#WATCH 76 thoroughbreds airlifted from Shannon bound for China

A major leap in developing the lucrative China market for Irish bloodstock was made this week with a record airlift of 76 Irish thoroughbreds from Shannon Airport. Pic Arthur Ellis.
76 Irish thoroughbreds were airlifted from Shannon Airport last weekend, all bound for China.   Pic Arthur Ellis.

A MAJOR leap in developing the lucrative China market for Irish bloodstock has been made with a record airlift of 76 Irish thoroughbreds from Shannon Airport.

All were purchased for Chinese businessman Zhang Yuesheng by Kildare based bloodstock agency BBA Ireland at sales in Goffs last autumn all from Irish breeders.  The 76 horses were airlifted in a 4 month old Boeing 747 cargo plane from Shannon, landing in Beijing late on Thursday night and are being transported to stables over the weekend.

The €3m airlift was the biggest single movement of Irish horses to China ever, more than doubling the previous high.  It was biggest success to date for the Irish thoroughbred industry in terms of the Chinese market and the culmination of a number of years work by BBA Ireland, supported by Irish Thoroughbred Marketing (ITM), the semi-state which promotes Ireland as the leading source for the production and sale of quality thoroughbreds worldwide.

The airlift, it is hoped, will lead to further purchases by Chinese horse racing/breeding interests.  Typically up to now, over 90% of thoroughbred horses in China are imported from Australia and New Zealand but this airlift confirms the growing Chinese interest in the more expensive, higher-quality Irish horse.

Zhang Yuesheng, for whom the horses were purchased, was introduced to the Irish market by the efforts of ITM and BBA Ireland, through sales director Michael Donohoe, working on the ground in China and the company is hopeful that the record airlift is a sign of things to come.

“This is really good business for the Irish equine industry, not least for small breeders from whom most of these horses were purchased. Many of these horses might  not have met the high standards of the Irish and European market but they are still of a higher standard than the average horse currently racing in China.  So Irish breeders get a good price for horses they might not otherwise have got, the industry here further develops the emerging Chinese market and China gets a higher quality race horse. Everyone wins with this,” said Declan Murray, Managing Director at BBA Ireland.

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Chief Commercial Officer for Shannon Group, which operates Shannon Airport, Andrew Murphy said that the airlift was in keeping with the airport’s target of growing its livestock cargo business.  “We are well used to ‘firsts’ at Shannon but having a record airlift of Irish horses to China from here was very exciting for all concerned.  BBA Ireland are experts in this market and we are delighted to be working with them.  We also have considerable experience and expertise over the years in handling this type of precious cargo through sizeable equine lifts for some of the Irish larger stud farms that have horses going to the United States, Middle East and onto Australia.  This gives comfort to BBA Ireland and, indeed, to their clients.”

Said Ann Munnelly, BBA Ireland Shipping Director: “We have been working on this for three months, since the horses were purchased.  Many experienced hands have been involved in this and it has been one of our most ambitious projects to date so we are very excited to have completed it. It illustrates not alone the opportunity in China for Ireland but also our ability to deliver.”

The airlift travelled with a team of professional flying grooms and a vet, with a team of 30 handlers on the ground involved in the three hour process of loading the animals at Shannon.  The horses will go into training in China before becoming top local racers.

They were purchased at two separate autumn sales in Goffs.  Most of the horses were sourced at their Sportsman Sale, a notch down from their premier level sale. Most of them are yearlings and only a small number have already raced.