ZOLTAN Mikoczy stumbled upon brilliant sprinter Overdose – who he reckons is the best and most exciting racehorse to come out of eastern 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 had to pay up the 2,100. "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 ten 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 1 Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp on 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 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 have had six or seven races by the end of 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.
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 before racing at the Dubai World Cup meeting in late March.