard Perovskia was to pass when he got his head in front.

It was good to see jockey Lucian Africa make use of his only ride for the day, booting home Perovskia in a driving finish to hold on from Mambo Mime, and equally good to see the Crawford family celebrating in the winner’s box.

Michelle Rix celebrates her birthday today and Perovskia’s win was the best early birthday present she could ask for.

Harold hasn’t won a Listed race since the 1980s when, he told colleague Ken Nicoll, he had a horse called War Raider who won 12 races and once beat the former Durban July winner Gondolier.

The handicapping system will see to it that Perovskia never wins 12 races, but he is the type of horse who will probably pull off another small feature and it can’t happen to nicer people! – tt.