Gladwells See Potential in Chinese Market

Jim Gladwell | Keeneland

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Ever in search of new markets to conquer, Jimmy and Martha Gladwell landed on the expanding racing industry in mainland China in 2019 and, after making several trips to the Far East, the couple has hopes the country's importation of American Thoroughbreds will only increase in the coming years and help to build up demand in the middle market of the U.S. breeding industry.

“Several years ago, I was reading the Thoroughbred Daily News and it talked about how China had lifted the ban and were going to start importing American horses,” Jimmy Gladwell, patriarch of a family of pioneering Ocala pinhookers, said. “So I had the idea, for me and my family, to make some trips to China and see if we could drum up some business.”

On one of his trips to China, Gladwell met Zhiqiang An, president of the Hohhot Equestrian Association. The Gladwells, along with sons Jim and Ray, and their wives Torie and Meagan, and daughter Nellie and her husband Chetley Breeden, began purchasing American-bred yearlings on behalf of An to be exported to China at the 2019 Keeneland September sale. Under the name of the family's Legacy Equine Group, they purchased five head for between $33,000 and $55,000.

In 2021, LEG purchased 11 head at the September sale for An's Golden East Horse for prices between $12,000 and $70,000. In 2022, Golden East purchased 11 horses for prices between $12,000 and $72,000. In 2023, An's West Coast Equine purchased 12 yearlings at the September sale from $27,000 to $85,000.

“They like colts more than fillies,” Gladwell said of the type of yearlings that are on An's shopping list. “They are usually in the $25,000 to $60,000 or $70,000 price range. And they have gone a little higher on a few horses. Mr. An has a pretty good eye. He likes to look at the horses himself, as well.”

Gladwell continued, “He takes them home, breaks them, trains them, gets them prepared and he races them. When he gets home, sometimes he sells some of the horses to other owners.

He would like to bring some of those owners with him [to sales in the U.S.] and expand that part of it.”

In order to increase interest in buying yearlings in the U.S. to his fellow Chinese owners, An is in the planning stages for a race this summer that will be restricted to American imports.

“Mr. An wants to have a race in Hohot in August of this year and it will be restricted to horses who were exported from the U.S., so it will only be horses coming from America,” Gladwell said. “And he's hoping to have some sponsorship. He's talked to Keeneland and he is hoping to have some sponsorship from some of the stallion farms and some of the consignors, everybody who wants to make some contributions because he would like to have it be one of the richer purses they've had in China. And then if you put a bonus on it to where there is a Breeders' Cup-type of an American day at the races, that would be another added incentive for buyers to come. So I think it will generate even more interest in the American horses.”

Of conditions for the race, Gladwell speculated, “They are still in the think-tank stage, but it's probably going to be a three-quarter mile race, a sprinter-type race, on dirt and it will probably be fillies and colts competing against each other. My and Martha's goal is that hopefully it will be a minimum of $50,000 U.S. purse that they would come up with. Which would be a very big purse in China at this time. And it could possibly be bigger than that.”

With no pari-mutuel wagering, the purse structure on mainland China is limited, but Gladwell has hopes that if that changes in the near future, the demand for exported American horses will expand exponentially.

“They have talked about having pari-mutuel wagering on Hainan Island–which is an island on the south of China–building a racetrack and doing it there,” Gladwell said. “It would be similar to Hong Kong and if they did that, it would be such a great outlet for horses. Obviously, Hong Kong has one of the biggest daily handles there is and most of that handle is coming from mainland China.

“If that market opens up, then I think you will see a lot of Chinese come to America. They like the speed horses and the few that we have sent–about 50 of them–they have done very well and they are very competitive. I think there is a lot of potential there.”

While the purse structure remains low, quarantine and travel costs have tempered Chinese demand for American yearlings.

“It's expensive,” Gladwell admitted. “With the quarantine and the travel, it is about $15,000 per horse.”

Those expenses could be lessened by buying in bulk with the intention of reselling horses in China, Gladwell said.

“At a sale like [Fasig-Tipton Winter Mixed], you can buy some nicer individuals,” he said. “We bought one here a minute ago for $20,000 and one for $30,000. So you can buy some nice individuals and I am sure you can take them over and have a sale. And [An]'s actually talked about it–trying to get a plane or two, maybe 100 head and having a sale. I think that could happen in the future. Late in [Keeneland] November, [Keeneland] January, and Fasig-Tipton February, you could pick up 30 or 40 head in that range that really need a home and we need buyers for that would be nice little racehorses over there because pedigree wouldn't make a whole lot of difference. You could take them over and resell them. We've kicked that around a little bit. But we are still letting this thing develop a little.”

As aftercare becomes ever more a priority for the industry, Gladwell said there are plenty of outlets in Inner Mongolia for retired racehorses.

“They have been working on aftercare on a few different areas,” Gladwell said. “Each of the racetracks have been developing aftercare farms. Mr. An, who is in Inner Mongolia, has been expanding that and developing a new facility for the aftercare and retraining program. He just loves horses and inner Mongolia is a horse-oriented country, it's just incredible. They are still so close to the horse. There is a heavy population of horses in Inner Mongolia and they have a great love for the horses.”

Gladwell continued, “Aftercare is so important to us as a family. We make a living with the horses and we want to see them taken care of and see them have a chance to be re-homed. I think that's important. I want our American breeders to know that when they sell a horse and it goes to China, it's going to be well cared for, have a good chance to race, and have a good chance for fillies to be broodmares or the colts to be stallions or hunter/jumpers–they do all types of disciplines.”

Gladwell has seen first-hand the other outlets for horses in China.

“Chuck and Lauri Givens, they raise a lot of barrel horses and we got over there [to China] for one of the major barrel races,” he said. “And here comes a horse with one of their brands on it. And then we went to one farm that had the national hunter jumper champion, so I had to get on him and ride him in the arena and jump him a little bit–luckily, I didn't fall off. We've had a lot of experiences over there like that. There are a lot of activities for horses over there.”

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