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Germany’s dominant champion comes from an ancient tradition of nomadic Kazakh horsemen and he is now turning more heads internationally after a successful winter in Japan.
It is part-way through the Saudi Cup card in Riyadh and a couple of English voices are heard in conversation when a dark-haired, high cheek-boned jockey passes them on his way from the paddock to the weighing room.
“Is that the Kazakh jockey?”
“I think so; I’m not sure.”
It is not. It is another dark-haired, high cheek-boned rider, the Panamanian, Alexis Moreno. The ‘Kazakh jockey’ emerges from the weighing room a short time later, pale grey-suited, his work done, pulling the obligatory mini suitcase with his riding gear inside. He pauses and looks around, racegoers mill past him and he moves anonymously to the paddock rail where he stands, watching the horses circle for the next race.
The jockey is Bauyrzhan Murzabayev. He has made his name in Germany and now that name is being recognised further afield. It has not been a rapid spread so far, after all, it is not an easy name for the Anglophones in particular to get their heads or their tongues around: the pronunciation is Ba-ur-jan Mu-za-bai-ev. He laughs when Asian Racing Report asks via an interpreter if he would be more famous if not for his name.
“Yes, of course,” he says. “And if I went through my apprenticeship with John Gosden, I would be more famous by now too.”
But his fame is spreading, nonetheless, and those that have watched him closely believe that his talent will continue to take his name to the world. After dominating Germany again last year, Murzabayev made a deep impression in Japan this past winter.
He arrived there in late November and before December was out, he had bagged a Group 1, the Hopeful Stakes, in tandem with the longshot Dura Erede. He wrapped up his stint on March 5 with a victory at Nakayama that took his winter tally to 21 JRA wins, 16 of which came after the turn of the year.
In Britain, the domestic media picked up, naturally, on the successes of Tom Marquand and David Egan, both of whom sparkled beneath Japan’s winter sun; Hollie Doyle, too, was in focus despite a difficult time finding her groove on the JRA scene; by comparison, the English language media coverage of Germany’s accomplished Kazakh champion was muted.
That, perhaps, is how Peter Schiergen would like it to be. The champion jockey turned champion trainer recruited Murzabayev to his stable from Andreas Wohler’s operation and is keen for their successful partnership to continue.
“Last season was very good and I’m looking forward to this season with Bauyrzhan,” Schiergen told Asian Racing Report in February.
Jockey and trainer teamed last year to win the G1 Deutsches Derby with Sammarco, Nachtrose won the G2 Oaks d’Italia, and Tunnes earned a run in the G1 Japan Cup after an impressive victory in the G1 Grosser Allianz-Preis von Bayern. Murzabayev’s successes drew the attention of France’s old maestro, Andre Fabre, who at Longchamp in October booked him to ride Agave in the G1 Prix de l’Opera and Mare Australis in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
“Bauyrzhan went to Japan for these months and I hope he comes back to me in my stable for this season,” Schiergen says. “We have good horses at the moment, the last two years were very good, the stable is full with good horses, Group 1 horses also, and I think we can travel to France, England, maybe the end of the season to Hong Kong and Japan, so I hope this is enough for him.”
Andreas Suborics is another former star jockey now training at Cologne and Schiergen’s near neighbour has been impressed with Murzabayev. Asked if he believes the Kazakh has what it takes to be a ‘world stage’ jockey, his response is quick and firm.
“Yes,” he says, and makes a comparison from his own riding days in Hong Kong. “In the race, I’d say he rides like Douglas (Whyte) used to ride: he gets in the right position when the gate opens; he knows the other horses in the race very well; he’s just very good, a very talented jockey, a natural, and he’s very strong in the finish, strong in those last 300 or 400 metres; he has a very clear mind.
“He dominated the jockey championship here like Zac (Purton) is dominating the jockey championship in Hong Kong right now.”
Schiergen’s assessment of his stable jockey is in line with Suborics’ observations.
“He is a tactician,” Schiergen says. “He looks at the other jockeys and the other horses and he sees what is happening around him, he’s very clever and he works hard. Before he rides the horses, he will study the videos of the last race and is very good with his preparations.”
But there is more to Murzabayev even than that. The trainer adds insights that could only come from working closely with someone, day after day.
“You see in the morning that he is a very good team player for my stable,” Schiergen reveals. “He likes the horses and the horses like him. When he comes into the stables in the morning, he will see a new horse, without me telling him it’s a new horse, he will see and say, ‘Oh, we have new horses, let me look,’ so this is a quality that he has.
“It is not normal; he is very special in this way and I like this. I remember I was the same with my trainer, I was the jockey and I was looking at the horses and asking ‘what can we do?’ and he is the same. He is very engaged in the horses and after work we speak together often about the horses and what we will do. He is a perfect jockey.”
