A plan to send thoroughbred horses from Ireland to China as part of a €38m deal, announced during a ministerial trade mission, has been put on hold.
Twenty thoroughbred mares were due to be shipped from the Coolmore stud in South Tipperary to Tianjin City this year in the first instalment in a strategic breeding partnership.
The thoroughbreds have been earmarked to pioneer the breeding element of an ambitious “horse city” in Tianjin, an industrial city 100km from Beijing.
However, it was recently decided the facilities in China were not yet sufficient to handle thoroughbred mares in foal.
In particular, it emerged that there was not enough grazing land available for animals once they arrived in Tianjin.
The 20 mares, all in foal, will now be moved to one of the company’s farms in North Cork and plans are in place to ship them in 2013.
The deal had been announced as a highlight during Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney’s 127-person trade delegation to China last April.
Sources close to Coolmore insist the project will go ahead and that the mares and their foals will be sent to China next year, along with a further 20 mares.
Coolmore, meanwhile, will earn boarding fees for the horses this winter.
The China trade mission has already provoked controversy due to the activities of the former chief executive of Irish Thoroughbred Marketing, Michael O’Hagan.
He had organised much of the equine element of the trip but was later forced to resign due to unease at private deals his wife brokered with visiting Chinese clients.
The Tianjin project has been backed by the Chinese government despite a limited history of horse racing in the country, outside of Hong Kong.
Recently, John Magnier, who is managing the project for Coolmore, said that the arrangement was progressing well in partnership with the Chinese government’s Tianjin State Farms Agribusiness Group.
It was hoped it would be the vanguard of a relationship that would help build the Chinese market.
In 2010, Tianjin’s proposed horse city was billed as the ambitious scheme to bring its industry onto a global stage. However, it had an unsure start.
In Mar 2010, the Dubai-based Meydan operation was revealed as the joint venture partner along with the Chinese government and engineers in Malaysia.
Meydan — a construction vehicle for Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates — has since exited the scheme. It is not known who is currently earmarked to handle the construction.
Originally, the phased opening of the complex in Tianjin was expected to begin later this year.
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