Mongol Derby Winner secretly paid to ride
He was the only Mongolian rider in the Mongol Derby and according to the original press reports, he won. Yet in an exclusive interview with the Long Riders’ Guild, the winner revealed that unlike the other contestants, he had not been asked to pay a large fee to ride. In fact, the organizers of the race had secretly hired him to participate, so as to offset claims that the Mongol Derby was an act of equestrian colonialism.
It was supposed to be a get-rich-quick pony picnic, one which saw affluent foreigners paying to risk their lives in Mongolia in an equestrian endurance race allegedly based upon the mounted accomplishments of Genghis Khan’s relay riders.
Instead the Mongol Derby became a battleground over equestrian ethics, with an unprecedented international protest being raised about the welfare of the horses, the last minute financial involvement of a discredited foreign ruler and now the revelation that the race organizers secretly paid the only Mongolian rider to participate and – according to him – then robbed him of his victory.
The company behind the event, the Adventurists, recently circulated a press release wherein they posed the question, “I hope this email finds you revving up for a weekend of adventuring anarchy, drunken debauchery and general misdemeanours.” While the party may still be raging, what the company directors weren’t talking about was Shiravsamboo Galbadrakh, the Mongolian they had paid to ride in the debatable Derby.
The lead-up to the dubious event was cloaked in controversy. In November, 2008 the Long Riders’ Guild received an unsolicited email from the spokeswoman of the Bristol based tourism company. The Adventurists were seeking input from the LRG regarding a 1,000 kilometer endurance race. Because the company had no previous equestrian experience, and bragged about putting their clients’ lives at risk, Long Riders with extensive Mongolian travel experience urged the company to proceed cautiously.
As more facts were revealed about the race’s poor planning, more than 3,000 people from 30 countries signed an on-line protest which asked the president of Mongolia to investigate the race. International endurance riders launched a “Stop the Mongol Derby” Facebook page and several contestants carried orange ribbons in solidarity with the Mongolians at the famous Tevis Cup endurance race. Meanwhile, questions from a coalition of equestrian and exploration editors, as well as reporters and bloggers, prompted the spokeswoman for the Adventurists to urge the foreign contestants to avoid discussing the race prior to its onset.
Equestrians had cause to be worried, as the Mongol Derby website had originally bragged about the life and death situations the riders would be exposed to. Wolves were jokingly mentioned. A lack of water for horse and rider was revealed. One contestant reported, “There is no marked course, no roads or tracks, we must find our own water and depend on the hospitality of the nomadic people we encounter along the way for food and shelter in their gers (Mongolian tents).”
As the debate continued and the outrage grew, the tone of the race organizers became more muted. They instituted a weight limit on the foreign riders and according to their website revised the route so as to “increase the number of water sources.” Yet the primary concern remained how the 800 horses would be cared for?
Initially the Adventurists, and their charity allies at the Mercy Corps, told the press that all equine medical needs were being met by “a British vet with 32 years experience.” Additionally, the company claimed they had secured the services of Vet Net. Yet a spokesman for the American based NGO decried the claim, saying that organization was not involved because of “ethical, moral and humanitarian concerns.”
With the question of equine welfare still unresolved, the tour company found an unlikely last minute ally.
Despite the growing scandal, the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) maintained a stony silence regarding the ethical questions associated with the event. After the FEI repeatedly refused calls from reporters, Geoff Young, the publisher of Horse Connection magazine, issued an editorial entitled “The Emperor Has No Riding Breeches,” in which he called for the Geneva based organization to be disbanded.
Shortly afterwards the Long Riders’ Guild received an unsolicited phone call from FEI Endurance Director Ian Williams. He rang to say he was flying to England to meet with the Adventurists.
According to Williams, he and "the president," had been working behind the scenes, wherein they had carried out secret talks with officials of the Mongolian government and FEI officials from Section 8, which oversees Mongolia.
Williams’ statement overlooked the fact that on five separate occasions FEI officials announced to the Guild and the press that the organization could not oversee the race, nor even issue a statement expressing concern over the welfare of the 800 horses, because a) Mongolia had been suspended for not paying its FEI dues and b) the 1,000 kilometre race violated the 160 kilometre FEI limit.
