Pure Sport in Kazakhstan (Part 1) – Turf Talk: 12 December 2016
For many years, I have been buying for excellent Kazakhstan clients who long ago became our good friends.
Almaty was an early stop on Marco Polo’s Silk Road from China to what is now Italy. Mrs Allan – a Silk Road historian when it comes to fabrics – has been Guest of Honour there, declaring an Almaty Racing Season open, pictured with the obligatory owl.
If your mental image of locations is blurred, Kazakhstan is the 7th largest country in the world.
Almaty is in the south-east, not far from the Chinese border. The new capital Astana is 2000 km north, closer to Siberia.
There are only about 16 million people who are delightfully blind to their various centuries’ old ethnic origins.
Some Kazakh owners race internationally. One races in France exclusively. Another, a tax exile, has bought an historic English stud farm. Long distance travel is second nature therefore taking advantage of German, Turkish and Czech racing is fine – and running for big prizes in Moscow is a Holy Grail.
Kazakhs enjoy going a few thousand km to Moscow to try to nick the big prizes from oligarchs.
Kazakhstan’s national relationship with Russia is a-political, pre-dating the Bolsheviks by a couple of hundred years or more. Many “Russian” military statues are of Kazakhs who were heroes of the Red Army and before, conscripted or otherwise. Yuri Gagarin’s launch in Vostok 1 was from Kazakhstan which was also Russia’s bread basket in Napoleonic and World Wars.
For Russia, we can pay the equivalent of 2 million rand for the right horse – difficult to find, given the racing surface.
At the recent Newmarket Horses in Training Sales for Kazakhstan we bought a dozen 2 year olds ranging from 6,000 to 30,000 guineas (ZAR 110 – 550,000) which would be typical. Less at Ascot –see next week’s article.
It is not cheap to import these horses. There are no quarantines at all, but the journey is long. The enterprise involved is remarkable. We can fly them directly from Amsterdam but are having to renegotiate the airfreight which suddenly went sky high if you’ll pardon the expression.
These days most drive to Poland for a break first. That is an easy run across Germany but, from there, it takes 4-7 days on generally good roads in Poland, Belarus, Russia, and Kazakhstan with an excursion through Kyrgystan. Crossing the Ural Mountains in winter can be a bit dodgy.
Our Kazakh friends – the owners themselves – fly 7 or 8 hours to Poland to oversee their new purchases’ welfare there, then back to Almaty in time to “see them in” after the long trip. Then back to Poland for the next load.
It is an equivalent, I suppose, of a European flying to Mauritius to see horses off the plane from SA, then again off the plane in UK or France. No doubt some do or would, but the difference is 90 days in Mauritius and 5 or 6 days resting up in Poland. Another difference is temperature! In Poland through to Kazakhstan the winter temperature would rarely rise above zero, mostly a long way below. In southern Kazakhstan where internationals go skiing, the snows in the lowlands clear by April, not unlike Hokkaido, the centre of the Japanese breeding industry.
January foals in Kentucky can be born into snow, while it can be quite parky in UK and Ireland then. Foals arriving in a chilly Western Cape Winter do so in, relatively speaking, a hot house. In Kazakhstan, there is regular racing on two levels.
One is “National Racing”, the centrepiece of weekly festivals out on the Steppes. Local bred and some thoroughbreds compete at a canter over 20-35 km distances on two or three km tracks, ridden by 12 year old boys bareback with Dad often cantering alongside, withdrawing runners along the way.
At these popular events, it could be a thousand years ago but for the lines of cars. Spit roasts fill the air, while the local Danny Zukos do not comb their quiffs to be cool while revving a hot rod, but trot about on ponies covered in vividly patterned drapery reminiscent of jousting horses. Just as in Grease, the girls giggle at them.
The racing for which we buy – that you and I know for thoroughbreds – is on an earthen surface. I call it turf without the grass.
There’s a lot of dust at the back once the snows have cleared and the mud dries out, but it works in a rudimentary although generally horse-friendly manner.
AllanBloodlines’ purchases have won every Group 1 equivalent including all the local “classics” and a lot more. Nowadays, the sons and daughters of fillies we have sent there are racing, some of them by stallions we have sent. We did move one stallion all the way from South Africa which is a story all by itself.
This is pure sport. There is no betting. Almaty attendances are in and out but at the track at Pavlodar near Astana, there are full houses. Except for some major races, there is little money for owners to win but trainers are paid, vets are employed and premises are maintained.
The next Monday Column will tell you about that “extra” one-day sale at Ascot: a professional but absolutely no frills affair.
We set those purchases up as an import and sell-for-a-profit. But, businessmen though they are, our friends have already fallen in love with some of the new purchases and will keep them. -tt