Chinese horses are set to gallop on the world stage. And not just in 2014, China's "Year of the Horse".
At least, that's the prediction of Louis Romanet, chairman of the Paris-based International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, an industry group that oversees breeding, racing and betting issues in 60 countries.
During a trip to the capital last month to attend the Beijing International Fair for Trade in Services, he said China's rise as the world's second-biggest economy could create more room for horse racing. He says the Inner Mongolia autonomous region could be a spur for the industry.
Romanet has been to China a number of times over the past few years, always bringing along cards printed in Chinese. He seeks greater cooperation for his organization with China, because college students from Inner Mongolia regularly go to France to learn about the management of thoroughbred horses.
"Inner Mongolia could be an ideal place for development of the horse-racing industry. IFHA can provide more education programs for young people and equestrian clubs. There are many talented jockeys to be trained," Romanet says.
He says the first China Equine Cultural Festival held in the autonomous region's capital city Hohhot in September last year was successful and he expects to see more races in China.
China is not a member of his organization yet due to the lack of a "unified State-level institution" for the purpose, Romanet says.
In France, racing is a world-class business with an annual turnover of around 10 billion euros ($13.6 billion) and provides 125,000 direct jobs.
"China can have a bigger market within a few years with the establishment of a relevant system. The country's fine training centers and tracks are not enough today," he says, adding that bigger investments for infrastructure in the sector is justified because of a promising future.
Tian Hua, deputy secretary-in-chief of the Chinese Equestrian Association, said at an Asian conference in Hong Kong last month that horse racing will be an important growth point in sports on the Chinese mainland and has the government's backing.
"France has brought its training programs to China and more top French jockeys have participated in competitions in China. We need both international races and local races together here to show the passion (of this sport) to people," Romanet says.
However, quarantine issues have long been a barrier to introduce top-level events in China, as most foreign thoroughbreds can only have one-way tickets to the mainland because of the Chinese rules.
Romanet's organization, which works with member countries on equine hygiene criteria worldwide, has been in contact with Chinese authorities over the issue. The Dubai World Cup, a thoroughbred horse race, organized a race in Sichuan province's capital city Chengdu two months ago, becoming the first international commercial race on the mainland to be held with a facility for quarantining horses if needed.
Romanet says more can happen in the future. Conghua in Guangdong province now has the only equine disease-free zone on the Chinese mainland. He lists several other cities which will probably have permanent equine disease-free zones in the near future including Chengdu, Tianjin and Hohhot.