Victory Gallop: A Star In Growing Turkish Industry

 By Michele MacDonald

      There is a timeless sound in the rustling of pines on a breezy rise overlooking fields of mares and foals that stretch to a horizon also dotted by olive trees and the bobbing heads of sunflowers.

      Here, on tranquil sloping land outside of the ancient city of Bursa, Turkey, Ottoman emperors raised fine sporting horses as long ago as the 14th century. And it is here that American classic winners Victory Gallop and Sea Hero are helping to shape Turkey’s growing racing and breeding industry.

      Those who express concern about the welfare of American expatriate runners can release their fears about the stallions who stand under the auspices of the Jockey Club of Turkey, at either the Karacabey Stud near Bursa or the Izmit Stud near Izmit.

      Victory Gallop strutted out of his Karacabey barn gleaming with dapples in late July, seemingly eager to show off to a crowd of about 60 Asian Racing Conference delegates who had taken a ferry from Istanbul across the Sea of Marmara’s blue waters before journeying on by bus to visit the stud. In his fourth year in Turkey, the 1998 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner who denied Real Quiet the Triple Crown had recently completed the breeding season in which he was allotted 120 mares.

Victory Gallop
Photo by Michele MacDonald
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      Shortly thereafter, Sea Hero strode past the crowd looking amazingly fit, defying the fact that he is the oldest living Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner at age 22. Ever playful as he always has been, he danced and shook his head, daring his handler to keep him from displaying some airs above the ground.

      He was followed by former Overbrook Farm colorbearer Mountain Cat, who in 1992 established a mark as the all-time leading American juvenile earner when he won over $1 million. The son of Storm Cat has long been a Jockey Club of Turkey headliner because he is a leading sire and also because he dramatically rears on cue, and he delighted the crowd with a series of towering reaches for the sky.

     Champion Dehere and gr. I winner Cuvee also paraded for the Asian Racing Conference delegates, joined by American-bred but European-raced sires Sri Pekan and Royal Abjar.

      Victory Gallop is one of Turkey’s rising stars. Acquired in January 2008, his oldest Turkish-bred offspring are three, yet he already ranks among the top 20 sires. Both his book of mares and his fee of 10,000 Turkish lira (about $5,500) are the co-highest this year for the Jockey Club of Turkey’s roster of 22 stallions.

      Also standing for that fee are American-bred and –raced Lion Heart and Unaccounted For, who are based at Izmit.

     Lion Heart, the 2004 Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I) winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up who also was allotted 120 mares while in his third season in Turkey, has been the subject of offers from American farms who want to return him to the United States for stud duty, Turkish officials said. Whitney Handicap (gr. I) and Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) winner Unaccounted For, a 21-year-old son of Private Account who led all Turkish sires in 2009 and ’10 while battling some health ailments, was allowed 60 mares.

     Other leaders by mares in their books include 2000 Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) winner Yonaguska (120 mares), a son of Cherokee Run; American-bred Okawango, a son of Kingmambo who was French champion juvenile in 2000 (120); Carson City’s son Cuvee (100), winner of the 2003 Futurity Stakes (gr. I); Mountain Cat (100), and Arlington Million Stakes (gr. I) winner Powerscourt (80), a son of Sadler’s Wells produced by the Rainbow Quest mare Rainbow Lake, now famous as the second dam of the undefeated Frankel.

      Overseen by the government’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Livestock, which receives a large slice of revenues from pari-mutuel betting on racing, the Jockey Club of Turkey soon will be seeking some new stallions, and officials indicated they will be shopping again in the U.S. Part of the organization’s mission is to encourage breeding and thus the stallions acquired with the ministry’s approval and financial investment stand for very reasonable fees.

      Sea Hero, for instance, the seventh all-time leading sire in Turkey by progeny earnings, stood for 3,500 Turkish lira (about $1,925) this year.

     Another Kentucky Derby winner, Strike the Gold, who died in December at age 23, ranks as Turkey’s current leading sire for 2012 after topping the standings in 2011. He battled laminitis for years but was lovingly cared for by the Jockey Club of Turkey staff at Karacabey who referred to him as “like our son.”

Photo by Michele MacDonald
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     Love and respect for horses and horse sports is ingrained in the Turkish people.
     During the Karacabey visit, Asian Racing Conference delegates were treated to a demonstration of the Turkish equestrian game cirit, also called jereed, that was developed at least ten centuries ago and used by the Ottomans to hone the cavalry’s attack and defense skills. Players, who at Karacabey were riding retired purebred Arabian racehorses, try to hit one another with wooden javelins while relying on their horses’ speed and agility to escape retaliation. Hitting a horse with one of the javelins, which are rubber-tipped to prevent injury, is penalized.

