The colours of Sheikh Karwan Barzani make their first appearance
January 28th marked the debut of the Élisabeth Bernard-trained M Almaysam (Mared Al Sahra) on the Pau fibresand. The PA horse carries the colours of a Kurdish owner, Sheikh Karwan Barzani. His representative, the bloodstock agent and racing consultant Jean-Pierre Deroubaix, has provided details of this newcomer on the French racing scene.
Let’s delve into a bit of geography so as to put the new arrival into context. Jean-Pierre Deroubaix said: "We are talking about Iraqi Kurdistan and whose capital is Erbil. This region, situated in northern Iraq, is autonomous in the manner we associate with the Länder (Germany) or the Spanish provinces. Kurdistan is seeking to become an independent state. It straddles parts of other countries such as Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The six million Kurds, with very little media exposure, are seeking a way of making their voices heard – by trumpeting their existence and, with a view one day, to establishing their own independent nation. Horse racing is part of this process."
A young and ambitious owner. Jean-Pierre Deroubaix added: "Monsieur Barzani is still relatively young as he is in his forties. He hails from the ruling family of Kurdistan and the current president is his uncle. Furthermore, he is the head of the local Jockey Club. I met him around ten years ago at the international race meeting in Istanbul. He talked to me about the construction of a racecourse at Erbil. He already had a number of horses in training ther" The meeting at Istanbul paved the way for an initial collaboration between the two parties. "We embarked on a project which involved show competitions [editor's note: which have since become both international and official], Olympic equestrian disciplines [as recognised by the International Equestrian Federation], and the building of a new racetrack. The latter project came to fruition two years ago and they race every Friday, but not during the summer because of the heat." Sheikh Karwan Barzani is the head of the Equestrian Federation and the local Jockey Club. This collaboration has enabled Jean-Pierre Deroubaix to carry out "some very interesting background work. I’ve forged a reputation as a bloodstock agent, but consultancy is my main line of work. For example, I was involved with the international stables of the Dubai Racing Club project, but also of the Doha racecourse, the training center, the Equestrian Federation and the Al Shaqab local installations. This major qatari project conception and development was made over four years. It’s something I enjoy as you are creating something. When I’m told: 'That you’re crazy to go Iraq because it’s synonymous with war', I tell the person in question that they need to switch off the television and to come with me. The situation on the ground bears no relation to what is being depicted. Erbil is the epicentre of a multi-faith region."
The geo-political context. For many, the mention of the words Iraqi Kurdistan conjures up an image of a war zone. It’s a simplistic notion and he added: "For sure, granted that the war is everywhere, the context is quite a particular one. Erbil is only 75 kms from Mosul, a city that has been bombarded in its entirety, and this caused the peasants in the surrounding areas to flee with their animals. However, the only peaceful spot in the whole region is Erbil! Mesopotamia, the region in question, is well irrigated [granted the presence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers]. The region is therefore a very verdant one and a little mountainous, and the rearing of livestock and farming has been an omnipresent feature.
This influx of people has been accompanied by a hike in the animal population, including horses. The Barzani family has sought to help them by finding the outlets in which the resulting equine breeding stock can be put to use, and this has taken the form of horse racing, show competitions in which a horse’s physique and gait are judged, and show jumping contests. Consequently, the stabling areas filled up quickly. This explains why a further 400 boxes are under construction, as these will cater for the increase in the number of races and the horse population. The main stumbling block is ensuring that aspiring jockeys, trainers and farriers receive the necessary professional grounding. Everything needs to be attended to. I floated the idea of having recourse to the help of amateur riders which come under the umbrellas of the Fegentri (International Federation of Gentlemen and Lady Riders) and the Gentlemen-Riders’ Federation, as enlisting the help the professional jockeys is complex due to the length of time they would be required to be away. The amateur riders are motivated and they sit tidily in the saddle and, even if they aren’t professionals, they are a big help for the local riders. For it enables them to learn the tools of the trade in a very pleasant ambiance. The same applies to the other bodies which make up the industry. They need to learn the correct way of doing things as, sometimes, bad habits can linger. However, what is certain, is that those which have undergone the ‘Erbil’ experience are infectious in their enthusiasm. The city is 5,000 years old. A magnificent citadel nestles at the heart of the city, and it’s classed as a UNESCO heritage site. The setting is stunning. The whole notion of Kurdistan gains resonance through this very experience."
Starting out from scratch. In a country in which everything needs to be rebuilt, Jean-Pierre Deroubaix has sought the help of International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities, via it’s president Louis Romanet and Dr. Roland Devolz, who worked for a long time at France Galop. Jean-Pierre Deroubaix said: "In Kurdistan it was question of a starting out from scratch. This has entailed the recreation of the local Jockey Club. Regarding the local stud book, which had become obsolete because of the war, we have revived that of the Iraqi PA horse and created that of the English thoroughbred, We’ve had to rewrite the rulebook which governs racing, while, at the same time, being aware that betting has never disappeared from this region – a comment which applies to Iran. It’s a form of pool betting. Some of the ‘take out’ goes to the owners, and they, in turn, re-numerate the trainers and breeders. Betting tax also serves to fund education plus religious and sporting activities. We’ve built a brand new racecourse, and have revived the lists of those previously in possession of a jockey’s or trainer’s licence."
Several breeds of horses. Jean-Pierre Deroubaix explained: "Three types of horses co-exist and each has their own specific racing programme. A certain number of Arabian horses are registered at the studbook in Baghdad. However, we have also come across horses imported from Turkey and Iran. Each has an identifying microchip and a horse passport. However, in some cases, the formalities relating to the importation process haven’t been completed. So there is work to be done. Regarding the English thoroughbreds, they have been imported by wealthy owners which have been resident abroad. Horses have been acquired from the sales in Dubai, Qatar, Turkey and in Europe. There are also some horses whose origins are untraceable, and they correspond somewhat to those animals which aren’t full thoroughbreds, and there are also races for them too." Jean-Pierre Deroubaix has also visited Iran and added: "I came across a stud book which was relevant to the Kurdish horse. It conforms to a type of horse which I had seen in the Erbil mountains. With the blessing of the Iraqi authorities, we are working on the creation of a stud book for this rustic breed which has well defined characteristics. It may be somewhat surprising, but there are tourists in the region, granted that the ‘safe zone’ extends to an area of 70 kms around Erbil.
Luxury hotels, in which Russians, US and European mingle, are also a feature. These fun loving groups are out to have a good time and so we take them racing. It makes for a very particular ambiance and has become very popular. Three Kurdish television channels take it in turns to broadcast local horse racing, plus the show jumping and show contests. The horse is an integral part of their way of life."
Using Europe as a model. After the norms which now govern racing in Iraqi Kurdistan were established, Jean-Pierre Deroubaix invited Sheikh Karwan Barzani to observe European best practice in person, beginning with France, and he said: "Obviously, the best way of understanding how a racing ‘organisation’ works is to have horses in training abroad. He followed my advice and acquired M Almaysam (Mared Al Sahra). He has also purchased an English thoroughbred. His experience of being an owner in France has proved highly instructive. He has also visited Pau and La Teste. He has also seen his horse being trained,
and stable visits were laid on for him. Lest we forget, his main aim is to beat the drum for his country, as happens at the other end of the scale and which is typified by the examples of Qatar or Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum in Dubai. The entry point is invariably the PA horse, as the Muslims believe that the horse is a gift from God. This animal forms part of their life. The majority of big owners in France such as Prince Abdullah, the Maktoum or the Qataris have all made their presence felt via the starting point of the Arabian horse."
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