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Authorized at Dalham Hall

Authorized: his half-brother Empowered is set to stand in Syria after being snapped up by Syrian buyers at the Tattersalls December Sale



Syria steps up expansion with December buys

THERE is no need to look further than any buyers' sheet at a major auction for proof that the racing world continues to grow smaller, something which once again was evident at the Tattersalls December Sale earlier this month when buyers from 33 countries walked away with purchases.

As well as hosting transactions between many of the usual international buyers, this year's December Sale marked the first foray into the British market by Syrian investors, who between them went home with 21 purchases.

Their activity at Tattersalls, where they were guided by British Bloodstock Marketing and agent Johnny McKeever, is part of an ambitious plan led by British-born Ibrahim Martin Colliver to improve Syrian bloodlines and propel Syrian racing on to an international stage.

Only two years ago, Syrian racing operated without a stud book; today, thanks to the determined efforts of Colliver and those around him, there is an embryonic version which has been embraced by Syrian owners and breeders and continues to expand rapidly.

"A friend of mine in Syria was interested in officially registering thoroughbreds and asked me to find out how to start the process to launch a stud book," recalls Colliver, who is based in Damascus.

"I contacted Weatherbys and two years ago webegan the process. Throughout that time, we invited racing authorities from abroad to visit and view what we were doing. It can be quite a long process but we met Weatherbys' demands quickly and within a year it was launched."

Syria owns a long history of breeding horses, in particular Arabs - it was in 1704 in Aleppo, Syria that Thomas Darley purchased the Darley Arabian - but with no thoroughbreds owning documents until a year ago at the most, it has been impossible to pinpointthe exact thoroughbred population.

Since the stud book came into existence, it has been and remains Colliver's priority to collect DNA from as many thoroughbreds as possible. And naturally such a project has offered its surprises; it wasn't until Colliver embarked on this project that anyone realised the exact identities of one of the country's most popular stallions in service.

"Racing is popular among a certain sector of people," he says. "Lots of people are getting on board and the stud book has grown quickly. It's been fascinating tracing these horses' families and in one case, we had to reconstruct DNA from his foals to confirm his exact identity."

There are three functioning racetracks within Syria - Latakia, Damascus and Hama - all of which primarily cater for Arab racing with events confined to thoroughbreds often staged at the conclusion of a racecard. However, now that efforts are beingmade to improve Syrian bloodstock, the popularity of thoroughbred racing is starting to increase.

Up until now, Saudi Arabia has been traditionally targeted as a source of racing stock but the idea to import new blood from Britain waswarmly received by Colliver's Syrian associates, even though the exercise presents significant additional shipping costs.

"I informed our breeders that this was the biggest broodmare sale in my home country and there was some interest," he says.

"We will definitely make a point of visiting again as there are many others who would enjoy and benefit from it."

Although the initial plan was to buy foals as well as mares while keeping numbers at a minimum, a late change of plan saw 20 mares and fillies and one colt fall into Syrian hands through the help of McKeever, one of several agents recommended by British Bloodstock Marketing.

"We looked at everything that we thought might fall in the 5,000gns to 7,000gns price range which was relatively young and had a good pedigree," says Colliver. "But in the end we bought horses covering the whole price range of that day."

One of the most notable horses heading to Syria is the four-year-old colt Empowered, a winning Fasliyev half-brother to Authorized who Majdi Aladham secured for 25,000gns. Plans now call for him to race in Syria prior to standing at stud.

Colliver's own purchase will remain in Britain to foal but the others will head to Syria after finishing quarantine.

In the meantime, Colliver's time will be taken up by his latest project to promote Syria as a stop off point for horsestravelling within the Middle East or racing in Dubai.

"We intend to purchase a large plot of land with enough fertility and water to allow our foals to grow up in the moderate climate of the Damascus mountain countryside," he says. "We will also use the same land for training purposes - this is the first stage and we are looking for experienced people from Britain and Ireland to work with us.

"Our temperature in the summer is moderate and suits horses, especially those coming from the heat of Dubai."

If Colliver's plans come to fruition, it should allow increased numbers of horses to be imported in the coming years. And given how far the Syrian racing industry has progressed in just two years, it may not be too long until we see more activity from Syria at British sales.




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