JANOW PODLASKI, Poland (Reuters Life!) - True divas among Arabian mares and stallions with centuries-old pedigrees lured some of the world's top breeders to eastern Poland for one of the most exclusive horse fairs on the planet.
This year's favorite horse, a 14-year-old grey mare named Pilar, sold for 240,000 euros ($318,700) to Qatar at the three-day equine spree in the eastern Polish town of Janow Podlaski, near the border with Belarus.
"It's like when a man chooses his woman and fights for her. She is my lady," buyer Mohamed M. Al Sulaiti of the Qatari Al Shaqab Arabian horses stud told Reuters. "I think the price was actually low. I was ready to pay real money for her."
Pilar will now travel for several days by car and plane to her new home, as will the other horses bought by investors from the United States, Great Britain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Belgium and Germany, among others, who came for the three-day fair.
Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts visits annually with his wife Shirley, who is a keen buyer.
"I've been coming here for 20 years," Shirley Watts, who already owns 250 horses, told Reuters. "It's a special obsession for a certain group of people. These horses are the best in the world. I'm very pleased with the ones I bought here so far."
Janow's appeal stems from its long tradition and preserving horse lines unbroken for centuries.
"For me it's not about the investment," Al Sulaiti added. "I want to rebuild the best of the Arabian race in Arab states. Pilar will be a star in our stables and will produce fantastic offspring. We are grateful to Poland for preserving the purest lines and giving us magnificent horses."
The stud's history dates back to 1817 when the number of horses on the Polish soil fell after Napoleonic wars. Russian occupants rebuilt its army's horseback regiment by creating a top breeding farm, which also boasts exquisite architecture.
The effort was thwarted during World War One and World War Two when many of the horses perished. It took Janow more than two decades to reconstruct the stock and hold its first auction in 1969.
There are some 500 horses -- Arabian and Anglo-Arabian -- in Janow Podlaski, with around half of the Arabians sold abroad.
"Polish horses are the smallest risk," said Christine Jamar, who runs a stud of 60 horses in Belgium. "You've had only excellent horses here for several hundred years. I have found very good buys for my clients."
But not all of them are available.
"The very basic rule is: don't sell the best that you have," Janow stud director, Marek Trela, told Reuters.
And the business is not cheap. It takes some 10,000 zloty ($3,310) and at least six months to prepare a horse for the shows. Breeding a stud-horse stands at 10,000-25,000 euros.
Crowds cheered during the auction when buyers bid higher, but 2010 did not bring a new record.
"The prices are a bit lower than last year," said Krzysztof Poszepczynski, a private Polish breeder offering four horses at the selection sale.
"There are fewer investors and buyers than in 2008 and 2009," said Katarzyna Prochniewicz, a spokeswoman for the fair. "Maybe it's the crisis getting to us."