Meet the Elite: Greg Northcott

New Zealand Bloodstock’s Airfreight Manager on how to fly thoroughbred horses across the globe

What does New Zealand Bloodstock do?

We have many parts to the business, all based around bloodstock. We have an auction house, which sells thoroughbred and standardbred horses. We also have an airfreight department, we offer insurance and we have a finance department. So we can sell horses, finance the purchase, insure them and then fly them from A to B. We like to think of it as the full package. Standing alongside our auction business we also have an online selling platform called Gavelhouse.

The original company was set up in 1927 as Wrightson Bloodstock, but was bought in 1997 by the Vela family, who were prominent owners and keen breeders of thoroughbreds. The company now sells racehorses at auction as yearlings and ready-to-run horses, with an excellent record of producing Group 1 winners. Our horses are bought by owners across the globe.

Horses shipped by NZB Airfreight to Hong Kong consistently win at the top level. Recently horses flown by us have won Sprint, Middle Distance, Most Popular, Up and Coming, Griffins and Horse of the Year Awards.

We’re based in Karaka, which is in South Auckland on the North Island. Our auction house premises at Karaka are famous for the annual yearling sales.


What are your main markets?

Hong Kong is one of our prime markets, but because of our proximity to Australia that is our prime market in terms of numbers. A lot of young stock and breeding stock is based between there and here: in distance terms it’s like putting them on a truck. Trans-Tasman, we’re probably looking at about 1,500 horses a year. To put that in perspective, in terms of Hong Kong we’re looking at about 500 horses a year in both directions. We also send horses to other parts of Asia – Singapore, Malaysia, Macao, Japan and South Korea – and beyond. In terms of our flights to Hong Kong, we pretty much do one flight a month from New Zealand and one a month from Australia. Overall, we’re looking at six or seven flights a week, so more than 300 a year.


What constitutes a successful shipment?

Getting the horses from A to B as stress-free and healthy as possible. And to that end we use the best grooms, the best stalls and the best vets. It’s one of those things where if you get over any problems to begin with, it makes life a lot easier.

What stalls do your horses fly in?

Our horses fly in Air Stables supplied by InstoneAir, and both New Zealand Bloodstock and Cathay Pacific Cargo use them. They’re a very good stall, if not the best in the world. The standard Air Stable can take three adult horses, possibly four younger ones. You have the option of the stalls being occupied by one, two or three horses. A prize stallion might fly in ‘first class’ by himself, but the reality is that horses are herd animals so usually we would put in another horse so they can keep each other company. They might get a bit silly if they’re on their own.

How has the pandemic affected your business?

The huge challenge for us over recent times has been getting our grooms that travel with the horses around the world and back to New Zealand. We have managed this successfully with close work between us, Cathay Pacific Cargo, and our consulate in Hong Kong. We have created a smooth and COVID-safe environment with all parties working together for a great outcome for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, its members and the thoroughbred industry in both countries.


What do you look for in an airline?

The airlines we choose understand that they have animals on board, and will try to make the landing as smooth as possible – and not jump too hard on the brakes, those sorts of things. It certainly helps to have a good relationship, as we do with Cathay Pacific Cargo – they understand our business. Also, Cathay runs on time and is reliable – you can’t just have horses hanging around on the tarmac, and Cathay Pacific Cargo certainly ticks those boxes.