By Jenny Bridle
(Courtesy of http://www.fasttrack.hk)
The recent Caulfield Cup win of New Zealand bred Mongolian Khan brought his owner, Mr Lang Lin into the public’s eye as someone to watch. This impressive victory was preceeded by a solid win in the New Zealand Derby and Mongolian Khan now has 8 wins and AUS$3.8m in prize money.
While some might have been surprised by Mongolian Khan’s victory, no one can argue with Lin’s passion for horses and for the sport of horse racing. Since 2012, he has imported 800 Thoroughbreds into his home country of Inner Mongolia.
And, while many of us have been attempting to follow the goings on of those who are publicly saying they are bringing horse racing to China, it seems that racing enthusiasts such as Lin have been quietly bringing horse racing to the mainland for years.
In 2006, Lin, who is known in Inner Mongolia a very successful entrepreneur with many business interests and especially for his Chuanwangfu chain of take away restaurants, created a company called Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Group Inc. or simply Rider Horse.
Not only has Rider Horse imported hundreds of Thoroughbreds from NZ, the company has also developed a long term strategic plan that includes a racetrack, a quarantine centre, and a horse ground and air transport as well as a sales agency. And, while the racing at the Rider Horse track is currently not up to the same standards as the Caulfield Cup, the operative word here may be “yet.” Surely, anyone looking at the horse racing “house” that Lin has built — including the grandstand at his track, which appears to be rise up out of the nothingness of sand – will agree that it’s all very impressive.
Beyond the bricks and mortar infrastructure, Rider Horse has a large board of directors and the company has made concerted efforts to build a feedstock business that exports internationally. This has been so successful that it has been included in the region’s most recent 5 year plan, a recognition of the economic impact of such initiatives. This is significant because Inner Mongolia is a special area within the Republic of China so it has limited autonomy and gambling of any kind is forbidden.
One wonders if part of the strategy on Rider Horse is to make up for the standard missing ingredient in racing purses and infrastructure (which, in most jurisdictions outside of places such as Dubai and China is funded through gambling revenues including horse racing wagering, and casino and slots betting) through these various other horse-related economic development activities. If so, the strategy could be the most brilliant attempt yet to bring racing to the mainland.
Interesting as well is trying to determine how many Thoroughbreds have also been imported further north into Mongolia. Like Mongolian Khan, some of these horses have come into prominence on the world’s race stage only recently. In the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland in early November, for example, there is a horse called Mongolian Saturday, owned by Mongolian Stables LLC.
Research on this “Mongolian connection” opens a treasure chest of information about a rags to riches story of two brothers who came from modest means and went on to become owners of a contender for the 2012 Kentucky Derby and who are now vying for a title at one of the world’s most signature horse racing events. The two brothers, Tserenjigmed and Ganbaatar Dagvadorj, could be seen as Mongolia’s entrepreneurial answer to the end of Soviet rule and the Wild West of opportunities that ensued.
The Dagvadorj brothers started out as collectors and some-time trappers of fur in far flung areas of their country. From fur trading, which they did on horseback in remote areas, they moved on to other ventures in the dying Communist era, which fed growing demands. This included cars, such as used Mercedes and BMWs, various ready-made garments and clothes, windows and doors, furniture, and food and soft drinks. Eventually, they began leasing rail cars to bring their goods into the country and, along the way, they amassed a veritable fortune that includes over 600,000s sq ft of commercial space in their home capital of Ulanbaatar.
Now, some 30 years on, the Dagvadorj brothers are two of the wealthiest men in all of Mongolia. They own and control the largest supermarket chain called Max Supermarket as well as many well-known Mongolian brands including, for example the Maxi-Pot Restaurant and the Berlinburger chain.
In 1996, the brothers’ founded their holding company, The Max Group, with “For a better Mongolia” as its mission. The company has grown to include an apartment complex, the Max Mall, and the Ramada Hotel in Ulaanbaatar and it continues to expand. Just this month the brothers added Burger King to Max Group, becoming the first franchisees in Mongolia.
In addition, they own and control Mongolia’s largest dairy manufacturer and distributor, Suu Milk, which process 200 tons of milk per day and over 100 dairy products. This is no small feat in Mongolia where the dairy farmers are nomadic. Suu collects milk from more than 3,000 herders in many locations across the country and transports it back to the processing plant in Ulanbaatar.
Add to this entrepreneurial spirit a genuine love for horses and you get Mongolian Saturday, a gelding that Ganbaatar Dagvadorj’s Mongolian Stable LLC bought for $60,000 at the Keeneland sale of 2011. Dagvadorj’s trainer, Enebish Ganbat, who is also Mongolian, said recently that he began training in his home country in 1995 and made the move to train in the US in 2010. In addition to Mongolian Saturday, Ganbat trains a further 11 horses for Dagvadorj who also owns several broodmares in Kentucky.
Runner up in the Woodford Stakes, Mongolian Saturday will again be ridden in the Breeders’ Cup by jockey Florent Giroux. The horse has never won a Gr I and will likely have long odds to win at Keeneland. Still, Ganbat says, everyone at the stable is excited to even have a horse in the Breeders’ Cup and the owner is slated to attend to watch.
Regardless of Mongolian Khan’s Caulfield Cup result and how Mongolian Saturday performs at the Breeders Cup, the story of these owners could really be more about the future of the sport of horse racing. After all, some of the most well-established racing jurisdictions around the world are struggling with many challenges, some of which seem, at times, insurmountable. However, places such as Inner Mongolia and Mongolia, have all the ingredients for success: a rich horse culture complemented by passionate, entrepreneurial lovers of horse racing who are strategically and creatively building for the future.