Back in the day, the USSR bred and raced some rock stars

Anilin, one of the best from the USSR.

During the early 1960s, If you’d uttered the phrase “I gotta piss like a Russian racehorse at the Kentucky Derby with a glue truck behind it” within earshot of the Russian contingent that frequented the Washington DC International, KGB might have had your privates in a vice. Back then, in the quaint days of the USSR, the state not only controlled the Moscow Hippodrome but also the breeding industry—now privatized— and it owned the horses that made forays into foreign lands to compete when the Moscow season from May to mid-August ended. The USSR took horse racing seriously, and particularly during that time frame they made a concerted effort to win the International at Laurel with some of their best, which included the Russian Derby winners Anilin and Zabeg. This coincided with the era of Kelso, so there was plenty of international publicity for the Russians, who were a novelty here during the Cold War and attracted the attention of some society breeders.

Zabeg and Anilin  were both bred by the famed Voskhod Stud, and both were proven international-quality runners. Both finished third in the International in various seasons during this time frame, and Anilin won the prestigious Preis Von Europa in Germany three consecutive years against international competition.

If you’d grown up in the 1970s like I did with an interest in pedigrees, Zabeg’s name may ring a faint bell. This Russian-bred son of the Hungarian-bred sire Baltic Baron—who traced to the top British sprinter Sundridge through his 2000 Guineas and Derby winner Sunstar—was purchased by Llangollen Farm’s Liz Tippett in a celebrated horse swap with the USSR, and she stood the horse in Florida—Yes, we’ve had a Russian Derby winner at stud here!—and Ireland. At the time of the deal, Russian horses were not recognized by the Stud Book and whether the horse would be allowed to stand at stud here was an issue. Click here to read the New York Times article that detailed the trade.

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6 thoughts on “Back in the day, the USSR bred and raced some rock stars”

  1. Sunstar – in Zabeg’s male-line – won the Derby in addition to the 2,000 Guineas. He’d done a suspensory prior the race, broke down in the race, but won anyway.

    He may not have had much influence on the breed in the U.S. through Zabeg, but he did sire Sunbonnet, who won the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama, and was Champion Three-Year-Old Filly of 1917. His son, North Star III sired Kentucky Derby winner, Bubbling Over, and is in a ton of U.S. pedigrees as broodmare sire of Blue Larkspur.

    1. Alan, thanks. Yes, Sunstar did win the Derby as well as the Guineas, and his son North Star III is the broodmare sire of Blue Larkspur. North Star, as you noted, sired KY Derby winner Bubbling Over for Idle Hour, and Bubbling Over in turn sired 1932 Derby (and Preakness) winner Burgoo King.

  2. Sid,

    Great piece!

    I was told that, in the heyday of the Cold War, the Russians were viewed with great suspicion. With Kruschev’s boast to spread Russian success into all spheres around the world (and into space), many thought the Russians were willing to try anything to pull off a big win.

    Does this underlying suspicion and fear lie at the back of SITA’s resistance to offering black type to most Eastern bloc countries, you think?

    Cheers,
    Frank.

  3. Dear Sid,
    I am currently researching a paper on the WASHINGTON INTERNATIONAL. I wanted to check something that I came across in a biography of Vincent O’Brien one time. Was there an issue about Aniline’s participation as he was born by Artificial Insemination?

    1. Michael:

      At the time, the Russian horses were not recognized by The Jockey Club/Stud Book for breeding purposes, but not for racing. Anilin, for example, had already raced in Europe, too, before coming to the US.

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