The land of horses (FORBES)

TWENTY KILOMETRES FROM BRATISLAVA DOWN THE DANUBE! THE FINANCIER MARIO HOFFMANN CREATED A PARADISE FOR HORSE LOVERS COMPLEMENTED BY SPORTS FACILITIES FOR EIGHTEEN OLYMPIC SPORTS

JURAJ PORUBSKÝ

The second weekend of May brought 360 horses and their riders to Šamorín, to baptize one of the biggest sports projects ever built in Slovakia. A multipurpose complex, the author of which is the financier Mario Hoffmann (24 percent owner of J&T Finance Group), was originally supposed to serve only the needs of his home club in Šamorín. But eventually the complex grew to an area of ​​100 hectares (130 soccer fields). „Similar equestrian complexes of such quality are only in few places in the world, but in combination with other Olympic sports we are unique,” says Hoffmann and compares the Šamorín complex to the legendary facility in Aachen, Germany, where over 50 thousand viewers come to see the races in the peak season.

Although the Šamorín project grew out of a passion for horses, Hoffmann based the concept on connecting 18 Olympic disciplines. Pools will be added (50-meter Olympic pool and 8-lane twenty five metre), indoor gymnastics and handball hall. The plan is to build also a practice skating rink, velodrome, soccer field and an athletics stadium. The combination of all sports is supposed to ensure year-round utilization of services and one thousand hotel rooms. “I would also like families with children to come and spend their weekends here,” says Hoffmann. To this end the complex will have an aqua park and a large playground with sophisticated educational system for children of different ages. That is why the entrance to the complex will be free of charge, with the only exception of the most prestigious races. Hoffmann reiterated that the whole project, with the estimated investment of tens of millions of Euros, is based on business rationale. Every year he intends to organize at least one of the top equestrian championships offering seven disciplines. He notes that riders have to pay a participation fee - for stables, hay, etc. It is essential for the complex to be world class and liked by riders and their horses. “The surface is important,” shows Hoffmann. For example, the turf rests on special aggregate base to make it dry within ten minutes after a storm. “We passed the test right at our first Grand Prix race when it rained heavily. The race continued without interruption,” says Hoffmann. The interconnecting trails are made of cushioned paving blocks. “Horses could also walk on concrete and sometimes it's even good. But what’s important about this surface is that it’s not slippery when it rains,” he adds. Fear of their horses getting injured may discourage top riders from participating to a race. The sand on the racetrack, trails and three outdoor surfaces is special, too. The other three are turf surfaces and we should also mention a large indoor hall with extra large paddock where horses can worm up or trot out. The surfaces were provided by a specialized company. The supplier will also maintain the surfaces over the next five years. The resort looks grand. Hoffmann points out that some things would have been extremely expensive abroad - for instance chandeliers. “We contacted local people,” he explains, pointing to an artistic lamps decorated by horseshoes. “Those are from our club.” He admits, however, that things like stables are indeed superior. He opens one of yet unoccupied stables and explains that horses need to lie down on the ground and it’s not good if they don’t have enough space to stand up again. In winter stables horses have their own paddock. “They don’t enjoy being locked up,” he notes. Hoffmann believes that uniqueness of the complex would attract high-quality racers and allow organizing races of higher category, which was not possible to do in Slovakia before. The complex is located within one thousand kilometres from key clubs, which is just one day’s drive by car. He has yet another plan in his head. “Many riders in this sport earn their living by honing the skills of horses and then selling them,” says Hoffmann. Horses are sold at a young age usually for thousands of Euros. ,,Those that have practised and proven their performance in races are sold to higher classes of riders for hundreds and sometimes even millions of Euros,” he adds. Final owners are often Arab clients. “That is why we have ambition to attract interest of riders from the Arab world, which would automatically attract attention of the world’s big-name riders. We need to focus on services that will keep them here in the long term,” concludes Hoffmann.
The plan is to build also a practice skating rink, velodrome, soccer field and an athletics stadium.