04/16/2012 1:37PM

China, Ireland in Thoroughbred racing and breeding partnership


Glenye Cain Oakford

The Chinese government will partner with Ireland in developing a massive new Thoroughbred racing, breeding, and training complex, and the arrangement will give Coolmore an important role, Racing Post reported Sunday.

China is planning a $2 billion Thoroughbred facility to be called the Tianjin Equine Culture City near Tianjin, the country’s fourth-largest city. Plans call for 4,000 stalls, an equine hospital, an international equestrian college, an auction house, and two racetracks that will host about 40 race dates.

Under China’s partnership with Ireland, the Irish breeders and stud farms will have preferred status as suppliers for the venture, which will include stallions, mares, and young stock. The complex is to open in 2013 with as many as 800 horses in its racing program alone.

Coolmore also will host seven Chinese agricultural university students for two months to teach them about the Thoroughbred breeding business, and the Chinese-Irish joint venture also will ship more than 100 Irish mares to China over the next three years.

Coolmore boss John Magnier credited Simon Coveney, Ireland’s minister for agriculture, food, and the marine, for putting together the China partnership.

“This initiative should facilitate the development of a major export market for horses from Ireland and has the potential to provide a range of business opportunities for companies and individuals in Ireland who can bring a wide range of expertise to the project,” Coveney said in announcing the project.

Another Irish company, the feed manufacturer Connolly’s Red Mills, already has been designated a feed supplier under the agreement, making it the first foreign horse feed manufacturer to receive an import license for mainland China, according to Coveney.

The Communist Chinese government banned horse racing in 1949, though some racing emerged legally again in the 1990s. In the mid-90s, a group of American investors partnered to buy 60 percent of Guangzhou Jockey Club from its local government operators for about $10 million, but the deal fell apart when Chinese authorities closed the racetrack. In 2008, the government allowed the central city of Wuhan to hold a race and then gave it a summer race meet in 2011 under the auspices of the Hong Kong-based Orient Lucky Horse Industry. Two years ago, with input from Australian racing leaders, Sichuan province opened a new racetrack in Chengdu, featuring what it calls a “horse racing lottery.” Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese control in 1997, has long had a thriving racing and gambling scene. But races at Wuhan do not allow traditional gambling.

“People can win small prizes if they correctly guess which horse will win the race, but they can’t bet on horses like people do during Hong Kong horse racing,” a spokesperson for the Wuhan racetrack told the China Daily when the track gained approval for its August 2011 race meet.