That connection with horses can be traced back to Murzabayev’s roots in the Seven Rivers Valley of Kazakhstan, a region bordered by Kyrgyzstan to the south and China’s Xinjiang Province to the east. It is a place locked into the traditions of central Asia’s ancient nomadic horsemen.
He was born there in 1992 and was raised around horses on his father’s farm. His ability to settle the juvenile Dura Erede and then drive the longshot powerfully to win the Hopeful Stakes over 2000 metres back in December is nothing to write home about when one considers his early years on horseback.
“I was seven years old when I started racing and had my first winner, in 20-kilometre races, and not on ponies like in Mongolia, in Kazakhstan we ride normal-sized horses, racehorses from Germany, or France and England,” Murzabayev says.
“We have a long history with horses in Kazakhstan, especially long-distance races with kids, this type of race is very popular in Kazakhstan.”
He rode for a horse master of great renown: a ‘grumpy’ old character called Token Rakhymbayev.
“Honestly, he had a very bad attitude towards people,” Murzabayev says. “We were afraid of him, but when it came to horses, he loved them, he liked horses more than people. He would never listen to anybody and if you were riding the horse badly in training, he would let you know for sure. He was a very tough personality.
“He taught me discipline and that if you have enough discipline, you can achieve success. For horses, he would do more for them than he would for himself. He put the horses first. Everybody thought he was crazy.”
Murzabayev became too tall and heavy by age 14 to ride the long-distance races and so shifted his focus to Almaty racecourse. The Almaty Republican Hippodrome – to give the track its full title – opened in 1930 and is a rudimentary dirt oval with a basic grandstand and tree-lined paddock, located on the city’s periphery.
“I decided I wanted to be a professional jockey and wanted to go to an English school or stable, but I could not speak English and was too young, so I could not get a visa,” he says. “I won around ten races in Kazakhstan and then I went to Czech Republic, only I wasn’t riding right away, I was learning.”
He teamed up with trainer Arslangirey Shavuyev, was licensed as a jockey there in 2012 and advanced to become champion jockey in the Czech Republic in 2013, 2014 and 2015, winning the Czech Derby, Oaks and Guineas along the way. His successes in central Europe caught the attention of German trainers, first in the country’s east, then those with bigger stables in the south and west.
He joined the Wohler operation in 2017, as third rider behind the established stable jockey, the Panamanian four-time German champion Eddie Pedroza, but soon his talent gave the trainer a tough decision to make. Murzabayev was handed Pedroza’s number one spot.
Murzabayev was Germany’s champion jockey in 2019 and 2020 and then came an offer to join Schiergen’s stable on a lucrative retainer. He took the offer and was champion jockey again in 2021 and 2022.
“Peter and Bauyrzhan are a good team,” says Suborics. “But he’s just too good for here, we have racing just two times in the week, the prize money is poor and France looks a much better place for him, even England.”
Murzabayev found that his German connection was actually a barrier when he first landed in Japan this winter, but he soon changed perceptions.
“I didn’t get many chances, because I was coming from Germany,” he reveals. “Usually in Japan the most popular jockeys are from Europe – from the UK or France – but when it comes to Germany, in the previous years, jockeys from there did not achieve a lot and that is why. But once I won that Group 1, they changed their opinion and they started giving me more opportunities.
“I even have a lot of people recognise me there now and even asking in Japanese for me to stay in Japan. But the Japanese language is very difficult and I see my future in Europe, that is the reality.”
Hong Kong could also be a wintertime option if the folks at the Hong Kong Jockey Club headquarters at 1 Sports Road pick up on the name.
“Of course I would consider Hong Kong,” Murzabaev says, “but they have never contacted me.”
That call might be forthcoming ahead of next winter, but the HKJC could well be vying with the JRA for the rider, especially if he continues on his present trajectory and snares more notable spoils in Europe this year. One thing beyond his ability that endeared him to Japanese connections was his character: his personality is without emotional ups and downs.
“You know, he’s never changed, even with all the success he has had in the last three or four years,” says Suborics. “He’s stayed the same, he’s a quiet guy; you never see him having any problems in the jockeys’ room with someone, he never causes trouble in the race, he’s a hard worker. I train in the same place as Peter Schiergen so I see him every morning, and I don’t think he’s ever been late, not by a minute. He will be there working.”
The Austrian pauses a moment and then adds perhaps his greatest endorsement.
“I have to say, Andrasch (Starke) and me, we dominated the jockey championship for a number of years in Germany, but we were very lucky Bauryzhan was not there. He’s really special.”
So special, perhaps, that the time is not far distant when Murzabayev’s name might simply roll off the tongue in conversations about the world’s top jockeys, even among the English speakers of the horse racing world.
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