When asked to clarify his employer’s change of views, Williams responded a few days later by saying he was going to England so as to deliver an offer, not from the FEI, but from the government of the UAE. This is the country ruled by Sheik Mohammad Maktoum, a devoted endurance racer and husband to FEI President, HRH Princess Haya.
When hearing of this decision, an international endurance racer said, “In this case the FEI has proved that they’ll pay you to violate their own rules.”
HRH Princess Haya of Jordan, President of the FEI, and her husband, endurance rider and ruler of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed Maktoum.
Many of the aspects related to the Mongol Derby remain shrouded in secrecy. The route, for example, was not revealed except to the contestants, so as to prohibit outside observers from monitoring the health of the horses. Likewise the financial roots of the event remain a mystery. It has never been revealed how much money the UAE government provided to the Adventurists, nor what the terms of the clandestine deal were. The only thing publicly discussed was that four foreign vets would be provided, at UAE expense, so as to take care of the horses. Only one of those vets has ever been named or come forward.
Questions about the Mongol Derby, and its links to the UAE government, were heightened by a string of endurance racing events involving Sheik Maktoum.
The UAE government was revealed to be the financial benefactor on Thursday, 21st July. On Friday 22nd July, the British press reported that a 120km "private" endurance ride with an unprecedented prize-pot of £175,000 was causing consternation among UK riders. According to unconfirmed reports, the ride had been arranged so as to allow Sheikh Maktoum to continue to compete, despite the fact that he had been suspended from competition by the FEI while a doping enquiry was investigated.
The following weekend, Saturday, August 2nd, Sheik Maktoum won the English race. His son, the crown prince, came in second. On Monday, August 4th, after finding him guilty of doping his horse, the FEI banned the sheik from endurance racing for six months. Ten days later, the crown prince was also struck off the endurance racing roles for six months, after he too was convicted of cheating and doping his horse.
During the lead-up to the race, there had been questions raised about how Mongolia was being used to foster a new type of equestrian colonialism.
One critic of Mercy Corps, the charity which accepted money from the contestants, raised this point. “I’m so fed up with the notion that bad behavior in foreign countries is made acceptable because you donate money to a charity. Isn’t it rather like buying an indulgence?”
As if to off-set this specific criticism, three days before the race was due to begin the name of a Mongolian was suddenly listed as being a contestant. Unlike the twenty-five foreign riders, no hint was offered as to who this person was, what his equestrian experience consisted of, nor how he had managed to raise the large sum of money required of the other contestants.
Only the name of the final contestant was presented to the public.
Only the Adventurists knew.
Thus, in the midst of this final obscurity, the Mongol Derby started on August 22.
Almost immediately two riders suffered serious falls and had to withdraw because of concussion and back injuries. By the second day Charles Van Wyk from South Africa and the mysterious Mongolian were said to be “streaking ahead” of the other competitors. As the race progressed the Mongolian was reported to be in the lead.
On August 29th the Adventurists website reported, “First across the line was the Mongolian Rider, followed only one minute later by the South African, Charles Van Wyk. “ The international press followed suit, naming the Mongolian rider as the winner. Yet six days later the Adventurists retracted that statement, stating that “joint first was awarded to Charles van Wyk of South Africa and Shiravsamboo Galbadrakh of Mongolia.”
Though the entire equestrian world, both supporters and detractors, had been watching events from afar, no photos have ever been made available showing which rider was actually first across the finish line. Instead the Mongolian was brushed back off the stage, while the professional endurance rider from South Africa basked in glory.
Yet who was this unknown, untraceable Mongolian who took the lead, won the race, and was just as quickly forgotten?
It took Mongolia’s first Long Rider to find the answers.
According to the only named veterinarian, the world’s primary concern about the safety of the nearly one thousand horses seemed to have been alleviated, as no major equine injuries were reported. No outside neutral observer can confirm how the horses were treated or ridden, nor if any of them were hurt during the race.
However, what is known is that while the international debate about the Mongol Derby was still raging, a home-grown dispute was also underway. It was being led by a Mongolian horseman named Temuujin Zemuun.
Because Temuujin carries the original birth name of Mongolia’s most famous son, later known as Genghis Khan, he believed his country’s equestrian heritage had been corrupted by foreign influences. While plans proceeded for Temuujin and two others to qualify to become Long Riders by making an extended equestrian journey across the nation, the talented horseman was also busy trying to have the Mongol Derby stopped.