The game of cirit also known as jereed.
Photo by Michele MacDonald
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    Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the skilled horseman and military leader who founded the Turkish Republic in 1923, declared that “Horse racing is a social need for modern society,” partly to encourage his cavalry officers to continue their work with horses. That quote remains the mantra of the Jockey Club of Turkey to this day.

    But the Turkish attachment to horses obviously goes back much farther in time. Thousands of years ago, Turkic people on the Central Asian steppes were the first in the world to domesticate horses, and their power on horseback dominated history for centuries.

     That deep connection still is revered. In the stallion barn at the purebred Arabian breeding complex near the Karacabey Stud hangs a sign that quotes scholar Kashgarli Mahmut, who in the 11th century wrote a book containing the first dictionary of Turkic languages and the first map of Turkic populations.

      “Horses are the wings of the Turkish people,” the sign reads.
Quick Facts About Turkish Racing and Breeding*

5,000 active racehorses
1,500 owners and breeders
350 private stud farms
215 Thoroughbred stallions covered 2,025 mares in 2011, with a total Thoroughbred mare population of 4,324; 1,235 foals were born in 2011
8 racecourses, which will grow to ten with the addition of two new facilities in 2013
568 racedays in 2012, up more than 50% since 2002, with 3,850 races scheduled this year
$160-million in purse money paid in 2011, up 80% since 2002
Average 109% return on training expenses to owners in Turkish racing, more than twice the return reported for American owners
Wagering totaled about $1.48 billion in 2011
Turkish government has invested $100 million in the sector in the last ten years, an amount that will increase to $170 million by 2013
Tax on pari-mutuel betting is 50% in Turkey, which hinders the country from export simulcasting and commingling

       * Statistics provided by the Jockey Club of Turkey and the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Livestock

Sea Hero
Photo by Michele MacDonald
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Mountain Cat
Photo by Michele MacDonald
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Leave a Comment:

Old Old Cat

It's wonderful to see these horses in a country where they are so cared for and loved.  I was, like probably most Americans, totally ignorant of the horse racing situation in Turkey.  Thank you for the enlightening article.  When I saw "Sea Hero" I thought it was a typo.

30 Jul 2012 3:29 PM
Rachel NH

Man, I have a lump in my throat at how good Sea Hero looks...

Thanks for the updates!

30 Jul 2012 4:03 PM

Thank you, Michele, for a MOST interesting story. For years I have been alternately worried and curious about all the good American horses sold to Turkey. I knew they had a regular racing industry there, but not much more.

I also wasn't happy about the number of our classic winners who have been sold overseas... after all the hype of the Derby, etc., then the winners get shuffled off overseas. Out of sight, out of mind... and I'll Have Another is just the latest. People overseas appear to think more of our classic winners than we do.

So this is a big relief, that there are knowledgeable horsemen and good facilities where they are.  

And for me, personally, interesting to see they are still breeding and using purebred Arabians as well. They're not just show-ring Barbie Dolls...

30 Jul 2012 4:39 PM

All of them seem to be thriving.  I wish them the best for the rest of their lives.  We miss them.

30 Jul 2012 5:47 PM

Thankyou for giving props to the Turkish horse breeding industry, I had no idea how extensive an industry existed. I found it extremely interesting, especially Sea Hero, amazing!

The Turks also make some very good olive oil and vinegars, if you haven't tried them.

30 Jul 2012 6:09 PM
Lindsey S

Thank you SO MUCH for this article!  When I saw the update on Sea Hero and saw his picture, my eyes welled up.  I picked him to win the Derby when I was a little girl, and he really was my "hero" back then.  I've wondered about him countless times.  I've always read he's doing well, but this was the most info I'd ever seen, and the picture was great.  He looks SPECTACULAR! Is there any way you could add more pictures of Sea Hero and some of the other stallions?  Also, do you know if there are plans to send any of them back here when they retire from stud duty?  Probably wishful thinking, but I've always wanted to meet Sea Hero.  Again, thank you so much for this article.  I am incredibly grateful.  It made my day and then some!

