BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Why buy a racing car when you can own a race horse?
That's the question wealthy racing enthusiasts in China seemed to ask when they gathered in Beijing recently to bid in the country's first public auction for race horses since the founding of the People's Republic 60 years ago.
Until now, all racing horses in China have been imported from foreign countries by individual buyers.
"In general, horse racing leagues develop rapidly in countries with ... social stability and robust economies," said Wang Junning, vice-chairman of the Beijing Equestrian Association.
"So, this occasion gives us the opportunity to develop China's own industry."
There were 82 horses in the auction and the highest bid reached $170,000. But one major obstacle remains in the sport's growth in China: there are several horse racing leagues in China but gambling is still banned on the mainland.
"I bought the horses because we have an equestrian club," said Jia Huilin who bought four horses, excited by the industry's potential.
"But in addition, I feel like there is huge potential in the future of the industry in China. I want to be a part of it."
Peter McGauran, CEO of Australian organization Aushorse which provided most of the horses for the auction, said the industry would be small until betting becomes legal.
"Until the Chinese government legalizes gaming, you are never going to get a huge industry, anything at the scale of Hong Kong or Macau," said McGauran.
"But in the meantime, Chinese buyers obviously love horses and will participate in racing just for fun and love of it."
Reporting by K.J. Kwon, Editing by Sugita Katyal