Prior to his departure on his own journey, Temuujin called a press conference in the nation’s capital, Ulaanbaator. This allowed international criticism against the race to be voiced for the first time to the Mongolian people via local television and newspapers in the native language. Then, accompanied by Buddhist monks and his fellow Long Riders, Temuujin delivered the international petition to the Mongolian president. Yet, with his own ride pressing, and the Mongol Derby still scheduled to begin, Temuujin set off to ride across Mongolia as planned.
It was upon his return that Mongolia’s first Long Rider determined to find the Mongolian winner of the infamous race.
|Mongolia Today newspaper reports on the Press Conference held by Long Riders Temuujin Zemuun, Batmonkh Muntuush and Bonnie Folkins. Pictured also is the delivery of the international petition to the President by the Long Riders and Buddhist monks.|
Mongolia is more than twice the size of Texas, so finding one nomadic herder wasn’t going to be easy. Yet modern technology has made remarkable inroads. After repeated attempts, Temuujin managed to obtain the location of the camp of Shiravsamboo Galbadrakh. His first attempt to find the winner failed, as it transpired the man who had won Mongolia’s longest horse race was a simple herder who was now tending his animals out on the trackless steppes. Refusing to give up, Temuujin made a second journey, this time through a snow storm.
At a ger/yurt deep in the countryside, with winter pressing in, Temuujin the Long Rider met Shiravsamboo the Mongol Derby winner. In an on-the-record, filmed interview, Temuujin asked his fellow Mongolian equestrian to explain to the world his background, as well as his sudden appearance in the horse.
In response to questions Shiravsamboo revealed these facts.
Shiravsamboo Gulbadrakh is twenty-six years old.
He is unmarried and has no children.
He is a poor, illiterate Mongolian shepherd who does not speak English or any other foreign language. Because of this none of the foreign contestants could speak to him or learn the nature of his involvement in the Mongol Derby.
He was informed of the race three days prior to its start.
He was deliberately recruited by agents of the Adventurists to ride in the race, who said that it was important to the company that a Mongolian should participate.
He was not told that the foreigner contestants had paid large sums of money to participate.
He did not pay these required funds to ride in the race.
Nor did he raise the funds demanded by the charity, Mercy Corps.
He was paid 300,000 tugrugs, about $250, the same amount paid to the herder families who provided the horses, so as to ensure his participation.
Even though Temuujin had uncovered the truth, he was unable to share the news with the rest of the world immediately. He had difficulty travelling back across the snow-covered country. Once he reached the capital, he discovered that a ‘flu epidemic had effectively shut down the city, making it impossible for him to find a translator straight away. It was only after overcoming all of these difficulties that the Mongolian Long Rider was able to transmit the news back to Guild HQ.
Mongolian Long Rider Temuujin Zemuun (left) meets Mongol Derby winner, Shiravsamboo Galbadrakh.
You would have thought that the climax to such a hotly contested race would have generated a photographic orgy. Yet the Adventurists company has never published a single photo showing the finish of the race. Instead they chose to release scenes of foreigners riding through a bucolic Mongolian landscape, as well as images depicting intent looking foreigners, who may be veterinarians, inspecting local horses.
Regardless of how much money he didn’t pay to ride, Shiravsamboo expressed his anger to Temuujin when he learned to his dismay that the organizers of the event were broadcasting the news that he had “shared” the victory with one of the foreign riders.
According to Shiravsamboo, he did not tie with Charles van Wyk. He believes 100% that he won the race without any assistance. He did not know that the Adventurists now claim that the foreign contestant tied with him. Shiravsamboo insists that he won all by himself and is adamant that he is the sole winner.
Regardless of what he believes, the Mongolian winner of the first Mongolian Derby has been quietly air-brushed aside, as the company now gives preference to the foreign contestant who took second place, and has strong commercial ties to the Barefoot Saddle company which provided free saddles to the contestants.
“South African architect Charles van Wyk, 28, was joint winner along with Mongolian rider Shiravsamboo Galbadrakh,” states their website.
Did the foreign contestants know that Galbadrakh had been paid to ride alongside them? Apparently not, as one contestant noted the Mongol’s hard riding ability but remarked upon the general inability of the linguistically challenged foreigners to converse with the only Mongolian contestant.
