July 20 - China chooses Ireland as a partner to help establish a $2 billion national equine center, as it begins establishing a horse racing and breeding industry. Ciara Sutton reports.
It's a "soft" day like this that the Irish say helps make them some of the best thoroughbred breeders and trainers in the world. Plenty of rain leads to an abundance of lush, green grass and limescale soil. But it's not just the weather behind Ireland's success in horse racing. That's why China has chosen the Emerald Isle to help it break into the industry. Ireland's Coolmore Stud will partner the world's second-largest economy in building a two billion dollar equine centre in Tianjin. Michael O'Rourke is Director of Strategy and Marketing at Horse Racing Ireland and says the industry is about more than just a fun day at the races. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MICHAEL O' ROURKE, DIRECTOR OF STRATEGY AND MARKETING, HORSE RACING IRELAND, SAYING: "What people see on the racecourse is the sporting end and people like to have a bet on the horses. But the whole point of racing is the prove the worth of the thoroughbred animal, and then it goes to stud and then it really becomes big business. So the reason this current interest has peaked in Ireland is that we've proven it. We talk about our infinity, but we've proved it on the racecourse - Irish bred horses and Irish trained horses win the top races around the world year after year." Amongst the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, horses thunder through Happy Valley race course. On Wednesday nights, it's packed with punters hoping for a big win. The Chinese are renowned for their love of gambling, despite it still being banned in mainland China. The agreement comes as Ireland ramps up efforts to boost trade relations between the two countries. As part of the deal, it will supply around 100 horses to Tianjin, which could bring around 50 million dollars in exports within three years. The racing industry here generates around a billion euros for the Irish economy every year. This new investment from China will be a welcome boost for the country which had to take an 85 billion euro bailout from the EU and IMF just under two years ago. Despite being new to the industry, China is expected to make an impact. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MICHAEL O'ROURKE, DIRECTOR OF STRATEGY AND MARKETING, HORSE RACING IRELAND, SAYING: "Just as in every other sector when they set their mind to it and they've got the resources and they've got the enthusiasm, and they are very determined to become one of the world players in the racing industry. It's going to be a fascinating exercise, and an enjoyable one for everyone because they are starting effectively with a clean sheet." Demand from China is expected to be so high that it will benefit studs across Ireland, with other services such as veterinary and training also taking advantage of the business. And a deal with China is attracting interest from other countries. Russia looks set to be next, hoping Ireland can also give it the leg up it needs to make a mark on the racing industry. Ciara Sutton, Reuters