Jockey Dies at Holiday Races in Turkmenistan

Jockey Ilham Saparov died at a race meeting in Ashgabat on September 28, held to mark Turkmenistan’s Independence Day. He was riding a horse belonging to former President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. The current head of state, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, was attending the races. heard about the incident from its own sources, as the official media have covered it up.

The 28-year-old rider fell from his horse during a race and was taken to hospital, but died two hours later. He had a broken neck and the horse had also stamped on his chest. The jockey was buried in the village of Bagir, where senior officials attended the funeral. Paramedics remain on duty at the family home, as Saparov’s mother and sister frequently feel unwell.

Sources says that Saparov was not simply a jockey. His father Derya Saparov works for the former president as his personal horse trainer.

According to unconfirmed reports, the fall might not have been an accident. Tests are said to have shown that someone gave the horse stimulants while the jockey had been slipped medicine to lower his blood pressure. Other sources say that no doping took place but the horse was not in good form.

“His father advised him not to ride, but he had already been paid and decided to go, despite the horse’s lameness,” a source says.

Ilham Saparov’s friends and acquaintances are expressing their condolences on social media. Official media remain true to their principle of not reporting any bad news whatsoever. They reported the races but did not mention the jockey’s death.

Turkmenportal writes for example: “The competition in the traditional races made for an exciting spectacle. The winning jockeys received substantial cash prizes, including the main prize of 300,000 manats awarded in the name of President Serdar Berdimuhamedov.”

Sources add that the races were not stopped because of the incident, simply the last race began very late. No one said before the end of the event that the jockey had died. After the races though, all the jockeys were questioned and the condition of Saparov’s horse was thoroughly investigated. However, it is not clear whether the horse was lame before the race or after the fall.

In 2013, during celebrations of Ahal Teke Racehorse Day Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov himself fell off a horse. There was an attempt to cover this up too. The special services confiscated cell phones and other filming devices from racegoers. Nevertheless, a video recording of the incident was leaked onto the Internet. The fall from his horse is now one of those events that foreign journalists remember first of all in connection with Turkmenistan’s former president. It wasn’t only the fall that caught their attention but also the behavior of their Turkmen counterparts who, rather than mentioning the incident in their reports, declared the president the winner of the race.