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Kentucky hopes to benefit from renewed horse sales to China

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) After a two-year standstill, Kentucky’s renowned horse industry is back in the race to develop a market in China, the world’s most populous country.

State Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles on Monday touted a new trade accord lifting a ban on U.S equine exports to China. The deal was signed by U.S. and Chinese officials last month.

The racing industry remains in its infancy in China, where betting is not allowed on horse races, Quarles said. But with the market now reopened, he predicted buyers will attend equine sales in Kentucky with an eye toward boosting racing and breeding operations in China.

“The Chinese racing industry, like other countries, wants the best, and they know Kentucky as the Lamborghinis of horses,” Quarles said in a phone interview.

Kentucky accounts for nearly two-thirds of overall U.S horse exports, he said. The Bluegrass state exports about $200 million worth of horses each year.

China has the potential to become a lucrative market, Quarles said.

“Imagine one planeload of thoroughbreds leaving central Kentucky after a sale headed toward China,” he said. “That’s going to be a multi-million-dollar economic impact off the bat.”

Quarles joined some of Kentucky’s equine leaders for an event Monday at Keeneland in Lexington to applaud the new trade accord.

Quarles predicted multiple breeds of Kentucky horses will be sold to China. Horses rank as Kentucky’s second-leading ag enterprise, with equine cash receipts projected at about $1 billion in 2017, according to University of Kentucky ag economist Kenny Burdine.

In 2015, the Chinese placed a hold on importing horses from the United States due to concerns about a potentially fatal equine viral disease.

Kentucky played an active role in U.S. efforts to resolve Chinese concerns. A Chinese delegation visited the Bluegrass state to visit horse farms and an equine research center.

The thoroughbred export market to China is estimated at about $30 million, with most racehorses now coming from Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, said Chauncey Morris, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders.

Keeneland, which hosts lucrative thoroughbred auctions in Lexington, also hailed the resumption of horse sales with China.

“As the world’s largest thoroughbred auction house, we at Keeneland are excited by the significant expansion opportunities it offers Kentucky’s entire horse industry, especially breeders and sellers,” said Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason.

Morris predicted Kentucky will reap the lion’s share of U.S. horse exports to China. China’s potential as a horse market would skyrocket if its ban on betting horse races ends, he said.

“Should wagering on horse racing ever become legal in China, it would become, overnight, probably the most important export market in the world,” he said.

China has already become an important export market for Kentucky soybeans, pork and poultry, UK ag economist Will Snell said. The next goal is to develop a Chinese market for Kentucky beef, Quarles said.

“Opening new export markets are critical to the future growth in the Kentucky ag economy,” Snell said.

Native River gets wire-to-wire win in Cheltenham Gold Cup

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CHELTENHAM, England (AP) Native River delivered an exhibition in front-running to outlast favorite Might Bite in a thrilling duel to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Britain’s most prestigious jumps race, on Friday.

Ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, 5-1 shot Native River took the lead right from the start and was never passed in the race over 3 miles and 2 1/2 furlongs in front of a crowd of 70,000.

After they jumped the last fence, Native River and Might Bite were neck and neck, but Johnson got a kick out of the Colin Tizzard-trained horse on the uphill finish and Native River won by 4 1/2 lengths – a year after finishing third in the race.

For Johnson, it was a second victory in the Gold Cup – 18 years after his first on Looks Like Trouble.

“It’s been a long 18 years,” Johnson said. “To be honest, I was a passenger.

“The more I asked from him, the better he jumped.”

Might Bite’s handler, Nicky Henderson, was looking to become the first trainer to capture the Cheltenham Festival’s three signature races in the same year – the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase, and the Gold Cup.

It was Might Bite’s first defeat over fences, and Henderson said the heavy going didn’t do the horse any favors – especially against a rival who is a past winner of the Welsh National and the Hennessy Gold Cup

“It was the right thing to track Native River because no other horse got into the race, he had to be in the right place,” Henderson said of the 4-1 favorite.

“On better ground, stamina wouldn’t have been an issue. But in that ground you have to work so much harder. The winner is a Welsh National winner and the reason I’ve never won that race is because I can’t find horses that go in that ground.”

Native River won his owners 369,822 pounds ($515,000).

Anibale Fly, a 33-1 shot, was third.

Jockey Ruby Walsh to miss rest of Cheltenham Festival

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CHELTENHAM, England (AP) Jockey Ruby Walsh will miss the remainder of the Cheltenham Festival after aggravating a leg injury when falling off his horse during the RSA Insurance Novices’ chase on Wednesday.

Walsh, the most successful jockey in the festival’s history with 52 wins, had only recently returned to competition after a four-month layoff due to a broken leg. He was taken to a hospital for X-rays and his sister Jennifer said in a statement that “unfortunately he has aggravated a recent leg injury and will see his consultant in Dublin next week for further assessment.”

Walsh had been set to ride Killultagh Vic in Friday’s Gold Cup.

On Wednesday’s second day of the festival, Altior extended his unbeaten record over jumps to 13 in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Altior had a slow start eventually powered seven lengths clear of the Willie Mullins-trained Min.

It was also a good day for trainer Gordon Elliott who took home three wins, headlined by Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

The 8-11 favorite beat Black Op by two and three-quarter lengths.