01/28/2010 12:00AM

Unlike most, Turkey in buying mood

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Recent news that the Turkish Jockey Club is close to finalizing the purchase of five stallions - Cuvee, Dehere, Lion Heart, and Powerscourt in Kentucky and Yonaguska in Louisiana - makes you wonder: In the middle of a global recession, why is Turkey buying stallions?

One answer is obvious. Bloodstock prices have dropped so far and the market for stallions has slowed to a crawl, so now is a great time to buy. And the decline in American breeding means there are more sires on the market. As regional markets dry up because of reduced breeding activity, it's a great opportunity for international buyers to purchase sires who have a track record but are still young.

Those are all factors in Turkey's buying, but it also holds a strong buying hand because its racing and general economies are comparatively healthy, said French bloodstock agent Jean-Pierre Deroubaix, one of the Turkish Jockey Club's longtime advisors.

Turkey banned casinos in 1997, and in 2007 started a crackdown on offshore bookmakers and banned online gambling. But horse racing remains exempt from prohibition and has flourished now that its gambling competition has vanished. Deroubaix said he was part of the team that helped convince Turkey's government in the mid-1990s that the sport should escape the anti-gambling crackdown because horse breeding and racing were more agribusiness than a game of chance.

"They started with 300 betting shops in Istanbul, and year after year offtrack betting was extended to the whole country," Deroubaix said. "They have about 3,000 betting shops now. They worked with Scientific Games to develop betting networks, and they are simulcasting with England and France and other countries. Fifteen years ago, Turkey only had racing on Saturday and Sunday, but they steadily have increased the number of races and the number of racetracks from four to eight. There is racing every day now in the country, and prize money is very high."

An upswing in parimutuel betting has filled the Turkish Jockey Club's coffers, and they've been using a percentage of that revenue to upgrade Turkish Thoroughbred breeding over the years.

"Most of the owners in Turkey are breeders themselves, and they want to increase the quality of breeding stock," Deroubaix said. "But it was complicated to import a mare to Turkey. The mare must be black-typed herself or a sister to one, so the quality of imported mares is very good."

Stallions the Turkish Jockey Club buys stand at the country's national stud in Izmit.

"The idea is to bring them to Turkey and give local breeders the opportunity to breed to good quality stallions at low prices," said Deroubaix. "The dollar is low compared to what it was a couple of years ago, and the economy is weak everywhere, so for the same money they used to spend they can now buy a better horse, a younger horse.

"I suppose they might be in trouble in two or three years if the global economy does not improve," he said.

But for now Turkish racing's growth is providing an outlet for American sires.

"People complain, but you have to see it from both sides," Deroubaix said of America's exportation of better bloodlines. "The Turks buy expensive horses; we're talking about a couple of million dollars, and this is money injected into the economy of Kentucky, for example. The owners and shareholders in these stallions are happy to take this money and pay off debts or put it into other horses."

Among the horses previously exported to Turkey are Sea Hero, Strike the Gold, Mountain Cat, Victory Gallop, West by West, and Unaccounted For.

"Ten or 12 years ago, my idea was to bring to Turkey different main stallion bloodlines, from Mr. Prospector, from Northern Dancer, from Roberto, to give local breeders the opportunity to choose from these different male lines," Deroubaix said. "What's happening now is, some of those stallions are too old now, some have been successful in the past, and we need to buy a new one from the same family. They need to replace some of these with younger horses from those lines."

As for the five new stallions, Deroubaix said the deals would not be complete until the horses complete quarantine and pass routine veterinary tests. Pending those results, that process could be complete by the end of January.