Update from Ashgabat # 16 May 2004
- The latest news from Sharon Sugarek in Turkmenistan.
Going to the Horse Races
The weekend of May 8-9 is very important in former Soviet Republics.
It is called Victory Day and commemorates the Russian victory in World
War II. The various republics supplied soldiers to the Soviet Army and
there are still veterans here in Turkmenistan. And there were
numerous ceremonies around town on Saturday and Sunday to mark the
occasion. In addition, there were horse races held at the old
Hippodrome on Sunday.
So off we went to check out the horse races. My friend Carole Gates
was here visiting from the US. She and our other friend Joyce Hickok
had just completed a 2-½ week "Silk Road" Tour through Uzbekistan and
Turkmenistan. The tour ended in Ashgabat and Carole was able to stay
on a few days to visit and do some other things here in Ashgabateven
though there is not a lot to do. Anyway, Carole, my friend Bahar and
I spent the morning at Tolkuchka helping Carole acquire and
appropriate range of Turkmen crafts to remind her of her visit here.
And then we set off for the races.
The Turkmen are very proud of their unique "Ahalteke" horses as they
should be. These are beautiful horses that remind me of quarter horses
and some of them are beautiful racers.
We arrived at the Hippodrome somewhere between the first and second
races. We were directed to sit in an area almost at the finish line
that was sparsely populated and appeared to be right next to the VIP
section where government dignitaries would be seated if they were
there. There were a few people in that section but we didn't really
investigate. A quick look around the stands revealed that the ere were
very few women present here, but there were two women with their
children seated several rows below us. Carole and I were also the only
foreigners in the place. But we were undeterred.
I noticed that the women below us were reading programs so I sent
Bahar off to see if she could find out where to get one. She came back
to tell us that the programs had been available at 10 am (Races
started at 12:00 noon) and none were left. A few minutes later the
very nice older guard for our section motioned to Bahar and presented
her with a copy of the program for us. With the program we were able
to discern for each horse who the owner, trainer and rider were, along
with the name of the horse.
Since Bahar had never been to a horse race before I explained to her
the concepts of handicapping horses and betting. Although there is no
on-track betting, I was assured that there are side bets around the
track. We had a great time trying to pick out who would win each race.
I found a jockey I liked and he did manage to win a race or two where
I picked him.
One of the more surprising parts of the race was that there were no
starting gates. Thus when most of the horses got more or less lined up
at the starting line the race was started. Woe to the jockey who was
not paying attention! In the last race, 10 horses were scheduled to
run. But one jockey was warming his horse up and got separated from
the other horsesand they started the race without him! I'm sure his
owner was not too happy about the whole thing. As far as I can tell,
the winners do not win moneybut I'm not sure about that. Some win
carpets or scarves but I don't know if there is a purse or not. I plan
to go back to the races and perhaps I will learn more next time.
Attached are a few photos I took of the various winners of different
races. They are beautiful horses!
*Pictures can be found at our web site in "Photos"