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Landmark deal for Irish racing

Irish racing has received a major shot in the arm with news of a multi-million-euro deal with China to help set up a thoroughbred industry in the Far East.

Under the agreement, top stud farm Coolmore in County Tipperary will help China set up a similar operation. Sited in Tianjin, China's fourth largest city, the planned world-class equine centre will be the first of its kind in the country. It is due to open next year.

The facility will be stocked with broodmares from Ireland, while stallions will also be sent out.

"This has been cultivated for some years. Horse Racing Ireland has an international marketing wing and we've been entertaining delegations from China for some years. They've been seeing our stud farms and coming to our sales," said Michael O'Rourke, HRI's director of marketing and communication.

"What is particularly exciting about this is that this is the first deal of its kind done by the Chinese government. That is a big plus. They have been saying very nice things about us, that we are a world leader. The HRI message would be that Ireland is the best country in which to breed racehorses.

"Ireland is the biggest producer of thoroughbred foals in Europe. We are punching well above our weight and that has got through to them. Irish stallions have led the sires list for the last 20 years. The Epsom Derby and the Cheltenham Gold Cup have been dominated by Irish-bred horses.

"Those kind of figures have got through on the world stage. It's remarkable and, of course, Coolmore leads the brand for the Irish thoroughbred. They have picked up on that.

"Realistically, domestic demand has been quite flat since 2008. We have been conscious that if we are going to get growth it would be overseas. And this has great potential. A few years ago our export of thoroughbreds were worth 200m euro a year. They are talking this project alone delivering 50m in about three years' time.

"The very good thing from our point of view domestically is that thoroughbred racing and breeding is a very labour intensive business. The downstream jobs on the farms will be secured by this - everything from the lads riding out horses to farriers, vets, grooms etc. It's that whole downstream.

"If there is one thing Irish racing would claim it is that as well as the horses, it is the people we have that have a special affinity for horses. We've been very anxious with the recession not to lose that indigenous skill base. This is great news in that respect."

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