By Jenny Bridle
While Triple Crown winner American Pharoah with jockey Victor Espinoza won the Breeders Cup Classic on Halloween day at Keeneland Racecourse in Kentucky, a big story had unfolded earlier in the day with some interestingly dressed men from a far away land.
American Pharoah achieved what no other horse in history has ever achieved — he won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes, and the Breeders Cup. He heads off to Coolmore’s breeding shed as a truly great horse who will hopefully pass on his gifts to his offspring.
In spite of such great achievements, horse racing as a sport seems to be going through a time of general malaise. A friend and I were talking about this the other day, the feeling that, except for a few moments of light here and there, the sport and the reporting on the sport seems “flat.” One of the reasons for this — and it’s a big one — is that horse racing is so poorly marketed, which is a point many of us have gone on and on and on about.
Those of us who have been involved as marketers with other kinds of businesses may see some standard issues and challenges with racing. These are not insurmountable in any way, but seem to hold the sport back from reaching greatness on the global stage.
Sometimes, what’s needed is an injection of new people, relative outsiders, with new ideas, and a new vision. Enter the Mongolians…
Mongolian Saturday is an American-bred racehorse bought for the relatively low price of $60,000 at the Keeneland Sale in 2011 by two brothers, Tserenjigmed and Ganbaatar Dagvadorj. He’s a good looking horse, a decent size with nice turn of foot and a solid pedigree. Just like many other racehorses. There are no guarantees that such a horse will ever win or even place in a race. Yet, on a good day with a great jockey, and a little bit of luck, Mongolian Saturday became the winner his “people” wanted and hoped for. His is like many others’ racing stories. What makes him truly different, however, are his connections.
Try as I might, I can’t think of more interesting and forward thinking new owners in horse racing that the Dagvadorj brothers and their trainer, Enebish Ganbat. All three hail from Mongolia where, as Ganbat says, people are born with horses, and born to ride them.
The Dagvadorj brothers have always been involved with horses and racing and in a recent interview proudly mentioned the Guinness World Record parade and horse race staged in Mongolia in 2013. For the parade, which had been announced on national TV, 11,125 men, women and children converged to parade at Khui Doloon Khudan just outside of Ulan Bataar with the goal of sending “the message that if the Mongolians are united they can achieve anything.” The next morning, 4,249 Mongolians ranging in age from 7 to 79 returned to the same location to race across 11.8 miles and win a second Guinness World Record for the most horses in a race.
While many in Thoroughbred racing today might say that this type of racing and horsemanship have nothing to do with “their” sport, Mongolian Saturday’s connections prove just how wrong they would be. Trainer Ganbat explained in his post-Breeders Cup interview that he only took up training Thoroughbreds 5 years ago after asking an important question.
“Why are we only in this market?”
Read that line again…The fact that Ganbat used the word, “market” is nothing short of amazing. Here is a horseman talking about markets, and the need to learn and grow to be successful.
After some 10 years training Mongolian horses, Ganbat and his owners took the leap into Thoroughbred racing. They started going to the sales and learning everything they could. As a trainer, Ganbat says that horses are horses, but he had a lot to learn about Thoroughbred racing. Obviously, he was a quick study!
“All of Mongolia will be crying” was a comment made during the post-race interview and it says so much about these brothers, their trainer and, really, about what horse racing needs: pride. The connections of Mongolian Saturday can feel proud that their horse won, of course, and the fact that they went to the racecourse in traditional deels or tunics shows just how much pride they have in their country.
More, though, — and this is critical for the US – is that they raced their horse without any race day medication. It’s worth repeating that: Mongolian Saturday, a horse bred and raised in the United States, raced — and won a Breeders Cup race — without any drugs (Lasix) on board. Personally, I think we should all say a collective, “Hurrah!” Finally, a trainer and owners, have the welfare of the horse at the centre of their endeavours, and end up showing the rest of racing what needs to be done.
Myself, I can’t wait for the next chapter in the life of Mongolian Saturday, his owners, and their trainer. There are some 12 horses in training at Mongolian Stable LLC and it will be interesting to see where Mongolian Stables races next.
Hopefully, they keep wearing their traditional deels to the races to remind us all to have pride in our sport and in ourselves and to think about the horses who try so hard to achieve what we ask of them.