The first official delegation from China was recently jointly hosted by the South African Veterinary Services and Racing South Africa, representing the SA Equine Trade Council from Monday, 04 June to Monday, 11 June. The primary purpose of their visit was to inspect South Africa’s AHS Controls with a longer term view of importing horses from South Africa. From the trade side, the delegation was able to understand the mechanics of South Africa’s horseracing and equestrian industries, to familiarise themselves with the South African brand and to gather information that will be reported back to enhance any future discussions on trade.
The inspection came about as a result of the SA Equine Trade Council being invited to join Deputy President Motlanthe’s State Visit to China last October. Racing South Africa CEO, Peter Gibson, met with his Chinese counter-part, Gaofeng “General” Yue, the executive secretary general of the China Horse Industry Association, the umbrella organisation that interfaces with the Chinese horse industry and their Government. China’s horse population once topped 13 million before dropping to the current 7.5 million, but with an aggressive growth strategy, China is now the biggest importer of horses from around the world, averaging 2000 horses per annum. News of a €40 million deal with Ireland in recent months gives an indication that the Chinese Central Government is nearing a decision regarding an appropriate gambling model that will allow horseracing to resume after an absence of over six decades when former Premier, Chairman Mao, outlawed gambling and which led to the closure of the thriving and historic Shanghai Jockey Club.
A detailed itinerary was planned with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the official opening meeting with the Director of Veterinary Services was held in Pretoria on Monday morning. That afternoon was spent at Onderstepoort visiting the Faculty of Veterinary Science, Equine Research Centre and South Africa’s main diagnostic laboratory, Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute (OVI).
An early flight to Cape Town followed where the delegates gained a perspective of the AHS Controlled Area from Rhodes Memorial. This was followed by an inspection of Kenilworth Quarantine Station, South Africa’s official vector-protected pre-export quarantine station. Western Cape Racing Club kindly provided lunch from the Director’s box at Kenilworth which offered a fine view of Cape Town’s premier racecourse. The group then transferred to Stellenbosch for a meeting with the Director Western Cape Veterinary Services and a visit to Stellenbosch Laboratory.
Wednesday was set aside for a tour of stud farms in the AHS Controlled Area where the delegation were kindly hosted by Drakenstein, Klawervlei and Highlands Stud Farms with representation from Cape Thoroughbred Sales Keeping a promise to visit Cape Point before the delegation left Cape Town, not even a spectacular winter storm was able to deter the visitors and the group dutifully slogged their way to the lighthouse before returning drenched to Cape Town International Airport for their flight to Durban!
On arrival in Durban, the visitors were taken to Greyville Racecourse for a tour of the facilities and then hosted by Gold Circle for dinner at Ile Maurice in Umhlanga Rocks.
On Friday, the group enjoyed a tour of Summerveld Training Centre and breakfast at the clubhouse. Visits to trainer Dennis Drier’s stable yard, Baker & McVeighs’ Equine Hospital and the South African Jockey Academy followed before visiting the Shongweni Polo & Equestrian Club for lunch and an inspection of the facilities. Meetings were held with representatives of the SA Polo Association, SA National Equestrian Federation (SANEF) and the AHS Trust.
Racing at Clairwood Racecourse followed where the delegates were fortunate to enjoy the top class performance of Variety Club in the Gr.1 Rising Sun Gold Challenge.
On Sunday, the delegation travelled to Johannesburg via Mooi River and a visit to Summerhill Stud for lunch and a tour of the stud farm On arriva in Johannesburg, the delegation was hosted for dinner by Phumelela with representatives from the Racing Association and National Horseracing Authority present. An inspection of the impressive TBA Sales Complex closed proceedings from the equine aspect of the tour and it is hoped that some immediate investment in the South African bloodstock industry will result.
The closing meeting with the Director of Veterinary Services took place in Pretoria the following day which offered an opportunity for both parties to raise issues and plot the way forward. China has a very structured approach to matters pertaining to trade and the South African Government was provided with clear guidelines as to how to proceed.
The visitors recognised and acknowledged South Africa’s quality of bloodstock and competitive pricing compared to other international producers. They were impressed with our world class stud farms, training centres and racecourses and remarked on the environmental and climatic conditions around the country. As China is a developing racing industry and potential market for the future, this visit was about breaking the ice and has hopefully cemented a platform for any future discussions on trade.