When contacted by the Long Riders’ Guild, company owner, Tom Morgan, and representatives of the Adventurists declined to comment on Shiravsamboo Gulbadrakh’s accusations. Yet representatives of the official British horse world had a few words to say about the unprecedented situation.
The official Mongol Derby website states.
“Forget The Epsom Derby, The Melbourne Cup, The Grand National or the St. Leger; this is the biggest, toughest and longest horse race in the world!”
The Adventurists having compared the endurance race to Great Britain’s most prestigious equestrian racing events, The Guild sought the input of the British Horse Racing Authority.
When informed of the phony jockey, the British Horse Racing Authority explained that thoroughbred races in Great Britain are strictly regulated so as to prohibit these types of actions from occurring. Thanks to the stringent rules imposed by these authorities, “there would be no way that an intermediary could supplement an entry outside the race conditions of entry.”
So as to prevent deception, the BHRA explained, jockeys must be registered with Weatherbys, the administrative arm of the BHA, prior to being allowed to run in a race in England. The notion of placing a secret jockey in a race was so unheard of that the BHRA responded, “it would be impossible for us to consider the notion of a failure to disclose an entry to the public or remaining competitors.”
Racecourse stewards, they said, monitor races for malpractice.
Sadly, there were no stewards in Mongolia, only a climate of corruption.
Minting Money in Mongolia
Mongolia is facing a wide variety of internal problems, all of which have endangered the last horse-based nomadic culture in the world.
Two devastating winters wiped out a third of Mongolia’s livestock, forcing thousands of former nomads to scour sites which had been abandoned by large foreign mining companies, in a desperate search for crumbs of gold. Further bad weather has caused nomads to move their animals 30 times a year, instead of the average three. Meanwhile foreign companies have begun ruthlessly exploiting the country’s mineral wealth, all the while the local political scene is awash with Mongolian fat-cats.
Because of these various reasons Transparency International recently gave Mongolia one of the world’s worst corruption ratings. On a scale of one to ten, with one being the worst, Mongolia rates as a two.
When asked to comment on the practice of secretly paying Shiravsamboo Galbadrakh to ride in the race, and then denying his victory, the Mongolian spokeswoman for Transparency International stated, “If officials are not held accountable, why would others bother to refrain from temptation?"
The average yearly income in Mongolia is $2,100, which helps explains why a simple herder, like Shiravsamboo, would welcome a payment of $250 from the Adventurists.
Adding to Mongolia’s problems is a report published 22/12/09 in London’s Independent newspaper, “2010 is set to be the year of "chav adventures" - where unruly tourists combine adventure breaks with charity raising - according to an annual travel trends report today.”
Leading the rise in rowdyism will be the Adventurists, who are now set to launch an even larger Mongol Derby by placing their monetary handwriting on the Mongolian wall.
The first “Rickshaw Run” race organized by the Adventurists in 2007 charged competitors £97 to compete. The entry fee for the Rickshaw Run is now £895. The 2009 Mongol Derby was scheduled to raise $113,000 from the twenty-five foreign contestants, each of whom was required to pay $4550 in fees. Race organizers are now attempting to enlist 35 contestants for the 2010 Mongol Derby. With an estimated $332,500 in contestant fees alone, and with an estimated fee of only $1750 being paid to the Mongolian herders who will supply the horses, it looks to be another profitable venture for the Adventurists.
But not to worry.
The official Mongol Derby website states.
“To get a place on the world's toughest horse race it will set you back $9500 (about £6000). But remember if you put some hard graft into sponsorship you could well find the Mongol Derby doesn't need to cost you anything.”
The Mongol Derby represents a callous calculated disregard for the accepted rules of endurance riding which has undermined the strength of the sport and endangered nearly 1,000 horses so as to glorify the ego of man. The LRG became involved in the Mongol Derby because The Guild was initially contacted by the Adventurists. Having made every attempt to defend the horses, and thanks to Mongolian Long Rider Temuujin’s efforts to reveal the truth, The Guild now considers the matter closed. The LRG would also like to thank Long Riders Tim Cope, Bonnie Folkins, Batmonkh Muntuush, Ian Robinson and Catherine Waridel.
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