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Moore warms up for sales season with an epic Mongol Derby adventure

James Thomas catches up with the intrepid bloodstock agent

JD Moore in full flight across the Mongolian steppe
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With hundreds of miles to be covered by air, road and sea, catalogues of mammoth proportions and an auction seemingly every few days, sales season can be just about the most demanding time of year for bloodstock agents.

Many will choose to treat themselves to a spot of rest and recuperation before the great sales merry go round starts up for another year, but in the case of John Daniel Moore, the man known to many simply as 'JD', this year was a little different.

Moore took the decision to tee himself up for sales season by tackling what is ominously billed as the longest and toughest horse race on earth, the Mongol Derby. The race is run over 1,000km across the Mongolian steppe, is completed on semi-wild ponies, and is plainly not for the faint hearted.

"Like so many other bright ideas, I think it all started in the pub," says Moore when asked at what point he decided to tackle the Mongol Derby. "I'd seen Chris Maude, Richie Killoran, Peter Molony and David Redvers doing it and just thought it would be a nice thing to do while I'm still in the shape to give it a shot."

JD Moore in more familiar surroundings, the Goffs UK sales ground
Nice is a word not often associated with the Mongol Derby, as the race is renowned for its punishing conditions, as riders spend up to 14 hours a day in the saddle trying to navigate half-feral ponies across high passes, deep valleys, rivers and open steppe.

Riding high

Given the test of endurance the Derby presents, a period of training is strongly advised. Unfortunately for Moore, the schedule of a bloodstock agent does not allow much time for such activities.

"There's wasn't much preparation, I just did a little bit of jogging and a bit of riding out the week before," he says with no discernible trace of humour. "If I'm at home I'll usually ride out three or four lots but in the previous couple of months, between all the sales and travelling around France looking for foals, I've never actually done so little."

However, when you are a third-generation horseman - Moore is the son of trainer Arthur and grandson of L'Escargot's handler Dan Moore - it could be argued you were born ready for an equine challenge of such epic scale.

"The riding side was actually very simple," says Moore. "My knees and ankles started to get a bit sore by day six, and on the training day I was walking back in and the pony sort of exploded and I somehow ended up in front of it looking at it, but that was the only spill I took and apart from that it was pretty straightforward.

"When you were getting competitive it was actually very enjoyable, especially when you were right in the heel of the hunt."

Getting lost

While the riding side of proceedings may have come naturally to Moore, an accomplished amateur jockey in his own right, navigating his way across 1,000km of rugged Mongolia proved rather more problematic.

Riders change ponies and refuel every 40km, but there is no set route between stations, and nights are spent camping out in the wild with local herders in tents known as gers or yurts - a traditional version of the kind that have become ubiquitous at trendy festivals across Europe.

"I actually forgot the batteries for my GPS device and didn't discover that until I was at base camp," he says. "And by then it was too late to do anything about it.

"They gave us a very vague map and I got the organisers to write down the name of where we were meant to go, but they didn't write it in Mongolian, so when I showed it to locals along the way they couldn't make out what it said!"

With no GPS device and a map of questionable merit, the inevitable struck and, when still within striking distance of the pacesetters, Moore found himself lost out in the Mongolian wilderness.

"I was only an hour off the leaders, which wasn't a lot in the grand scheme, when I got badly lost," he recalls with some frustration. "I basically threw the toys out of the pram altogether. I pulled into the next herders I came across and they took me in."

Despite the jeopardy Moore found himself in, he was able to call upon the bloodstock agent's natural instincts of seeking a deal in an attempt to get himself out of trouble.

"One of the kids there had a phone so we managed to use Google translate to communicate and they got the gist of the situation," he continues. "When they told me where I needed to be was 160 kilometers away I told them I'd give them the pony, saddle and bridle for a lift to the airport at Ulaanbaatar [capital city of Mongolia] because I'd had enough and was going home. They were delighted because it was a grand pony!

"One of their neighbours came over and he made a few phone calls and found out where the race was and was able to bring me back on track. If he hadn't shown up I'd have been long gone. And god help the organisers who would've had to go and find the pony!"

An experience to remember

Despite veering wildly off course in the heart of the Mongolian steppe, that incident was not the most traumatising experience Moore endured during the race.

"The scariest part of the whole adventure was definitely going to the toilet at night as there's no light," he says. "You'd get up in the middle of the night and be afraid you were going to step on the herders' dog and that he'd bite the leg off of you! You could see absolutely nothing."

Having suffered what could politely be described as trouble in running, Moore eventually made his way across the finish line in mid-division behind winners Annabel Neasham and Adrian Corboy, both of whom work for leading Australian trainer Ciaron Maher.

But the Mongol Derby is about so much more than finishing positions alone, not least the experience the riders go through, and despite a few minor mishaps along the way, Moore looks back on his time in Mongolia with nothing but fondness.

"It was amazing seeing the locals out there," says Moore, whose participation helped raise vital sponsorship for the Irish Injured Jockeys' Fund.

"A lot of them didn't know anything about the race so we'd come out of the blue and just walk up to their house. They'd want to come and take the ponies off you and cool them down and do everything for you. They were unbelievably generous and never looked for anything off you. To encounter people who had so little be so generous, it was very humbling.

"It was a great experience and I was very fortunate to have done it."

With the race now behind him, it has been business as normal for Moore, with trips to Arqana, Goffs UK and BBAG already under his belt. 

Having survived a challenge as gruelling as the Mongolian Derby, sales season will surely seem like a doddle. 

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Like so many other bright ideas, I think it all started in the pub
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