The thoroughbred industry is a bright light in New Zealand's racing scene but it's in China where this country's horses could really shine.
One of the key players in the China market is self-made billionaire Lang Lin, known to his staff as Mr Wolf due to his keeping several of the animals as pets at his home.
Lang is the founder and chief executive of the Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Group which has spent $11 million shipping more than 800 New Zealand racehorses back to China to race and breed from, including New Zealand derby winner and horse of the year Mongolian Khan.
He says the potential for these horses in China is huge, in what he says is a largely untapped industry.
"New Zealand horses have a very good reputation internationally especially for long-distance racing," Lang said. "But before we [started] shipping New Zealand horses back to China, not a lot of Chinese owners knew the good reputation of New Zealand horses so not a lot of Chinese people bought horses from New Zealand, but this is changing," he said.
In Hong Kong, the racing industry has developed rapidly and is now one of the largest racing jurisdictions in the world - a playground for the wealthy elite of the city.
Mainland China, by comparison, is at the dawn of its racing industry, with horse racing having been banned in 1949 when the Republic of China was established, but Lang is optimistic.
"In America, the whole industry is [worth] about US$100 billion ($146 billion) but the population is not a lot," Lang said.
While China's economy is not as strong as the US it had a population of 1.4 billion people - four times that of America.
"In terms of that [I] believe [the industry in China] will have equal value of the US industry in the future."
The partnership we're forging with China means as their industry grows ours will grow. We're not the first there and we face strong competition from places like Germany, Ireland and Australia who have been there a bit longer than we have, but we have made significant strides in a short space of time.
SHARE THIS QUOTE:
According to Lang, the industry in China only began to develop as recently as 30 years ago when, as the economy grew, the Chinese realised they wanted horses for racing and other disciplines, not just for working.
Since then, several big names in the country, including Lang, have made it their mission to develop and nurture the racehorse industry - importing horses, hiring global talent and building the best equestrian facilities.
Countries including Australia, the US, Japan and Ireland clued in to the opportunity early and have invested heavily in promoting their bloodstock in China but it is only in the last few years that New Zealand joined the global push - boosted by investment from Rider Horse Group.
Early on in his racing business, Lang said he had been looking at several countries to do business with before deciding on New Zealand. According to Lang, the affordability and quality of horses in New Zealand was the main reason he had chosen to invest, combined with his previous experiences doing business in New Zealand.
Quarantine laws in the country were also a significant factor.
"For livestock exportation, the quarantine period is very important," Lang said.
"New Zealand is such a clean place that it's easy to do the quarantine. If you buy horses from Australia and you want to take them back to China you need to do at least five blood tests compared to New Zealand where you just need to do two," he said.
"Another important issue is that trading between our two countries is huge and has increased a lot so it's a good basis for [us] to do business."
Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) chief executive Brett O'Riley said this China-New Zealand equestrian partnership was just beginning, but was already extremely beneficial for New Zealand as a whole.
"This is probably one of the most significant developments in the industry in the last decade, and I think we're really at the beginning of that opportunity," O'Riley said.
"The partnership we're forging with China means as their industry grows ours will grow. We're not the first there and we face strong competition from places like Germany, Ireland and Australia who have been there a bit longer than we have, but we have made significant strides in a short space of time."
This is probably one of the most significant developments in the industry in the last decade, and I think we're really at the beginning of that opportunity.
SHARE THIS QUOTE:
The first sales of New Zealand horses to China started as early as 24 years ago, however since then this has not continued to grow, with Lang saying that initially, New Zealand had not promoted its horses in the Chinese market compared with other countries such as Australia - which had spent millions advertising its bloodstock there.
Lang's investment however has changed New Zealand's racing industry more in the last two years than the previous 24 according to New Zealand Bloodstock general manager Andrew Seabrook, who says this investment is set to continue.
"I've been going to China for 24 years and what's happened through [Lang] in the last two years has been more than the previous 24," Seabrook said. "He's bought hundreds of horses to race in China and to race here and supported the whole industry here so he's been huge - and he's a hell of a nice guy," he said.
According to Seabrook, fewer than 100 horses had been bought by the Chinese market prior to Lang's investment.
In the last three years, Lang has bought more than 800 horses, including spending $1.8 million at Karaka last month on 26 horses, half of which would go back to China and half that would stay in New Zealand. Seabrook said that due to the young nature of the industry, the quality of the racehorses in China was not well developed.
Although China's racing industry is growing rapidly with tracks being built and more horses being bred, betting in China is illegal outside of Hong Kong and Macau - seen as a significant barrier to further growth in the industry. Seabrook said if this was legalised, New Zealand would not be able to keep up with the demand for horses being sent to China.
O'Riley said Ateed had been working with Lang for 18 months and although this was focused mostly on the racing industry, he saw more opportunities across the wider equine industry and other industries in New Zealand.
The quality in China is still at a lower level so the cheaper horses here he's taking back to China and they're doing very well and the more expensive horses he's leaving to race here which is great - so everyone is benefitting from his presence in New Zealand.
SHARE THIS QUOTE:
"There's interest in racing but there's also huge interest from China in showjumping and dressage and three-day eventing to a lesser extent but definitely show jumping and dressage," O'Riley said.
"New Zealand is a great breeder of horses for those disciplines as well and obviously then there has been interest in New Zealand coaches going up to assist in those industries as well."
Lang said his intention was to purchase a studfarm or land in New Zealand, adding that he had further business plans beyond his racing pursuits. His intentions were to continue promoting New Zealand horses to the Chinese market, and encouraging investment, while himself investing in the local economy and putting up stake money for races.
He said most of the Chinese market did not understand the racing opportunities in New Zealand with most focusing on dairy or property instead.
As part of this Lang planned to regularly host influential Chinese businessmen in New Zealand to showcase the business opportunities in the country. In the previous few years Lang has hosted two trips to New Zealand and was planning to host more in coming years.
Lang's business ventures in China cover all livestock from horses and cows to sheep, and he said it was likely he would expand this in New Zealand as well, but was focusing on the racehorse industry for the time being.