30 Jul 2012 6:11 PM
Lammtarra's Arc

People need to take the time, and research these places and reserve judgement before making horrible Ignorant comments.  Just like IHA going to Japan.  I don't mean you OLD OLD CAT, I just mean in general. Cheers.

30 Jul 2012 7:19 PM
Lammtarra's Arc

I LOVE LOVE LOVE Victory Gallop!.

30 Jul 2012 7:23 PM

These pictures are stunning!!!! I love this article! Thank you!

30 Jul 2012 7:49 PM

Great article and spectacular photos!  It's always nice to read how former racers are doing regardless of where they raced and where they are now.

30 Jul 2012 8:39 PM

The horses look great! I miss Strike The Gold.

30 Jul 2012 9:23 PM
Karen in Indiana

Victory Gallop looks marvelous and Sea Hero looks 12 years or more younger than his age. It's good to see that they are so cared for and that their stud career is supported so well.

30 Jul 2012 10:25 PM

These stallions look very healthy and happy. They are obviously receiving the best of care.

Loving horses has deep roots in Turkey. IIRC ancient Troy was renowned for the high quality of its horses.

And what of the Byerly Turk? Wasn't he supposedly a Turkish military mount captured by an officer from Britain at a battle in Hungary and after further service as a war horse became one of the  founding fathers of the thoroughbred breed?

31 Jul 2012 12:17 AM
Pedigree Ann

"Thousands of years ago, Turkic people on the Central Asian steppes were the first in the world to domesticate horses, and their power on horseback dominated history for centuries."

Although Turkic peoples are prominent in the Central Asian steppes today, Iranian peoples like the Saka occupied the region at the time in which horses were domesticated. (The Greek catch-all term for these Iranian peoples, whose territory stretched from the Carpathians to the Altai Mountains, was Scythians.) Turkic peoples were the immediate eastern neighbors of those Iranian peoples and shared a lifestyle of herding, so were undoubtedly among the first to join them in horse-riding, long before the Middle Eastern civilizations saw a domesticated horse.

31 Jul 2012 7:23 AM

Thanks for a wonderful article and GREAT pictures. I had forgotten Sea Hero was still alive.

It was interesting that the Turkish government is over-taxing the racing industry, an unfriendly attitude often found here at home.

31 Jul 2012 10:07 AM
Deborah Webb

I had no idea that breeding and racing were so extensive in Turkey! The stallions are dappled and look like they get first rate care in Turkey. I've always wondered because I find it easy to picture Turkey as full of nothing but mountains, villages, and deserts, and the populace made up largely of Kurds. Good point brought up about the Byerly Turk. Thanks for the reminder that these people go centuries back with horses, and probably have horse care methods useful for American breeding and racing horses.

31 Jul 2012 10:10 AM
ceil rock

Arabians are not "show ring Barbies". They are the breed of choice in endurance riding. They're still going strong when every other breed is falling by the wayside. Sheikh Mohammed, for instance, breeds Arabians as well as Thoroughbreds (and sponsors an Arabian race at Keeneland in the fall). He and his son competed in the endurance riding competition at the Kentucky Horse Park during the last World Equestrian Games. As far as bringing these old stallions "home" - bad idea. Turkey is their home and they are being well cared for. Alysheba lasted about six months when he was sent back to the USA from Saudi Arabia. You can't uproot an old horse from his familiar surroundings and caretakers and stick him on an airplane just so you can go see him. Think of his well being first.

31 Jul 2012 10:24 AM
Karen in Texas

Thanks so much for the report on the Turkish breeding industry and on our previous American stallions! Victory Gallop and Sea Hero appear to be thriving. These "Around The Globe" segments are so timely and enlightening--I hope they are mind-expanding for all who read them.

31 Jul 2012 10:40 AM

Michele . . . THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! I have been in love with SEA HERO forever and have been so worried about him being so far away. He looks ABSOLUTELY SPECTACULAR!!

The article is great too . . .

You rock Michele . . thank you again!!

31 Jul 2012 1:05 PM
Terry M.

Some of my personal favourites were sent to Turkey, and I had been worried about them. Not anymore! I hope these great stallions, so under-appreciated while in North America, stay in Turkey for their entire lives. They are loved and revered there. Thanks for a wonderful article with lovely photos.

31 Jul 2012 1:20 PM

I want to second Ceil Rock's defense of Arabian horses. Look at the results of the Tevis Cup (one of the toughest endurace races in the world).  The vast majority of those placing in the top ten each year carry at least 50% Arabian blood.

