Horsemen are being forced to find new ways to ship horses while Tex Sutton Equine Air Transportation temporarily suspends operations as it negotiates a new contract with a cargo airline.
The problem is after the coming week, a small airline that has provided cargo lifts to load and prepare the Boeing 727 airplane known as Air Horse One will stop doing so, according to Tex Sutton owner and president Rob Clark.
“Since its inception Tex Sutton has contracted small cargo airlines and flight crews to provide the lift for our horse flights,” Clark said in an email statement received by Horse Racing Nation. “There are less than a handful of these cargo airlines currently in existence that accommodate these type of leases as the entire cargo industry has shifted to mostly mega-carriers.
“Unfortunately, our current airline
has chosen not to renew our contract beyond (Saturday) May 8. We are in
the process of putting a new contract together with another cargo airline. Because
of the regulatory process required to get them up and running, we anticipate a
short term gap in our normal service.
"In the meantime we have made arrangements with Federal Express to provide lift on their scheduled service system and will continue to offer both charters and FedEx in the future.”
Clark’s email did not say specifically how long flights would be grounded, but trainer Bob Baffert said Sunday he heard it would be “at least two months” before Tex Sutton would resume service.
“We just found out a few days ago that they’re going to be shut down for a while,” said Baffert, who won the Kentucky Derby on Saturday for a record seventh time. Now he has to go to plan B to ship Medina Spirit the 600 miles from Louisville to Baltimore for the May 15 running of the Preakness Stakes.
“We’re going to have to van there,” he said. “If we don’t have enough things going wrong in racing. Tuesday is the last flight (back to California), and then after that, I don’t know. We’re just going to have to figure things out.”
Trainer Brad Cox said he also will have to resort to ground transportation to send whatever horses he decides to ship to Pimlico, perhaps including Essential Quality, Mandaloun and maybe Caddo River for the Preakness.
“It’s no big deal,” Cox said. “You can van over there. It’s not a huge advantage flying, because the ship is not all that far.”
Horses that were flown to race on the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby cards will not be affected right away, since their flights home still are scheduled to take off this week. New York shippers are scheduled to be flown to Long Island on Monday. After that plane is flown back to Louisville, it will be loaded and flown Tuesday to San Bernardino, Calif.
On its website, Tex Sutton also lists flights Tuesday from Newark, N.J., to Los Angeles; Wednesday from San Bernardino to Lexington, Ky., and then on to Long Island; and Friday from Lexington to Ocala, Fla., and finally to San Bernardino.
Started in 1957, Tex Sutton makes flights between 28 U.S. and two Canadian airports throughout the year.