China’s Budding Love Affair With Horse Racing Fuels $52 Million Ireland Deal

Ireland Announces Export Deal With Mammoth Facility In Tianjin

As of 2010, despite the growing popularity of horse riding, most of Beijing's clubs operated at a loss (Image: China Daily)

Though betting on horse races in mainland China remains illegal, restricted only to Hong Kong, the budding love affair with equine sports — particularly in northern China — has become ever more visible in recent years. From nouveau riche-baiting polo facilities in Tianjin to a burgeoning trade in equestrian schools for the children of the wealthy and powerful and private riding clubs like Beijing’s Yingchen International, China’s upwardly mobile have fallen under the spell of the horse in a major way. Looking to take advantage of this trend, this week the Irish government inked a three-year, €40 million (US$52 million) export partnership with China’s first with the Tianjin Equine Culture City, a US$2 billion complex that will open in phases beginning in 2013. This deal, the Irish Times points out,  marks the first Chinese government involvement with an overseas joint venture in horse racing and breeding.

From the Irish Times, which notes that the element of state involvement is significant “because backing horse racing in China can be a bit of gamble in itself”:

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.

Tianjin’s sprawling new Equine Culture City, located near the city of 12 million, is expected to include 4,000 horse stalls, a clinic, 150 offices for trainers, five training tracks, and two international standard racetracks. Taking the phrase “the bigger the better” to heart, the complex will also include a grandstand, club house, international equestrian college and a horse auction house spread out over its 3.3 million square meter space.

The venue’s breeding program will eventually include an agreement to import more than 100 mares over the next three years, as well as several stallions, which begs the question: are China’s recent import deals with the likes of Ireland geared towards catering more to the domestic market or with eyes on eventually developing its horse exporting industry?



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