The recently published Return Of Mares for 2012 shows a surprising decline in foal numbers for this year at a time when Weatherbys’ statistic-gatherers had
expected to see this figure hold steady, as it has done in Ireland. Despite the fact that the number of mares reported at stud in Ireland is down fractionally more than in Britain, there are only six fewer live foals recorded so far this year, while Britain’s tally has dropped by 275, having been reduced by only 50 between 2010 and 2011.

Weatherbys’ Operations Director Paul Greeves is in the process of analysing the quality of mares remaining at stud to see if it is largely the lesser mares which have been taken out of production. The findings of his study will make for interesting reading, though for breeders wishing to sell the produce of poorly-credentialed mares the message has been written clearly across the sales returns of the last few years: there is simply very little demand for such horses and those that actually sell do so usually at a loss.

Hopefully that is a message which has registered with breeders, but one which does not seem to have hit home with those in race-planning is that the combined British and Irish foal crop has fallen in size by approximately 37% since the high of 2007. As Edward Rosenthal highlighted in his column last month, against all reasonable logic the fixture list for British races continues to grow despite calls for a focus on quality over quantity.

A more positive aspect of race-planning, however, comes in the upsurge of races framed to encourage a greater number of National Hunt fillies and mares to be put into training, and this is being echoed in Ireland.

As figures from the recent November National Hunt Sale at Tattersalls Ireland show, the fillies’ average and median is way below that of the colts (see table). In an attempt to drive these figures up and make the purchase of jumps-bred fillies more desirable, the BHA, with input from the TBA, has increased the number of mares-only races and the number of black-type opportunities for the distaffers.

The sports betting community website OLBG, which sponsored the Grade 2 David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, has increased its backing in this area, giving financial support not only to a series of black-type races for mares but also to monthly awards aimed at highlighting the star performances by mares and incentivising trainers to have more of them in their yards.

There have been plenty of interesting females in action already this season, with Cheltenham Festival winner Une Artiste bagging the first Mare of the Month award for her performance in the OLBG Listed Hurdle at Wetherby. Runner-up that day, Alasi, already has a Grade 2 hurdles success to her name and has been a consistent performer for Paul Webber, while Midnight Legend’s two Listed bumper winners Eleven Fifty Nine and Call Me A Star have taken to hurdles with aplomb this season.

The great mare Carole’s Crusader has given us the black-type-winning duo of Mad Max
and Carole’s Legacy and another of their half-siblings, Carole’s Destiny, made a winning hurdles debut in November. Fiddling The Facts and Liberthine were two particular favourite jumpers of mine in their day. The former has already produced three winners from four runners, while Liberthine’s first foal, now a four-year-old by Hernando named Free Thinking, will be another one to look forward to from the Henderson stable.

The disparity in breeders intentionally producing National Hunt horses in Britain compared to Ireland is pronounced. The Return of Mares shows that in 2012 only 13.6% of the foal crop was bred for that purpose, while in Ireland it is a healthier 36.3%.

The likes of Simonsig, Grumeti, The Giant Bolster, Midnight Chase, Carruthers and his progressive young half-brother Coneygree are valiantly flying the flag for British jumps breeding but with almost five times the number of foals bred to go jumping in Ireland, domestic National Hunt breeders are up against it numerically. Encouraging them to race their fillies and have a broader, properly-tested base from which to breed future jumping stars is a step in the right direction.

Recognition for excellence

It’s wonderful to see George Selwyn shortlisted for Photographer of the Year at the HWPA Awards, which take place in London on Monday, December 3. It’s bad timing for those of us involved with the December Sales but fingers will be crossed in Newmarket.

It’s been a privilege to work with George for the last 15 years, first on Horse & Hound and more recently through Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder. Glossy magazines are nothing without first-rate photography and we are fortunate to be able to call on the best photographer in the business month after month.

George has been a racing photographer since 1975 but his involvement with horseracing began earlier than that when he used to ride out for Verly Bewicke at Chilton. His passion for the sport endures and it shows in his superb pictures. Good luck, George.