NJ 'Horselady' to Ride in World's Toughest Race: The Mongol Derby

By Brian Thompson
|  Monday, Nov 15, 2010  |  Updated 8:20 PM EDT
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It's the longest, most grueling horse race on the planet -- roughly 630 miles over ten days on perhaps three dozen or so different mounts -- and one <a title=New Jersey woman is in it this year. Brian Thompson reports." />

NBCNewYork

It's the longest, most grueling horse race on the planet -- roughly 630 miles over ten days on perhaps three dozen or so different mounts -- and one New Jersey woman is in it this year. Brian Thompson reports.

Chances are you have never heard of the Mongol Derby.

Until late September, neither had Sophia Mangalee, 27, a lifelong, self-described 'horselady' (her nickname in school).

It is, as best we can tell, the longest, most grueling horse race on the planet -- roughly 630 miles over ten days on perhaps three dozen or so different mounts.

"It gives new meaning to the word 'saddlesore,' that's for sure," said Mangalee as she rode on the Monmouth Park racetrack in Oceanport, N.J. with NBCNewYork.

The "Derby" is only two years old and it is very selective.

(Apparently with a $10,000 entry fee and a requirement that you raise money for charity, it can afford to be.)

Just 25 riders from around the world get to race the course that traces the postal route system of Genghis Khan nearly a thousand years ago (sort of a precursor to our old Pony Express).

Mangalee, who is Marketing Director for the state-owned track on the Jersey Shore, actually grew up in Washington state.

But she lives in New Jersey now and has a bubbly enthusiasm for the horse industry here.

And this is where she will train for the Mongol Derby before flying to Mongolia next August for the ride of her life.

"It's all about survival, ...a true test of horsemanship to go out there and ride 14 hours a day on 3 to 4 different horses a day," mused Mangalee about the contest won by an American and an ex-Marine this past August.

Despite her diminutive size, she is no lightweight when it comes to athleticism.

She has run two marathons, including one in Barcelona(because she "loves to travel").

She expects that training to come in handy for the mental challenge of being alone on the steppes of Mongolia(though she will be equipped with a GPS locator in case she runs into trouble).

"I think it will be a similar mental game," Mangalee said.

She admits she's a romantic, and that Mongolia has always been a place she wanted to visit.

Even the food has her fascinated, with plans to check out Mongolian restaurants in New York City.

Asked about what she may eat over there, she replied, "Apparently flame broiled marmot is a delicacy."

There was a smile on her face as though she is looking forward to it.

You can follow Mangalee's training over the next many months, and her race, on her blog, mongolderbyrider.com.

Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY

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