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JOURNEY INTO A SECRET LAND
Whitney Tower
November 06, 1972
Any tourist can go racing at the Moscow Hippodrome. It can be a pleasant afternoon with small crowds, 17 races on a program and all the cognac and caviar one could want. What takes more doing is getting to the grass roots of Russia's thoroughbred industry—visiting the country's studs. Sports Illustrated's horse racing editor is the only American journalist who has been invited to tour the breeding farms in the foothills of the Caucasus from which the Soviets hope a runner of international stature may someday emerge. The following is a diary of the trip.
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November 06, 1972

Journey Into A Secret Land

Any tourist can go racing at the Moscow Hippodrome. It can be a pleasant afternoon with small crowds, 17 races on a program and all the cognac and caviar one could want. What takes more doing is getting to the grass roots of Russia's thoroughbred industry—visiting the country's studs. Sports Illustrated's horse racing editor is the only American journalist who has been invited to tour the breeding farms in the foothills of the Caucasus from which the Soviets hope a runner of international stature may someday emerge. The following is a diary of the trip.

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AUG. 28 We spend most of the day with Nasibov, who at 43 is now even more of a hero than he was as the country's leading jockey. Nasibov has been acclaimed in Pravda, featured in a promotional racing film and has even had brands of cigarettes and cognac named for him. He has been Russia's leading trainer in each of the five years since his retirement as a rider. Of his 115 starters to date this season, he has had 57 winners. He is No. 1 (of four trainers) for State Farm No. 33. He lives in a multiroom apartment overlooking the Hippodrome and drives a new Volga station wagon, which at corresponding U.S. prices would sell for $8,000.

Nasibov's English is considerably better than it was in 1958 when he made his first appearance at Laurel, carrying his riding gear in a copy of the Washington Post . "Here," he says with careful deliberation, "we consider Aniline the best horse to take part in international competition, and Herold may be only one second slower than Aniline. He's not what you would call a picture horse, but he is tough and strong. If he is asked to Laurel he will not disgrace himself."

Nasibov emphasizes the lessons he has learned in America. "I try to get all the speed possible into my 28 horses," he says, "but first I must get them fit. I do not race a 2-year-old more than five times and preferably only three times. And once a horse is fit I believe in long, slow workouts as you do in the U.S. Speed is then attained by a fiat-out 1,000 meters, and later by a fast 1,500 meters. The week before a race, I give my horses two short gallops, one long gallop and nothing but long canters on the other days. But you must understand about my success. You have this expression in America, 'Good horses make good trainers.' Many Russian trainers have not yet discovered that working horses isn't enough. They will learn, as I did, that you must have a real feeling for the animal as an individual. You cannot treat them all alike."

There are only 30 thoroughbred trainers in Russia and, according to Nasibov, about the same number of jockeys. They compete at four major tracks—Moscow, Pyatigorsk, Rostov and Tbilisi. Many jockeys seemed to have poor form. The two 18-year-olds who ride most of Nasibov's horses are different. Both Alexander Chuguevetz and Jury Shavuyev have had special training. " Eddie Arcaro was a most elegant man," says Nasibov. "I also admired Shoemaker and Ycaza, but it was Arcaro I tried most to copy, and it is Arcaro's crouch and seat that I try to teach these boys. But it is difficult for me and especially for them. In America a jockey has a chance to ride and improve his style every day. Our jockeys race once a week, and you cannot acquire style when there is such little opportunity. We pick up boys at stud farms and teach them as best we can. I am luckier than most because I know what I want to teach them. Perhaps you noticed Shavuyev, who has won 45 out of his 75 races this year and who rode Herold yesterday. Then you understand."

Nasibov is asked about Russia's systems of identification and testing for drugs. He laughs: "We have no tattoo or any other system of identification because there are so few thoroughbred horses on the tracks that we cannot possibly get them confused. As for drugs, they aren't part of the scene. We take no precautions because we have no problem. Doping simply doesn't exist; nobody's ever heard of it."

AUG. 29 We fly nearly 1,000 miles south to Pyatigorsk in the foothills of the Caucasus. In Russia this is Lexington and Ocala rolled into one. Crossing hundreds of miles of farmland, we see nothing but narrow dirt roads separating the dark, rich soil of one collective farm after another. Only an occasional combine traversing the magnificent undulating land spoils the tranquillity.

AUG. 30 There are only about 70 thoroughbred stallions in Russia; 12 of them were imported from European auction rings. The 1,000 broodmares, although they have strains of English bloodlines, are homebreds. The entire lot, mares and stallions, are to be found here on 15 farms. We are about 100 miles north of the Black Sea. The 12 imported stallions, six of which were bought as yearlings for an average price of $12,000, are concentrated on six farms.

The showplace of Russian breeding, Voskhod, otherwise known as State Farm No. 33, is located 165 miles west of Pyatigorsk. Despite the need to dodge tractors and heavy trucks on a single-lane road, the drive there is delightful, with lines of poplar trees, seemingly endless fields of wheat and corn, enormous herds of beef cattle and an occasional duck farm or apple orchard.

Voskhod differs from a collective farm in that its employees are paid money (the average wage is $165 a month). A worker on a collective farm receives produce. Voskhod is 18,000 acres in all. It has 3,000 head of Herefords and 1,000 Red Steppe milk cows. The farm also sends three million eggs a year to state markets. In this vast complex 1,000 people live and work. The Ministry of Agriculture has ordered that 1,500 acres at Voskhod be set aside for the production of thoroughbred racehorses. Eighty workers are assigned to this section of the farm, whose prized possession is Aniline, the swift stallion who is mainly responsible for Voskhod receiving the Order of the Red Flag. The honor is noted on a plaque at the entrance to the main office.

This day the acting director of Voskhod is Anatole Avramenko; his wife is something of a celebrity in the community since she is the sister of Cosmonaut Victor Gorbatko. Their father was Voskhod's resident veterinarian. The farm may not put the finest Blue Grass studs to shame, but it is superbly appointed. There are a 90-stall broodmare barn, a mile training track and paddocks averaging four acres each. Phosphates, calcium and nitrogen are used in an up-to-date pasture-rotation system, and the horsemen here believe, much as they do in Ocala, that where young horses can be outdoors constantly in a moderate climate, where snow is negligible and where the earth is rich, the best horses can be bred and raised.

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