Two years ago, on Oct. 1, a yearling colt by the Hartley DeRenzo stallion Omega Code was offered for sale as Hip No. 143 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern Fall yearling sale. Consigned by Summerfield, agent, the colt was purchased for $5,000 by FMF Stable to race in Russia. On Sunday, the same colt, now named East Code, won the Russian Group 1 Pyatigorsk Derby at the Pyatigorsk track in the Northern Caucasus Mountains over a new synthetic surface. Omega Code is a son of Elusive Quality and was a sprinter who set a 6-furlong track record of 1:07.70 at 2 and won the Grade 3 San Miguel at 3 in 1:08.65. His son East Code, on the other hand, won the Derby over a distance of 2400 meters in 2:32.47.
A little-known fact: the Eastern Fall sale has been a successful hunting ground for Russians and a favorite destination for them. About three or four years ago, Jack Werk called me in Brooklyn and invited me down to the same sale to meet him and have dinner. He said he’d been contacted by some Russian buyers, who’d requested his presence, so he was flying to Maryland from California and could use the company. We’d meet at the sale, he said, an hour before the start.
When I got there, I found Jack quickly, but not because I recognized him right away. Instead, my eyes were drawn to a large group of tall, pale guys with severe crew cuts and dark glasses in jogging suits and Adidas sneakers– all of them dressed identically! In the middle of this group was Jack, dressed in black jeans and a stylish jacket but looking pale, too. When he saw me, he lit up and the color came back to his face.
“Hey fellas, excuse me,” he said, as he motioned me away from the group — the Russians. He’d arrived a day earlier to meet them. “You’re not gonna believe this,” Jack said, looking behind him to make sure we were alone. “They came with credit cards to buy horses. They’re not registered with Fasig, and they can’t buy horses with credit cards! I had to let them know that yesterday.”
What happend? I asked.
“I had to drive them to every ATM around here — about 30 of ’em — so they could get money out from their credit cards,” Jack said. “And some of the others went to other banks. They have about $180,000 in cash, in $20 bills!”
Holy smoke, I said. You know, these guys look like extras from Central Casting for a Russian mobster film, I said. Jack nodded, seriously.
These guys were all business, too, as the sale started, speaking gibberish — Russian — and motioning and bidding and pointing to catalog pages and chain smoking and playing with the crosses around their thick necks. And now I had been enveloped by this group, too. Every successful bid was followed with: “That good, we celebrate later!” and a (heavy) pat on the back.
And celebrate they did after the sale. We were swept away to a motel room where they broke open the expensive Russian vodka. “Where are the ladies?” one asked another. At about this time, they started to relax and peeled of their sweatshirts, too, revealing, er… guns. One by one they unholstered their weapons and threw them on the bed.
That was our cue to exit, stage left. “Listen fellas, it’s been great, but I gotta go,” I said, as I turned to leave. Jack, I could feel, wasn’t too far behind, mumbling a few Russian phrases he’d picked up.
We never went back and never met them again, but we’ve noticed over the years that they’ve made some successful purchases in Maryland. East Code is just the latest. No doubt, the Russians will be back this fall.