Skip to main content

A bold and audacious plan to create a new export route for South African horses has emerged with the announcement of a direct charter flight from Johannesburg to New York confirmed for 7 March 2022.

The export flight has been devised and arranged by Gerard Connolly of Connolly & Turner Bloodstock Forwarding (“CTB”) and Robin Bruss of Northfields Bloodstock after more than a year of negotiation and planning.

It is the first direct flight to the USA since the export of Horse Chestnut and several other stars, who travelled via the USA to various other countries, which took place 23 years ago.

“We had to overcome a number of legal and logistical challenges” said Connolly, a lawyer by training, who took over his late father, Kevin Connolly’s, 30-year-old shipping business.

“The beauty of the American route is that the USDA work on a PAQ (Post Arrival) Quarantine system, and not the Pre-Export Quarantine (PEQ) required by the EU: therefore, no AHS Free Zone and no transit quarantine in a third country. It’s an overnight direct flight from Johannesburg to New York.”

“Under the agreement negotiated with the USA veterinary authorities, the horses will do one week in CTB’s Johannesburg facility undertaking some routine tests before flying them directly to the USA. On arrival they will quarantine 60 days at the USDA facility before release as permanent imports. There will be exercise facilities for the horses to maintain a level of fitness until release.”.

“Those aiming at races like the Breeders Cup meeting will have an 8 months build up to peak fitness” he added.

“The USA is the world’s biggest market for trade in bloodstock” said Bruss, “and it stands to reason that South Africa should have access to it, especially since we did well with the small number of South African horses whose export we pioneered in association with Barry Irwin’s Team Valor and others.”

He refers to Spook Express who won the $500,000 Gr2 Galaxy Stakes, and was 2nd in the $1m Gr1 Breeders Cup Fillies and Mares S, Crimson Palace won the Gr1 Beverly D, Gypsys Warning won the Gr1 Matriarch Stakes whilst Team Valor won a slew of other stakes.

“Lets not forget our champion trailblazers such as Colorado King in the 1960s and Hawaii in the 1970s who proved to Americans that South Africa could breed a world class horse.”

America stages around 35,000 races annually with total purses around US$1,25 billion (R20 billion).

Most races are on dirt, but more than 5,500 are on Turf. Half of these are between 1200m and 1600m, with 25% at 800m-1000m and 25% more than 1600m.

America races in 46 of their 50 States and there are markets everywhere.

Prize money is on the increase and recently New York, Monmouth and Kentucky announced that Maiden Special races will offer $100,000 (R1.5m) purses.

Robin Bruss.

Robin Bruss.

“It means that we don’t have to only export our top Gr1 horses,” said Bruss. “There is a powerhouse market for any young horse that shows some talent”.

“We had planned this flight for October last year” said Connolly, “Robin had arranged sales of 8 Gr.1 winners and 7 Gr.1 placed horses, destined for USA, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Australia. But then if Covid wasn’t a big enough challenge, we encountered the global shipping and supply chain crisis, and that forced us to postpone the aircraft and everything was halted.”

“We started again this year, and now we have our flight arranged and we are starting to accumulate and book new horses. We believe the route can be a game changer for the South African export market.”

“We begin with a minimum load of 15 horses on this first shipment, but we can cater for a much larger number. Accordingly, we have reached out to our clients of varying equitation disciplines – showjumpers, eventers, Arabian horses and very importantly Endurance horses – for which the South African bred horses are a world leader.”

The USDA post arrival quarantine period of 60 days was legislated in 1958 when little was known about African Horse Sickness – a near fatal disease endemic to Africa but which is reportable and for which a vaccination is given, and annual losses today are less than 0.5% of the population.

Like Covid, AHS has a 10-day incubation and like Covid, its presence is detected by a simple PCR test. It is hoped that the SA Veterinary Authorities will aid the export drive by negotiating post arrival PCR tests in USA to equate with modern science, and ultimately be able to reduce the quarantine period.

“Imagine humans being saddled with 60 days post arrival quarantine to avoid Covid ” quips Bruss.

“This breakthrough export flight will permit access for South Africa’s top racehorses into the Breeders’ Cup Series: The Breeders’ Cup Classic is worth $6m. (R90m) whilst the Turf Mile and The Fillies Turf Distaff carry purses of $2m (R30m) each.From America it’s then possible to raid into next year’s Dubai World Cup $12m (R216m) and $20m (R300m) Saudi Cup $20m (R300m). What an opportunity for the cream of our crop and to prove that our South African horse exports have wings!”

Connolly says that once the first flight has been concluded successfully, he plans to open a second flight later in the year and ultimately hopes that full flights, lower costs and shorter quarantine will permit the route to become a regular and stable feature for South Africa.

Apart from serving USA markets, horses can onward ship forwards to anywhere in the world and this route will therefore supplement the other routes and efforts still under negotiation.

Interested parties requiring more information – please contact:

Gerard Connolly – CTB. Cell: 082 828 7623 Email: (Instagram @ctbinternational) .

Robin Bruss – Northfields Bloodstock. Cell 082 469 4231. Email