By Alex Cairns
In recent years, international travel has become much more accessible and people now regularly embark on journeys previously the reserve of a few trail-blazing adventurers. The same is true for racehorses, whose handlers can today chart careers based on a rich international programme that offers opportunities year-round. For European trainers, America is perhaps the most readily accessible intercontinental option, with fewer regulations to be negotiated than in Asia or Australia. The relatively reduced distance from Europe to the US also provides an incentive, especially if running in the east of the country.
Ed Dunlop has been travelling horses to some of the world’s far-flung reaches for almost 20 years now and has consistently demonstrated his ability to get it right thanks to the success of horses such as Lailani, Ouija Board, Snow Fairy, and Red Cadeaux.
There are lucrative and prestigious opportunities for all types of horses in America, notably in the Breeders’ Cup or the Fall Meet at Keeneland in Kentucky. Dunlop may have been steeped in racing from his earliest age thanks to the exploits of his now sadly departed father John, but sending horses to the US was a learning curve nonetheless. “One of my earliest experiences and successes in America was with a filly called Lailani. She won the Irish Oaks in July 2001 before we sent her to Belmont in New York for the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Stakes in September of the same year. She won that too, but then ran badly in the Breeders’ Cup Fillies and Mares, again at Belmont. I learnt a lot from her actually because we left her there after the Flower Bowl and I think that affected her performance. This helped us adapt our approach with Ouija Board, who provided us with some our biggest days in America, winning two Breeders’ Cup Fillies and Mares in 2004 and 2005.”
In 2001, a trip to the east coast of America still represented a serious logistical challenge and financial outlay for European runners, so one can understand Dunlop’s decision not to ship Lailani home between runs. Today, however, advances in transport and reductions in cost make flying visits a viable option. “If you look at someone like Aidan O’Brien, who is probably the most accomplished trainer in the world these days when it comes to travelling horses, he flies them in and out as if they were just travelling to the races down the road in a horsebox. That seems to be the best approach, though isn’t always possible depending on the destination.”
So scaling up the same practices employed for running a horse a few miles down the road can be a winning formula, but any international campaign will nonetheless require a certain amount of preparation and planning. How should a horse be prepared for international travel? And how might running in the US compare to Asia or Australia? “Travelling horses to America tends to be a lot more simple, as there aren’t lengthy quarantines to be negotiated for us on the UK end. When we send horses to America they are travelled fit, put in the barn and kept there apart from for exercise. Then they run and come home soon after. From our experience, travelling to Australia or Japan is a lot more complicated, as both countries have very tough rules and normally around a month in quarantine is required. These regulations also affect what you can take feed-wise, so that has to be taken into account.”
Sheer geography can also have a strong influence on where might be best for European trainers to launch an international campaign. “Travelling from the UK to America is not such a huge distance, if we’re talking about the east coast anyway, so that makes it all the easier. The further you fly a horse then the greater the cost, the more susceptible they are to travel sickness, and the more chance there is of incident along the way.”