 In my life I have had a quarter horse, an appaloosa, a thoroughbred and several Arab or half-Arab horses.  The Arabs were great horses; my bay, a purebred, was a trail class champion, showed dressage through fourth level, was a pretty good trail horse and would chase cattle.  I also gave lessons on him and he won a number of classes for little girls.  Don't sell Arabs short.  

  I loved this article and the pictures are marvelous.  Victory Gallop looks amazing!

31 Jul 2012 2:29 PM

Its always great to see how well American stallions are doing overseas. They all look fantastic, and I am sure that they are all well loved too. I agree with what was said above; more than often countries that buy our classic winners appreciate them more than we americans do.

And it doesn't suprise me that American breeders want to buy Lion Heart back. His 2 Yr old son Uncaptured is currently 3 for 3 this year (and he is being trained by Mark Casse), and he has an unstarted 2 year old colt, named Know More, who is expected to do big things in his racing career (Know More is being trained by O'Neill). Know More happens to be a grandson of Seattle Slew, and a great-grandson of Spectacular Bid through his dam, Seattle Qui. He is one of the up and coming 2 year olds that I am actively following. Any current pictures of Lion Heart? I had the pleasure of seeing him in person shortly after he won the Haskell; he truly is a beautiful horse.

31 Jul 2012 4:27 PM
an ole railbird

 just about 3 years ago, (almost to the day), i over heard a conversation between 2 of the more prominent breeders of todays market. their subject was out crosses.and where to find what was needed to qualify as an outcross.

  one of these gentleman stated that " he was keeping constant vigil, on the breeding programs in turkey". apparently he was very impressed with their progess, over there.

  the advanatge that the turks& many more foreign countrys have over the usa, is that they still use horses in every day life.

 the horse in the usa, is no longer needed in everyday life. so the people with hands on experince, with horses, has diminished to an all time low. this has lead us to class horses along the same lines as family pets.

this practice has lead to the dumbing down of the horse world in general. ( the last time i watched the equi-fest. i actully wept).

 with the foriegn countrys still breeding for function,purpose, &durability. it will leave us a way out of the corner that we are breeding ourselves into.

 what makes the other breeds that are out there, better than the TB?

 i know that im not the only 1, who has thought of this.

 but i have never heard anyone say it.

 the reason for the other breeds, progression, is simply, when the need to excite the gene pool, they just breed to a TB stallion. it gives them an outcross, that excites the gene pool. & provides the gentic make up, of hybrid vigor.

 hybrid vigor has been the secret to improving in all mammals& some fish& fowl.

there is no way for it to happen by the rules of the jockey club.

so the answer to the problem is to slect breeding partners, from different parts of the world.

 i said all of that to say, we should be making friends,& trading horses with the turks, & all these other countrys that are buying our good blood lines.

cross victory gallop, on a native turkish mare. then cross sea hero, on a native mare. take these offspring& breed them. the product of this breeding, will then breed back to usa bred mares& add 2 completly new gentic make-ups that will go along way to correct our ills.

 i dont mean to imply, that our programs are at epidemic stage. because they are not. but we have maybe 14 years to keep it from being an epidemic.

 i do not want to see a half breed progam in the jockey club.

 it is my opinion that geography, is the way to start this gentic search.

it has worked in all other livestock. and yes horses are livestock. and i will continue to call them such, until they start giving them SS numbers& put 1 in the white house.

 thank you for letting me voice my opinion. i really enjoy this new bad habit i have aqiured(called bloggin).

wish a good day to all.

 "an ole railbird

31 Jul 2012 8:16 PM
Old Bald Peg

I would expect no less than a wonderful home in Turkey for these glorious horses. After all we are talking about a country which is in the -cradle- of thoroughbred origin!

31 Jul 2012 8:36 PM
Uncle Smiley

Pedigree Ann:

I am delighted to read  your sage comments relating to the Scythians.  A great ancient equestrian based civilization that certainly brought horses to Anatolia, and West to all of Europe, and onto the Arabian Shield.

Do you know how horses got not only into China, but into Japan?

As far as I know, they never entered the Pacific from the West, ie From Japan or China.


01 Aug 2012 8:03 PM

Glad to see these courageous racehorses appreciated like they deserve to be!

American breeders need to be patient:  Lemon Drop Kid was not an immediate success.  Empire Maker and Lion Heart:  two top stallions exported too soon.

