12/31/2004 1:00AM

Russians are coming with full wallets

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Alexander Khait's name showed up on a buyer's receipt at Fasig-Tipton's 2003 February mixed sale in Timonium, Md., few would have recognized that he was part of a new trend. Khait's $4,000 purchase, a 2-year-old Malibu Moon filly named Moon Thistle, didn't make headlines, but it represented one of the first forays by a Ukrainian into the American Thoroughbred marketplace.

As it happens, Khait's inexpensive filly has turned out to be a highly successful choice. Campaigning in Russia, the daughter of Summell (by Summing) has become a star. According to Castleton Lyons, the Lexington farm that stands her sire, Malibu Moon, Moon Thistle this year became the first filly since 1939 to win the Moscow Derby. She came into the race off a win in the Russian Oaks, making her just the fourth filly in history to capture both races. Russian purse information is scarce, but clearly Khait scored a home run with his Pennsylvania-bred purchase.

Stories like Moon Thistle's could mean good news for regional breeders. Thoroughbred breeder groups and auction houses are capitalizing on such successes in an effort to attract more buyers like Khait from foreign locales. Most of those efforts have focused on South America and Korea, but sale companies have been paying more attention lately to Russia and its former republics, such as the Ukraine. Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, recently noted that his company had sent a representative to Russia this year, and Fasig-Tipton official Tim Boyce said he has shown a small group of Ukrainian buyers around auctions in Texas and Maryland.

"You know, on 'Jeopardy!' the other night they had a trivia question asking what capital city had the most billionaires," Boyce said. "The answer was Moscow. Capitalism has really taken hold there and created a lot of wealth."

Alexander Garese, a banker from Kiev, splashed into the market when he bought an $825,000 Cozzene-Avie's Fancy colt at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky's July yearling sale. Khait, who is based in Odessa, has been more low-key, but he's spreading his wealth. This year, he returned to Maryland and bought 12 yearlings for $139,000. They ranged in price from $2,500 for fillies by Twining and Chief Seattle to $25,000 for a Formal Gold-To Blossom Again colt.

"Our market suits the Russian market very well," Boyce said, noting that many overseas buyers are looking for a fairly large number of horses to fill their local racetracks. That has been the case in Korea, for example, where the racing association buys horses in the U.S. and then doles them out to Korean owners through a lottery-style purchasing system.

"The Russians are getting their feet wet, and there are only one or two of them buying right now that I know of," Boyce said.

Interestingly, neither Khait nor Garese was recruited by a breeders' trade mission or sale company. Garese got into the market after sending an e-mail to Lane's End, whose agent John Gasper represented Garese in the $825,000 purchase. Khait "found us," Boyce said, when he contacted a Maryland trade representative, Elaine Bassford, and asked about Thoroughbred auctions. Khait is organizing a group of owners to form a Russian Jockey Club, Boyce said. The group arrived in the States last year with a letter from Russian president Vladimir Putin in support of developing Russia's Thoroughbred industry.

"They came over here looking for horses because they believe racing in the former Soviet Union is going to expand," Boyce said of Khait's group. "There are only three tracks in Russia currently, but they're hoping there will be more."

Coolmore auction to aid victims

Coolmore Stud has opened a stallion-season auction to aid victims of the Indian Ocean tsunamis that devastated portions of 12 countries on Dec. 26.

The Irish-based stud farm, which has branches in Kentucky and Australia, has donated a nomination to each of its flat and national hunt stallions, for an auction. All proceeds will go to the International Red Cross. The seasons on offer are no-guarantee but will include a right of return. To facilitate donation to the Red Cross, payment will be due immediately.

Bidding opened Dec. 31 and will continue until 5 p.m.Eastern on Tuesday, Jan. 11. A Coolmore release noted that its staff would be manning telephones to accept bids over the New Year holiday weekend. Bidders can contact Coolmore Ireland's Christy Grassick or David O'Loughlin at 011-353-52-31298; Coolmore America's Aisling Duignan or Dermot Ryan at (859) 873-7088; or Coolmore Australia's Michael Kirwan or Peter O'Brien at 011-61-2-65-764200.

Nearly two dozen join 'Greatest Game'

The Greatest Game, a Lexington owner-recruitment company, also appears to be having some success bring new buyers into the racing game.

According to a release it issued this week, The Greatest Game has converted 23 people from spectators to Thoroughbred investors. The new owners included residents of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming. Fourteen became solo owners, while the others invested in partnerships or syndicates.

The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, Keeneland, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association founded the recruitment company in 2001.