x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Precious passenger cargo business ahead of Dubai World Cup

The 'logistical jigsaw' of getting horses to Dubai via the airways is best left to the experts.

Horses are unloaded at the Sharjah airport.
Horses are unloaded at the Sharjah airport.

Such human variety has converged at Meydan Racecourse this weekend that you might run across a man whose animal-transport company has overseen the moving of cobras to the Bahamas, tortoises and a lynx and some skunks to Kuala Lumpur, a Sumatran rhinoceros to Jakarta, mountain tapirs to Colombia, lions to South Africa, sea lions to Los Angeles, bats to Australia, tarantulas to Canada, 25 wolves from Alaska to California, star pets to movie sets and concert tours, and regular pets to everywhere.

He even moved some Daurian Pika from Ulaanbataar to Seoul to Los Angeles to Minnesota.

"It was so hard to get them out of Mongolia," said James Nelligan, here for the Dubai World Cup with Peter Costelli, who produces their developing television show Animal Movers.

Their first four shows include a rare peek at horse transport, given their filming of trainer Bob Baffert's 2011 Kentucky Derby entry departing California.

There's the wee-hour boarding procedure in which hoofs must not touch tarmac, and the take-off which Costelli described as "rolling", more gradual than the usual bolt airborne.

There is also Baffert saying, "A lot of these horses, when they go in a plane, they think they're in a big van anyway", suggesting that others besides that "lot" know full well to request a bag of peanuts. There is a horse biting one of the handlers close to boarding time, which occurs only seldom on standard jet flights.

And while Baffert invited Nelligan and Costelli to Dubai only to suffer a heart attack and recover in what the jockey Chantal Sutherland called "a spectacular hospital room", their kind of work has crucial meaning here. The Dubai World Cup might be the sporting paragon of animal transport.

"I have grown with it," said James MacEwan, whose British company Janah has managed the transports from all over the planet for every Dubai World Cup thus far.

"The logistics with the globe being so small, the logistics moving the numbers of equines from all corners of the globe and back again, the bigger and bigger aircraft flying longer distances."

He and his company handle what he calls the "logistical jigsaw" and the "legal documentation jigsaw" for the horses and accompanying air grooms - health certificates, blood tests, visas. The horses, in turn ... well, who knew. For years I, for one, wondered how they managed take-offs and landings, but MacEwan said: "They travel better than humans."

Asked why, he began with, "It's because of the in-flight entertainment", then went on to credit the ample space, evident in the Animal Movers footage showing stalls and red padding.

"If you travel first-class, you feel better," MacEwan said, extolling Emirates Airline's advancements while adding, "We've flown horses from Sydney to New York, direct ... and they come off the aircraft without a hair being turned, without a mark on them."

The whole thing, once farfetched, has grown so commonplace that on any given day, a rational person might walk around correctly imagining horses flying overhead. And while horse owners and trainers can be finicky, they do not win the finicky sweepstakes.

"Bird owners are unique," Nelligan said.

He searched for an adjective.

"Fastidious?"

"Yes," he said.

Birds live long, he explained. "They usually can be with one owner. So there's a bond there. Birds are very picky. They may like the wife and hate the husband. We hear a lot of that."

Among less impossible breeds, he said, "I've shipped a ton of falcons to Dubai" with one Lufthansa flight carrying 200, well before the strike in Frankfurt grounded some Lufthansa flights, complicating the current transport of two dogs from Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles.

He and his company of vivid personalities have shipped horses on occasion, including one bound lately for Hawaii for a new owner and the animal's beloved pastime, a swim in the ocean.

A form of horse still fitter will star at Meydan Saturday night, when 123 entries and maybe some alternates will do their work, whereupon another jigsaw will begin for Janah.

The foreign-based must depart for home, but first they get 24 hours on the ground, a policy MacEwan has learnt through three-decades-plus.

From Monday until Friday, they will leave Dubai for the five other inhabited continents on the planet plus distant Asian posts, with 36 booked for England together on Tuesday. Adding to all else up there, the sky over Dubai will abound with horses and, who knows, maybe even the odd Sumatran rhinoceros.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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