Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Flying high: From 'cattle-class' to 'horse-class'

March 22, 2013 -- Updated 1050 GMT (1850 HKT)
So how did wonder mare Black Caviar travel 17,000 kilometers from Australia to Britain's Royal Ascot? So how did wonder mare Black Caviar travel 17,000 kilometers from Australia to Britain's Royal Ascot?
HIDE CAPTION
Fresh off the plane
If the suit fits
Catch a lift
Horses first
Pony passport
Class of their own
Olympic effort
Ship-shape travel
Adventerous Australians
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ever felt like cattle on an economy flight? You might want a 'horse-class' upgrade
  • Prized ponies are flown around world in first class stables
  • Costing up to $50,000, the stables offer round-the-clock handlers
  • Horse owners increasingly attracted to big international prize money

Editor's note: Winning Post is CNN's monthly horse racing show. Click here for program times and latest features.

(CNN) -- Once you've battled through the queues, check-in, extortionate on board snacks and cramped seating, it's no wonder so many economy airline passengers complain about flying "cattle-class."

In fact, if the four-legged racing celebrities being flown around the world in luxury are any indication, next time you might want to ask for an upgrade to "horse-class."

Each year thousands of race horses, breeding stallions and beloved pet ponies are flown across the world in plush airborne stables costing up to $50,000.

Read: Qatar's six-star hotel...for horses

Staying safe when competing on ice
Life as an expat jockey in Doha
Swiss town with need for speed

"It is a major undertaking," Chris Burke, co-owner and operating manager at International Racehorse Transport, which flies 5,000 horses a year, told CNN.

"Each air stable can hold three horses. So if you were traveling from Australia to England, three to a stall is the equivalent of economy ($17,500), two to a stall is business class ($30,000), and one horse on its own is first class ($50,000).

Read: Meat scandal shines light on murky horse trade

There might not be champagne and in-flight films, but pampered ponies flying first class can expect round-the-clock specialists, 40 liters of water, two hay bales and none of the hassle of airplane transfers.

No expense spared

One thoroughbred who stretched out in style was Australian champion Black Caviar, who flew from Melbourne to London's Heathrow airport in June.

No expense was spared when the celebrity horse, who remains unbeaten in a staggering 23 consecutive races, jetted across the world to compete at Britain's prestigious Royal Ascot in front of Queen Elizabeth.

Read: Aussies make Black Caviar pilgrimage to Ascot

The super mare, who has won more than $7 million in prize money, wore a full-body compression suit -- to help blood flow and water retention --throughout the 30-hour journey.

She was accompanied by two stablehands and one vet in her first-class stable, measuring 3.5 meters by 2.5 meters.

"She had a lot of attention," owner Colin Madden said. "Even before the plane took off, there were about 30 people taking photos while she was boarding.

We thought we had a world class horse who deserved to perform on a world class stage
Colin Madden, Black Caviar co-owner

"In the air, handlers were checking her pulse and making sure she was eating and drinking properly every hour."

Once loaded into her stable on the ground, Black Caviar was lifted into the cargo plane by a scissor lift.

"She'd never been in a plane before, so you can imagine how terrified she was hearing the engine," added Madden. "She was agitated for the first half hour but then she calmed down.

"The flight took a lot out of her. It was at the end of a long racing campaign and she never quite bounced back -- when she arrived in the UK she was tired and lethargic."

Despite the toll of the journey, Black Caviar didn't disappoint at Ascot, retaining her unbeaten record in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes -- just.

Read: Upping the stakes -- Royal Ascot offers record $7.5m prize money

Just like humans, airplane passengers of the four-legged variety must also contend with the risk of respiratory infections, dehydration and sleep deprivation.

Then there's the bureaucracy involved -- race horses also need passports and must pass quarantine before entering a new country.

International horse racing circuit

So why are an increasing number of owners and breeders flying their prized pets across the planet at such a massive cost -- and potential risk to their performance?

"It's very tempting from an international prize money point of view," Burke said.

"Hong Kong and Dubai in particular have been pioneers in trying to push an international horse racing circuit. To say 'we're attracting the best race horses from across the world' gets major publicity for their event."

The prestige associated with an internationally recognized race horse can also boost their breeding value after they leave the track.

To say 'we're attracting the best race horses from across the world' gets major publicity for an event.
Chris Burke, IRT co-owner

"We thought we had a world class horse who deserved to perform on a world class stage -- it wasn't about prize money for us," Madden said of the decision to fly Black Caviar to Ascot.

"I think a lot of owners compete their horses internationally out of a mixture of pride, excitement and business acumen."

Read: Buying a race horse -- A safe bet?

Sometimes though, no matter how much you prepare for a plane journey, there are some hiccups you can't avoid.

"One time in Sydney we were loading breeding studs aboard a Boeing 747 bound for Europe," Burke explained.

"It was going down the runway when all the rumbling must have set off the alarms on some of the Volkswagens which were also being transported."

Unsurprisingly, "the horses didn't like the idea of that," and the plane was promptly turned around and the car batteries cut off.

After all, as Burke explained: "The horses were worth a lot more than the cars on board."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 4, 2014 -- Updated 1035 GMT (1835 HKT)
Amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen is perhaps best known for helping to resurrect Prince William's relationship with Kate Middleton.
March 28, 2014 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Meydan Entrance
The $10 million Dubai World Cup takes place at the Meydan Racecourse, which is a suitable setting for the world's richest horse racing day.
March 28, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
He's created some of the world's biggest shows, so it's only fitting Andrew Lloyd Webber will be in the limelight on Dubai's big-money day.
March 26, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
The world's richest horse race is the highlight of Dubai's social calendar, attracting 60,000 fans from around the globe.
March 20, 2014 -- Updated 1203 GMT (2003 HKT)
Former champion jockey Richard Dunwoody has gone from riding winners to traveling the world in his second career as a photographer.
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Wonder horse Frankel has retired but his $200,000 offspring are already been tipped as future racing stars -- to the delight of his jockey.
March 4, 2014 -- Updated 1313 GMT (2113 HKT)
Michael Owen arrives at Ascot 2012
How do you replace the adrenaline rush of scoring one of the greatest goals in World Cup history when your football career ends?
February 27, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
A Scottish artist has captured the pomp and pageantry of Royal Ascot in a collage that represents "what I love about being British."
February 26, 2014 -- Updated 1618 GMT (0018 HKT)
CNN's Francesca Cumani meets Faleh Bogunaim -- a Qatari rider who is making a name for himself.
February 25, 2014 -- Updated 1508 GMT (2308 HKT)
CNN's Francesca Cumani explores how Qatar's royal family has impacted the global horse racing scene.
February 13, 2014 -- Updated 1436 GMT (2236 HKT)
It's been a long time coming. A very long time. But S'manga Khumalo is proving that black jockeys can hold the whip hand in South Africa.
February 7, 2014 -- Updated 1603 GMT (0003 HKT)
It needed permission from the British monarch and may anger traditionalists, but one of racing's most regal occasions has crossed the rubicon.
ADVERTISEMENT