Turkish horseracing needs state help to race with big names

Referans - Istanbul | 10/12/2007 12:00:00 AM | AYTEN GÜVENKAYA

Taking Formula One as a model, the Turkish Jockey Club (TJK) is about to draw world famous names to the Veliefendi Hippodrome, in order to make Istanbul an important center in

Taking Formula One as a model, the Turkish Jockey Club (TJK) is about to draw world famous names to the Veliefendi Hippodrome, in order to make Istanbul an important center in horseracing.

Initial steps have already been taken with the Topkapı Derby on Sept. 9, when the thoroughbreds of Queen Elizabeth II and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, competed. In the future, more international races will be organized, and the need to develop strong relations with embassies is inevitable in that project. Queen Elizabeth II tops the guest list naturally, as a special race in Ankara has been organized in her honor since 1971.

“Actually we invited the Queen to this year's race, but she could not come as her schedule was already arranged,” said Yasin K. Ekinci, the president of the TJK. “We will invite her as soon as next year's calendar is set, because we want the Queen or Princess Anne or a member of the Royal Family present,” he said.

Beside the Queen, the TJK will invite whoever is involved with the particular race that day. “For example, if there is a race about northern Cyprus, the hippodrome should experience a day about northern Cyprus, welcoming relevant artists and politicians,” he said.

As a country that has failed to benefit from the $6 billion thoroughbred export market, Turkish thoroughbreds need to be promoted, trained well and win internationally acclaimed derbies. Just like Sabırlı did, winning the Topkapı derby despite horses worth millions of dollars taking part.

Promoting English thoroughbreds:

However, there are not many examples like Sabırlı. The TJK has received a few propositions to promote thoroughbreds in Turkey, including reducing domestic taxes, launching a system of support and promoting English thoroughbreds instead of Arabian stallions.

The TJK's board member, Esra Atman Özyiğit, who owns 65 horses, said the number of Arabian thoroughbreds is so high that it poses a problem.

“In Turkey, horse owning is based on winning races and earning income, that is why Arabian horses are preferred, as they can run about four years more than the English,” said Atman Özyiğit, adding that Turkey needs a change of vision.

About 45 percent of racing horses are Arabian while 55 percent are English in Turkey, while worldwide statistics show that the rate of Arabian horses is 1 percent.

Another serious subject is the issue of betting, which is the most important point in budgets.

“There are about 20,000 people working in the horseracing sector in Turkey; that is why it needs to be supported,” said Ekinci. “We need income from betting, but the taxes almost halve the profits.”

This year, the TJK targets revenue of YTL1.5 million but complains that almost 50 percent of revenue will be lost to taxes, including VAT and municipal taxes. While total income is worth $14 billion in England, only 7 percent goes to taxes. The rate rises to about 12-17 percent, which is miniscule compared to Turkey.

“In March 2007, the tax was reduced from 67 percent to 50 percent,” said the TJK's chairman, adding that the government will continue profiting as revenue from horseracing is increasing. That is why he is hopeful that taxes will be under 30 percent next year.

International races:

The need for government help is not limited to tax, as thoroughbreds could be supported to compete in races abroad. Ekinci said that many horse owners are not warm about international races due of expenses. 

“If we send a thoroughbred to race in international derbies, a groom and a trainer should accompany the horse, which boosts the expenses to almost $10,000,” Ekinci said.

Ekinci points out that the government can pay a certain amount to support stallion owners and a further bonus if the thoroughbred wins. He added that the owners always take big risks, when raising a thoroughbred. Thus, the state's support is inevitably needed, according to Ekinci.

Ali Doğan Ünlü, who owns four thoroughbreds, including the Presidential Derby winner, Sorgun Bey, said a private plane could be given to the TJK to promote participation in international races. This could decrease the costs of owning a thoroughbred, which is currently about YTL 2,000 a month.

“This amount is really high, if you do not regularly win races,” said Ünlü, adding that the selling a horse is not an easy option because Turkish thoroughbreds don't enjoy a strong reputation abroad.

It is clear that Ekinci wants the Veliefendi hippodrome to be a center of entertainment and culture. The hippodromes will be comfortable and green places away from the chaos of city life, according to the TJK's president. Those dreams may come true if the planned projects are realized.  




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