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21 Aug, 2009 12:11

Russian horse racing gets up a gallop

Russia is in the middle of a horse racing boom, with the number of horse racing clubs in the Moscow region tripling over the last 5 years.

It’s attracted investors eager to diversify away from their main business but many say it’s more of a hobby than a money maker.

After senior government officials and tycoons, the fashion for horses has spread to spread to Russia’s upper-middle class. Of course the most popular breeds of horse here are not Akhal-Teke or Arabs, but these clients are ready to pay $300 thousand for a good trotter.

To meet demand, stables are mushrooming in the Moscow region offering training services and accommodation for rent.

Bitza is one of the largest horse racing clubs in Moscow with a stable for 240 horses. The head of the club, Anatoly Isachkin, says Russia still lacks professional trainers and many owners prefer to keep their horses in Europe.

“There are investors now who have bought 15 horses and keep them in Europe. It’s 50% cheaper to keep your horse there than in Russia. At our club it will cost you 1 thousand euro to rent a loose box, in Germany for example you will get the same level of services for 400 euro.”

Renting and training account for 70% of a horse club’s revenues but many owners say it’s far from a real business.

With a mid-size stable costing around $7 million and an average monthly rate to keep one horse standing at $1 thousand it may take up to 10 years for the stable to turn a profit. Some stable owners say they do it as a hobby apart from their main business, others for the pleasure of watching their children doing this.

Alla has her own horse and trains three privately-owned ones. She says Russians are buying horses mainly in Germany and the Netherlands. They are usually 50% more expensive that Russian ones – and not always worth the money.

“I hear very often that it’s very hard to train the horses bought in Germany. And not always does the horse prove its class.”

74 horse breeders are operating in Russia but few Russian horses are trained for large championships. Russian breeders prefer to sell a horse abroad as soon as the price reaches $50 thousand.

Occasionally a Russian horse is sold for half a million once it reaches the level of the world championships.

Breeders are not willing to take that risk. They can invest thousands of dollars training a horse, over three or four years, and – if it breaks one leg – both the breeder, and the horse, can lose everything.