Seventy six thoroughbred horses have been flown to Beijing in the largest ever single export of Irish racing bloodstock to China.
The animals transported in the three million euro airlift have all been purchased by Chinese businessman Zhang Yuesheng.
The transaction has been hailed as a major leap into the lucrative Chinese market. To date, over 90% of thoroughbreds imported into China are sourced from Australia and New Zealand.
The horses were bought from Irish breeders on behalf of Mr Yuesheng by Kildare-based bloodstock agency BBA Ireland.
They were flown in a Boeing 747 cargo plane from Shannon airport. They travelled with a team of professional flying grooms and a vet, with 30 handlers on the ground involved in the three-hour process of loading the animals at Shannon.
On arrival the horses were transported to stables where they will go into training in China before debuting in Chinese races.
BBA Ireland worked in conjunction with the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing (ITM), the not-for-profit, government-backed company that promotes Ireland as a leading source for the production and sale of quality thoroughbreds worldwide.
Declan Murray, managing director at BBA Ireland, said: « 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. »
Chief commercial officer for Shannon Group, which operates Shannon Airport, Andrew Murphy said: « 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. «