05/10/2017 8:56AM

China Horse Club raises already high profile with Kentucky Oaks win

Barbara D. Livingston
Abel Tasman wins the Kentucky Oaks for the China Horse Club, which eventually will retire her to its broodmare band.

China Horse Club tallied its biggest victory on North American soil when Abel Tasman scored the upset in the Kentucky Oaks last Friday, but the weekend’s business was far from over.

In the days leading up to the Kentucky Derby, China Horse Club was announced as one of the entities that purchased the breeding rights to Wood Memorial winner Irish War Cry when he retires to stud at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm. China Horse Club had itself a marquee broodmare prospect with the Oaks win and stood to give its stallion portfolio a healthy bump on Saturday if Irish War Cry were to win the Kentucky Derby.

The Derby did not provide the most satisfactory result for Irish War Cry’s stallion investors, with the colt fading to 10th, but the son of Curlin remains one of his crop’s highest-profile prospects at stud, given his physical attributes, pedigree, and race record.

The stallion business is one of many investment opportunities open to members of China Horse Club, which has become an ever-present name on the racetrack, in the stud barn, and as a buyer at auction since its arrival in 2013. While the bulk of its investors reside in mainland China, the group’s International Advisory Council sports a global roster including John Magnier of the Coolmore partnership and John Warren, bloodstock adviser to the queen of England.

Following the group’s Oaks win, founder and chairman Teo Ah Khing said membership in the group required a $1 million buy-in, along with management fees.

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Members are afforded opportunities at short-, medium-, and long-term investments through the club, many in the Thoroughbred industry but some elsewhere, along with benefits including access to the club’s private resorts in the Swiss Alps and Australia. The stallions are a longer-term investment option in the club’s portfolio.

Though its reach is global, China Horse Club is also active in developing China’s Thoroughbred industry, hosting the country’s only internationally endorsed race meet and managing the CHC China Dream Project, which develops Chinese horsepeople through international placement.

“In China, we have not really opened up or legalized gambling or wagering, so there are many other ways that we try to innovate and encourage investors,” Teo said. “There’s no difference between investing in store chains or investing in stallions.”

Teo said the group holds a stake in about 20 stallions around the world, and that investments had quadrupled over the past two years.

In the U.S., China Horse Club’s portfolio includes shares in Irish War Cry, California Chrome, Pioneerof the Nile, Exaggerator, Gemologist, Daredevil, and Not This Time. The group bought into Exaggerator’s breeding rights in the days prior to his runner-up effort in last year’s Kentucky Derby, and the colt went on to win the Preakness Stakes.

“We’re always analyzing horse by horse,” Michael Wallace, China Horse Club’s racing and bloodstock manager, said of China Horse Club’s method for stallion selection. “The dollars always have to make sense. There’s always just that opportunity of trying to move into partnerships and into horses, and you can’t always get into the things you want to get into.”

The group’s Australian holdings include shares in Dissident, Sebring, Extreme Choice, Flying Artie, and Russian Revolution, while its Irish stallion interests include Epsom Derby and Irish Derby winner Australia and New Bay.

China Horse Club has its name tied to a wide range of stallions, but Wallace said a diverse but detached approach keeps overhead down for investors.

“We take a pretty independent view,” he said. “We don’t own bricks and mortar, we don’t own farms. We don’t want to be seen to be competing against the stallion farms, so we want to put ourselves in a position where we can access as many horses as possible while being independent and being able to form these partnerships with leading farms. It puts us in an advantageous position.”

China Horse Club is not in the business of standing stallions, but it is in the business of supporting them with mares.

The operation has bought high-end mares at breeding-stock auctions over the past three years, including Grade 1 winners Iotapa ($2.8 million), Embellish the Lace ($2.4 million), and Last Full Measure ($1.5 million); the well-bred Tapit mare Tapas ($1.3 million); and Grade 2 winners She’s Not Here ($1.3 million), Dothraki Queen ($950,000), and Parranda ($800,000).

China Horse Club owns Abel Tasman with brothers Bernard and Eamonn Cleary of Clearsky Farm, who had previously campaigned the filly as a homebred.

Life as a broodmare is likely a long way off for Abel Tasman, a daughter of Quality Road, but as long as she remains part of the China Horse Club band, Wallace said she will have plenty of suitors.

“There will be no shortage of stallions, that’s for sure,” he said. “We might have to defer to the Cleary boys. They’re the champion breeders, so I’ll see what the boys want to do.”