Sunday, May 17, 2009

World-Class Equine Air Travel

Posted by Travel Sentry

Photos from Sutton Forwarding Co.'s Website

No federal funds please. These horses are not fodder for commercial travel. Only the best for our Preakness filly, the beautiful, talented and fast-as-the-wind, Rachael Alexandra. With a name like that, this grand lady deserves the very best. Let Barney Frank fly commercial, but not Rachael Alexandra.

With one eye on the economy, Rachael Alexandra doubled up with buddy, Pioneer of the Nile, sharing a first-class cabin on a flight into Baltimore Washington International airport on Wednesday in advance of the Preakness. The carrier was world-class equine private charter line run by H.E. “Tex” Sutton. The Sutton Forwarding Co.’s “tricked out” Boeing 727 can hold up to 21 horses in relative comfort. The modified cargo jet has horse stalls instead of seats — and a distinct barn smell. Hay and oats included.

Maybe Mine That Bird, long-shot winner of the Kentucky Derby, can hitch a ride next time and forget the cross-country drive. Mine That Bird, number two in the Preakness on the tail of Rachael Alexandra, has definitely earned his place as a first-class equine passenger.

NPR reports on the Sutton flight crew and passengers:

"We're like flight attendants for horses," flight supervisor Ryan Starley says. He says horses are usually pretty easy passengers, although he jokes that they always want to watch Seabiscuit as the in-flight movie. Takeoff and landing are the roughest parts of the journey, but he says Sutton pilots take off very slowly and gradually, and land the same way.

Starley says each horse handles the stress of air travel differently. Racehorses get more "keyed up" than show horses, especially those that have never flown before. Both Starley's team and the grooms that travel with the horses spend part of their flight time soothing the animals. But most of them enjoy "being up here with their friends," Starley says. "It's sort of like it was when we were kids, when we'd be on a field trip on a bus with all our buddies, having a good time."

After landing, Starley and his crew help their horse passengers off their special horse plane, down the special horse ramp, and into special horse trailers. Then Rachel Alexandra, Pioneer of the Nile and a few of their fellow passengers are off to the races at Pimlico.


P.S. Rachael Alexandra won!

Further coverage on Preakness:

Wall Street Journal

Washington Post

New York Times

Preakness Website


Click to see Washington Post slide show

New York Times Slide Show


Click to hear NPR coverage.

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