The number of countries represented by buyers at Central Kentucky Thoroughbred auctions seems to grow every year. Soon those ranks could include Russians seeking new stock for their developing Thoroughbred industry. With that in mind, a delegation of four Russian agriculture officials visited Central Kentucky the week of Oct. 18. The trip was coordinated and co-sponsored by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, in conjunction with the United States Department of Commerce. A similar trip was organized through Maryland's Department of Agriculture last year. Russia is an untapped market, in part, because current health regulations do not permit horses to ship directly from the U.S. to Russia. The country does not recognize U.S. health certificates, so horses are required to spend quarantine in a European country before heading into Russia. Judith Robinson, of the Department of Commerce, said she hoped this trip would assist in making steps toward changing that procedure. The West Nile Virus is of particular concern, so while in Kentucky, the Russian representatives met with veterinarians so they could feel more confident about the procedures involved in examining and exporting horses. "We see some potential in Russia in the next five to 10 years," said Tony Moreno, director of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture's division of international marketing. "We wanted to invite a group to see the quality of our bloodstock and give them a good feeling of what to expect from Kentucky horses." "This is the best of everything," said Boris Antontsev, who heads up the Russian registry of all horse breeds. "Any horse breeder will find something to learn here. We are sure this will be the beginning of our relationship with the Department of Agriculture, the state of Kentucky, and stud farms here." According to Antontsev, there are two main agricultural regions in Russia; the southern part of the country near the Ural Mountains, and the center area called Tartarstan. There are also five racetracks in the country. He said in the early 1990s Russia's developing economy suffered tough times, and those lean years extended to breeding horses. However, since the international approval of the Russian Stud Book in 1999, the industry's viability and economic strength has increased dramatically. His group presented a copy of the Russian Stud Book to the Keeneland library for use as a resource. Unlike the U.S., Russia's Thoroughbred industry is woven into large farms, as many as 50,000 acres, which also produce cattle and crops. About half of those are still state-owned, while the other half are joint stock companies. The farms owned in partnerships were often state-owned, but became privatized after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. Often the farm's former employees became its owners.