DUNAKESZI, Hungary (Reuters) - Zoltan Mikoczy stumbled upon brilliant sprinter Overdose, who he reckons is the best and most exciting racehorse to come out of the eastern half of Europe in 130 years, by accident.
“I just put my hand up for fun, I like the excitement of horse auctions,” said Mikoczy, recalling a sale at Newmarket, headquarters of British racing, in 2006.
“I thought no horse can go this cheap and surely somebody else would bid.”
Nobody else did and Mikoczy, a stocky, balding man with an ever-present smile, had to pay up the 2,100 pounds.
“He’s short and I’d say kind of ugly, so of course nobody wanted him,” Sandor Ribarszki, Overdose’s trainer said. “I tried to talk Zoltan out of it, I mean he didn’t even have a name, that shows nobody saw a lot in him.”
Two years and 10 victories later, Overdose is undefeated and has earned more than 40 times his purchase price.
Mikoczy, a Hungarian steel entrepreneur, hopes Overdose will help to rekindle love for horse racing in Hungary, which dubs itself the “riding nation,” and save an industry destroyed by half a century of neglect.
In August, Overdose romped home in a big race in Baden-Baden in Germany to earn a tilt at Europe’s top sprint race, the Group One Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp next Sunday.
“A horse like this comes around once a century; there hasn’t been a horse (like this) in this part of Europe since Kincsem,” Mikoczy said.
Hungary’s Kincsem, racing in the late 1870s, scored 54 straight victories and retired undefeated, making her one of Hungary’s top sporting heroines. Her fame is enshrined in public statues all over Europe and she has dozens of streets named after her.
“I’m not interested in the money, I’m interested in having one of the best racehorses in the world and hearing the Hungarian anthem played at the race track,” Mikoczy said.
“Getting Overdose is like having hit the jackpot in the lottery and I know I’ll never have a chance like this again.”
Overdose, to be ridden by experienced Austrian-born, Germany-based jockey Andreas Suborics, is 6-1 second favourite in betting for L’Abbaye, a race usually dominated by the British and French.
Ribarszki, who begins his day with Hungary’s traditional plum brandy before heading to the stables, said Overdose’s success was part luck and part their decision to ration his racing when they realised he had such talent.
“We can’t let him go fast in training because he wants to run so hard, he’d drive himself into the ground,” Ribarszki said.
In his first year, Overdose raced five times and he will run six or seven races in 2008.
“You can win once with luck but you can’t win 10 straight races with luck. Overdose runs every race like it is the Olympic final,” Ribarszki said.
Barbara Budinszki, who rides Overdose in training, said the horse just did not get tired and her job was to hold him back rather than push him.
“He’ll put himself on the line every time,” Budinszki said. “I have to whip others from time to time because they get lazy but with Overdose I can’t ease up a second because he’ll take off.”
Mikoczy hopes Overdose, housed in crumbling stables, could turn around the fortunes of horse racing in the region, his main pastime and the biggest drain on his wallet.
“This is a costly hobby in Central Europe; it will never make money,” Mikoczy said. “There are good months and bad months but it’s going to be costly every time.”
Mikoczy said neglect by the government, which still owns Hungary’s biggest racing track and training facilities, and bad public relations, which he said had dubbed the sport a sinful habit, had driven horse racing into the doldrums.
“Overdose is better known in Germany than Hungary,” Mikoczy said. “Maybe we can change that.”
Mikoczy plans to race mostly abroad and Overdose will next head to the Middle East where he will spend the northern winter months before racing at the Dubai World Cup meeting in late March.
Editing by Dave Thompson