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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Day at the Hippodrome




Alexander Tikhonov (see photo, left) has won more medals as an athlete than he can pin on his chest or drape around his neck, including four Olympic gold medals at four Winter Games.


His sport was the biathlon, combining cross-country skiing and shooting, and he was the best of the best.


In recent years, Tikhonov, now 53, has brought his competitive spirit and new wealth as a businessman to equestrian sports.


He has his own stable, Klub Tikhonova, at the Hippodrome, and he has some of Russia's best riders riding for him, including Mikhail Safronov and Kharlam Simoniya.


As a rider, I wanted to meet Tikhonov and see this club of his. I tracked him down at the Russian Biathlon Federation, of which he is president, and he gave me his mobile phone number so I could call him in a few days time when his schedule was likely to free up.


I called at the appointed hour, and he said the only time he had all week to speak with me was that day. It was one of those glorious fall days we had in October, and I had been hoping to ride before work, and said so.


I imagine him looking out the window and the idea coming to him. "So, let's ride," he said, adding that he would swing by to pick me up.


When I walked out of my door, I was met by Tikhonov and two other men getting out of a Volga. Tikhonov apologized for having a Russian car and said he had just bought a Mercedes.


On the way to the Hippodrome, Tikhonov told me how he had gotten into horses. He had ridden a little as a boy, but it wasn't until 1993, when he inherited a horse from a friend, that he began riding regularly and competing.


Around the same time, his businesses began doing well. Tikhonov's commercial empire includes 5,500 hectares of farmland in the southern Rostov region where he grows barley, wheat, corn, sunflowers and vegetables, he said. At plants in the Moscow region, he processes meat and fish and bakes bread. Once the "money appeared," Tikhonov bought another horse and another.


But the poor state of Russian equestrian sports dismayed him, so Tikhonov took the reins and founded his club in 1996. The club now has about 30 horses, a handful of professional riders, a couple of trainers and a children's riding school.


When Tikhonov and I arrived, two lovely horses were being saddled for us. An older man expertly threw me up on a big chestnut. After we had ridden around the ring, he asked if I'd care to join Tikhonov in jumping over some fences. With the trainer's encouragement, I didn't chicken out as the fences got higher and wider. I later learned that this kind man was Gennady Khayainen, a two-time Soviet champion in the 1970s.


Working with him at Klub Tikhonov is Galina Zotova, the Russian jumping champion for most of the 1970s, and I began to envy the children who were able to learn to ride under their care.


Both of them bemoaned the collapse of the country's riding schools in the past decade - "there is no order, no discipline anymore" - and praised Tikhonov for his part in improving equestrian sports.


"If there were even 10 such clubs, then there would be progress," Zotova said.


After riders from Klub Tikhonov appeared at the Mayor's Cup competitions, Zotova said, the club was flooded with calls from parents wanting to sign their children up for lessons.


Tikhonov, carrying a box of sugar cubes, gave me a tour of the barn and its resident equines, including horses bought recently in Germany for whom he has high hopes. He also plans to send Safronov to Germany with a few of the horses to train with top rider Franke Sloothaak and take part in European competitions.


The goal, he told me, is to get to the Olympics. But knowing the odds, I questioned whether this was a realistic hope.


"For me everything is realistic," Tikhonov said. "I don't want to live any other way. Either first or not at all."


Tikhonov's ambitious plans and the nice horseflesh in his club's barn point to deep pockets. He may have done well for himself, but he also gets a little help from his friend in City Hall - Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov. Tikhonov would not elaborate on his good relations with the mayor, but he did say that "the city helps" with the horses.


It's possible Tikhonov's relations with Luzhkov will become even closer. Tikhonov is running for governor of the Moscow region, which surrounds but does not include the capital. Gubernatorial and mayoral elections will be held at the same time as the national parliamentary elections.


Tikhonov said he is running as an independent and claims no special connection with Luzhkov. But if they both win, you can bet that promoting equestrian sports is one thing they will do well.


The Governor's Cup, anyone?