(Post appeared in the New York Times' The Rail on 11/05/11)
Reed Palmer Photography, Churchill Downs
So You Think, who is trained in Ireland by Aidan O’Brien, arriving at Churchill Downs on Tuesday.
The three-time Breeders’ Cup winner Goldikova was unable to take home a fourth championship, but she is returning to France in style, nonetheless. After shipping from Churchill Downs to Chicago on Monday, Goldikova will fly home in a comfortable jet stall on Air France on Tuesday.
The 28 horses from England, Ireland and France that shipped in to Churchill Downs to compete in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup, came with passports, paperwork and entourages worthy of the equine rock stars that they are.
Horses arriving in the United States from foreign soils are subject to the conditions and restrictions of the United States Department of Agriculture. From the time they touch American soil, the racehorses entered in the Breeders’ Cup are required to spend 48 hours in the government-approved quarantine barns at Churchill Downs. Blood is drawn upon arrival, screening for dourine, glanders, equine piroplasmosis and equine infectious anemia, and the horses are monitored by veterinarians.
In fact, to facilitate the return to their countries, the international Breeders’ Cup runners remain in quarantine. Access to the quarantine barns is controlled; only owners, trainers and staff on the gate list may enter. Biosecurity regulations mandate that everyone entering and leaving the quarantine compound walks through a disinfecting footbath.
During a horse’s first 48 hours on the grounds, its handlers wear white biosecurity suits. Once the horses deplane and van to Churchill, the clusters of support teams awaiting their arrival look more like researchers from Area 51 in Nevada, than the grooms and assistants they are.
Goldikova’s team outsources her United States travel arrangements to Horse America, Inc. and its affiliate Horse France. Overseen by Andrea Branchini, a native of Bologna, Italy, who has shipped horses internationally for over 25 years, Horse America provides total travel and concierge-like services to the horses and their teams. Beyond booking a charter flight on a cargo carrier or a commercial airline like Air France or KLM, Branchini and his team look after the paperwork, credentialing and accommodations for horses, trainers and staff.
For instance, Goldikova’s feed is brought over from France with her, but Branchini orders her hay and has it delivered. Rental cars are secured for staff, or cars and drivers are provided; restaurant reservations are made and tables procured. Coordinating horses and humans, fulfilling known needs and resolving crises requires 24/7 coverage from horse arrivals to staff departures.
The trainer Aidan O’Brien opted to ship his Coolmore/Ballydoyle runners in two shipments from Ireland. The fillies arrived a few days before the colts. The Coolmore superstar So You Think arrived with his travelmates, including the eventual Breeders’ Cup Turf winner St. Nicholas Abbey, at Churchill Downs on Tuesday night. One last time before unloading from the van, So You Think was sprayed with disinfectant. He walked off the van and into the barns looking every inch the magnificent racehorse that he is.
By midweek, the international horses will have left Louisville, and the focus of the international horse transporters will be at the Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland November sales. Owners from Europe, South America, India and Asia purchase mares in foal and weanlings to ship to their homelands. Who knows? Maybe one of those weanlings or one of the foals the mares are carrying will come back to the United States in a few years and thrill fans like their flying forerunners Goldikova, So You Think and St. Nicholas