01 Aug 2012 10:09 PM

i loved Sea Hero and so glad to know what's happening with him. many years ago i picked him and wow~i shoulda bet, huh! same for Strike The Gold. friends told me to bet. i never did.

02 Aug 2012 1:15 AM
Love 'em all

Michele, thanks for treating us with such an informative and interesting article ... and sharing all the wonderful pictures.

Thanks, too, to all the good folks in Turkey who help keep these horses happy and healthy.  Cheers to all.

03 Aug 2012 2:07 PM

Always a Sea Hero fan, I have been searching for news of him for quite some time....Glad to hear he is being cared for and is happy and thriving!

03 Aug 2012 5:00 PM

Too bad IHA did'nt go to Turkey.

05 Aug 2012 2:26 AM

michele mcdonald,

thanks for the article - victory gallop and sea hero look great - i had seen victory gallop at prestonwood farm before it became winstar of other texans ,from mr art preston .

I have sent two stallions to Pakistan - from usa

1.Unassisted (by court martial) in 1973 . was very good stallion for pakistan,s sultan stud .

2.KEY GUY - 2004 (by key to the mint out of chelsea dancer )

he has done great and is a world class broodmare sire - stamina into local breed fillies .

please give me some address,s of turkey,s stud farms ,we want to get in touch with them - thanks

saj chaudhry

05 Aug 2012 1:37 PM

Thanks for the Great Article...

06 Aug 2012 12:52 PM

Dear Michele,

Thank you for the great article about the Turkish racing industry and the absolutely beautiful pictures of these great champion horses.  Sea Hero and Victory Gallop look stunningly handsome in their pictures.  Sea Hero's close up shot:  all I can say is wow!  What a face!  They are both very obviously extremely well taken care of, and are happy and healthy.  It makes me so happy to see & hear they are all doing so well.  It also gladdens my heart that they are so revered in Turkey, much more so than they would have been here in the States.  It just baffles the mind why American breeders don't appreciate their own top-of-the-line champion horses, throw them away and let other countries acquire the best of our stock.  It makes no sense!  

I have wondered about Strike the Gold over the years, and I'm so happy to hear how well loved he was by the Turks.  He was a national treasure to them!  I'm so happy about all of this.  This has made my day to hear such good news.

To Gammyp:  No need to worry about I'll Have Another.  He has arrived in Japan, and is happily adjusting to his new life there.  We have pictures and videos and articles on his exploits in Japan.  I'll Have Another is doing GREAT so far.  There is a video of him running around in the pasture, incredibly happy and frisky, showing off for the press.  IHA's used to a lot of attention, and the sight of all of the reporters and cameras made him run and prance with glee for them.  He was friendly and outgoing.  

I'll Have Another has a Twitter account, as does Big Red Farm, they keep us regularly posted on IHA, as does Three Chimneys Farm.  Big Red Farm is AMAZINGLY beautiful - WOW, is it ever beautiful!!  It rivals the very best farms in Kentucky, hands down.  I'll Have Another's stall is big, luxurious and beautiful.  Soon, he will have another best friend to pal around with just as he had in Lava Man.  I'm sure very soon the staff will all adore him, just as the staff at Doug O'Neill's barn all adored him, and just as we fans do, too.  Plus, a lot of IHA's fans from the States are communicating with Big Red Farm about IHA.  Big Red Farm also has videos on YouTube (they are in Japanese, not English, but you will get the jist of what is being said just by looking at what is going on onscreen), and they have a website in English, with information on all of their horses, which also include Roses in May and Conduit.  I'll Have Another will be treated like the king he is and will have an excellent life.  His breeding book has been totally sold out for next year and the list of mares on it is reportedly from Mr Okada, the owner of Big Red Farm, top rate mares.  The more I see and hear of I'll Have Another and Big Red Farm, the happier I become.  He was sent to an outstanding place to live.  The Japanese fans appear to already love him and have an interest in all of his activities.  (There were Japanese reporters with television/still cameras there as well.)  And when the time comes when IHA's breeding obligations are completed, IHA will come back home.  That is certain.  Then we fans can visit him as much as we like, give him lots of love & attention, bring him lots of treats, and spoil him absolutely rotten! - LOL.  So, take heart Gammyp!  

13 Aug 2012 2:43 AM
Dayton TN

Loved the article + pictures. We have a Victory Gallop son who is his sire's image. Won @ Churchill + elsewhere. Out of Private Account mare. SMART horse. Amazing joy to own + know him.

28 Jan 2014 10:43 AM

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