Mike Payne is waiting by his truck in the nearly deserted cargo parking lot when we arrive at Louisville International Airport in late April. It’s a chilly Saturday morning under overcast skies, but Mike isn’t dressed for the weather. Instead of a coat, he’s wearing a short-sleeved gray polo shirt and a matching hat, both of which are embroidered with a pegasus and the name of his transportation company, Tex Sutton, in red and white letters.
It’s the pegasus that gives us a clue as to what we’re about to see. We’re not waiting for an ordinary cargo flight. This flight, called Air Horse One, is carrying 12 Oaks Race and the Kentucky Derby.that will run in the
“It’s just a regular freight airplane but it becomes specialized when we install the horse stalls, the containers that hold the horses during flight,” Payne says with his hands in his pockets.
Hoofin’ it to Derby
Currently the company’s head of operations, Payne’s been with Tex Sutton Forwarding since 1990. Tex Sutton started flying horses in 1969 and operates the only horse charter in the country that lets the horses walk directly onto the aircraft.
That arrangement is more comfortable for the horses. Generally, other transports load the horses into stalls, which can look like shipping containers. Hydraulic lifts and conveyor belts are used to get the containers on and off the plane.