A record 76 Irish thoroughbreds were airlifted from Shannon Airport to China last week. All were purchased for Chinese businessman Zhang Yuesheng by Kildare-based bloodstock agency BBA Ireland at sales in Goffs last autumn from Irish breeders.
The airlift, with a cargo worth over €2m, was twice as big as the previous largest consignment of horses flying from Ireland to China.
It is hoped that transaction will lead to further purchases by Chinese horse racing and breeding interests.
Historically, over 90pc of thoroughbred horses in China are imported from Australia and New Zealand, but this airlift confirms the growing Chinese interest in more expensive, higher-quality Irish horses.
Zhang Yuesheng was introduced to the Irish market by the efforts of BBA Ireland and Irish Thoroughbred Marketing (ITM), the semi-state which promotes Ireland as the leading source for the production and sale of quality thoroughbreds internationally.
"This is really good business for the Irish equine industry, not least for small breeders from whom most of these horses were purchased," Declan Murray, managing director at BBA Ireland, said.
"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."
The airlift travelled with a team of professional flying grooms and a vet, with a team of 30 handlers on the ground involved in the three-hour process of loading the animals at Shannon. The horses will go into training in China before becoming top local racers.
They were purchased at two separate autumn sales in Goffs. Most of the horses were sourced at its Sportsman Sale, a notch down from its premier level sale.
The majority are yearlings and only a small number of them have already raced.
Sunday Indo Business