Airfreight flights transporting horses between New Zealand and Australia look set to resume for the first time since March as New Zealand is poised to ease it’s Covid-19 restrictions. A successful test flight between Auckland and Sydney was conducted by New Zealand Bloodstock’s (NZB) air freight division with a small group of horses.
The test flight contained horses all from the same New Zealand property and were all checked by the same vet, making it easier to keep tabs on the amount of movement and contact between horses and humans. All grooms and travel staff were wearing full PPE that included overalls, masks and gloves. Loading and unloading was carried out by a separate team of handlers to reduce any potential risk of spread. NZB airfreight manager, Greg Northcott, claimed the test flight was a success, saying “we were rapt with the result of the test flight.”
The transportation of horses between New Zealand in Australia plays a vital role in running horse racing as a sport and as a business. Horses are flown between the two countries for a number of reasons, most notbaly for racing, trading and breeding purposes. The transportation of horses between the two countries stopped back in March, when New Zealand moved into Covid-19 alert level 4, banning all travel in and out of the country deemed to be unnecessary. All sports were also banned in the country, meaning races and training were temporarily halted.
As horse racing was banned in New Zealand while it was allowed to continue without spectators in Australia, the travel ban proved to be problematic and saw some owners take heavy financial hits. Many Australian horses were trapped in New Zealand, meaning they missed multiple races, with some missing their shot at $1 million meetings. On the other side of the water, several Kiwi horses that had travelled to race at the Sydney Carnival got stuck in Oz. The potential reopening of transport flights in the very near future will be music to the ears of most involved in horse racing in both countries.
Under normal circumstances airfreight flights transporting horses between the two countries operate between multiple ports. While the NZB is already trying to get plans in place to open ports for equine flights, a return to normal operations looks to be a few more months down the line at least. With equine freight flights only running between Auckland and Sydney for the foreseeable, horses will have to complete their onward journeys to other parts of the country by land.
The news comes as something of a surprise, after trainers, jockeys and horses only went back to the training track in New Zealand earlier this week when New Zealand reduced its Covid-19 measures from level 4 to level 3. Tony Pike, trainer of New Zealand’s Trainers Association is optimistic about the horses being race ready very soon, stating that horses can be trained “with even less risk than a normal workplace.”