Horses Abandoned at Shuttered Track in Pakistan

by the Associated Press

At an abandoned racecourse that played host to Pakistan's biggest races only months ago, more than 200 Thoroughbreds are slowly dying, victims of hunger, disease and bureaucracy.

More than 50 horses have already died since the track was closed in March over a dispute with the government about licensing fees. Out of more than 600 horses that were housed on the sprawling 250 acres of the Karachi Race Club, most have been taken to other tracks around Pakistan, but 250 have been abandoned by their owners and remain without food or care.

Flag of Pakistan was the most promising horse on the circuit just a few months ago, but the 3-year-old with the finest of pedigrees is now little more than a cowering heap of bones in a filthy stable filled with excrement.

"Without anyone to look after it, the horse will not survive for long," said jockey Sajjad Ali, who rode the colt in its last race earlier this year.

Great Shah, a 7-year-old that won Pakistan's prestigious Quiad Azam Gold Cup last year, stands crippled in another section of the stables. There is no one to care for an injured hoof, or to feed this great horse that was born out of Australian stock.

"No one will buy the horse, even for $100," said Saqlain Iqbal, one of the rare owners who still provides food and care for his six horses at the stable. He said it costs $200 a month to feed and care for a horse, and that many of the animals were dying of colic because they were feeding on their own dung.

The racecourse, the only one in the port city of Karachi, is nearly deserted. Water and electricity have been cut off. The stench of overflowing sewers and animal waste hangs thick in the air.

Spy Leila, a starving 6-year-old mare abandoned by its owner, feeds on sprigs of grass in a thin patch around an open sewer.

Most trainers have not been paid for the past five months. Still, out of pity for the horses, some pay out of their pockets to feed the animals.

"We can't see them dying," said Hason Ali, a trainer who decided to stay at the stable. He said another 50 horses face certain death, and even those that survived would probably never run again.

The provincial government of Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital, ordered races suspended in March until the Jockey Club of Pakistan, which owns the racecourse, paid a $30,000 fee.

"They slapped the fee without any reason," said Yousuf Dada, chairman of the Jockey Club.

He said the crux of the problem was that the government was refusing to guarantee it would allow the track to reopen even after the fees are paid.

"We cannot guarantee the resumption of races," said Shanawaz Tariq, deputy provincial home secretary. "We will process the case only after the race club management deposits the amount."

Others said personal grudges held by high-ranking government officials also were behind the closure. In an Islamic country where gambling is religiously forbidden but officially tolerated, racing has been a controversial issue. The Karachi racecourse has been closed three times before over the past 50 years.