Racing deal with China to bring in €40m


IRELAND IS set to play a key role in efforts to develop China’s horse racing industry after it announced a €40 million export tie-in with the country’s first national equine facility, based in Tianjin.

The Tianjin Equine Culture City will be the first of its kind in China and the €1.5 billion project will open in phases from next year.

It will generate €40 million for Ireland over the next three years.

The news was announced by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, who is leading Ireland’s largest agriculture and food trade mission to China this week, the latest in a series of high-profile visits to the key Chinese market.

“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,” said Mr Coveney.

The deal marks the first Chinese government involvement with an overseas joint venture in horse racing and breeding.

The element of state involvement is significant because backing horse racing in China can be a bit of gamble in itself.

Betting is a major taboo in mainland China – chairman Mao Zedong’s communists banned all forms of gambling after the revolution in 1949. Hong Kong is the only venue on Chinese soil where betting on horses is legal and authorities are unlikely to legalise gambling on the mainland anytime soon.

There have been various projects aimed at taking advantage of the horse racing market in China in the event of the rules changing, but many have failed or been downsized drastically.

At the same time, there has been some restricted horse racing in China in recent years. Rather than gambling, punters can earn shopping vouchers or lottery tickets in raffles held between races.

Bai Zhisheng of the state-owned Tianjin State Farm Agribusiness Group said the tie-in helped ensure the group’s project was firmly established.

“We would like to accelerate the progress of the development . . . to get it completed, and with high-level partners this will help us achieve it,” said Mr Bai.

The racing venture and racecourse will require 600 to 800 horses for its inaugural year, which is targeted to have approximately 40 race days.

While Ireland has no agreement regarding the export of horses, a delegation statement said discussions were ongoing about sourcing of this bloodstock with Ireland enjoying favoured status.

The new facility in Tianjin, a city of 12 million, will feature 4,000 horse stalls, a horse clinic, 150 trainers’ offices, five training tracks, and two international standard racetracks.

It will also host a grandstand, a club house, an international equestrian college and a horse auction house on a 3.3 million square metre site.

The breeding programme will involve an agreement to import over 100 mares in the next three years.

The project will also involve the acquisition of stallions.

The link will include Ireland hosting seven of China’s top agriculture graduates, who will spend two months at Coolmore Stud learning the industry.

“The sector plays a huge part in the Irish economy, currently generating €1.1 billion annually. This industry is something we are good at, and today one of the biggest markets in the world has recognised that and has chosen to partner with Ireland,” said racing tycoon JP Magnier, speaking on behalf of Coolmore.

The trade delegation includes 51 companies and 127 individuals active in China. These are drawn from the meat, dairy, seafood, beverage, bloodstock and agri-services sectors.

The mission, which runs until Sunday, will also include Irish universities involved in the provision of educational courses in food safety and agriculture science.

The visit follows the high-profile visit of vice-president Xi Jinping to Ireland in February, during which he visited a farm in Clare.

Irish food and drink exports to Asia are estimated at €370 million for 2011, up 40 per cent on the previous year.

The main components of trade are dairy ingredients, including infant formula, pigmeat, fish and alcoholic beverages.