As part of the TBA’s remit to provide members and the rest of the industry with up-to-date information on which to base sensible strategy, the executive team at Stanstead House has pulled together various strands of survey information, projections and statistics to produce
a British Breeding Industry Report. The intention of the document is to focus the whole of British racing’s outlook and planning on how issues covering breeding in the immediate aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic will spread to and affect the entire sport.
For far too long the sport has taken for granted the presence of a supply line of horses, whereby animals bred in Ireland, France and the US have filled the gap between the number of foals produce annually in Britain and those required to sustain the current racing model.
The situation has started to become and will continue to be challenging, as far fewer horses are already being bred worldwide than in recent years, and major racing jurisdictions are increasingly diverting prize-money and promoting breeders’ incentives to ensure more of their homebreds stay at home.
In addition, countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, which cannot or do not breed thoroughbreds in any significant numbers, are expanding their racing ambitions, using strong financial incentives to encourage more horses than previously to relocate away from Britain.
It might be a simple truism, but horseracing is about horses. To sustain the level and extent of the sport to which we have become accustomed in Britain, we require fit, sound and healthy horses in requisite numbers.
Everyone involved directly in the sport is affected. It does not matter whether you run a racecourse or are involved in the administration through the BHA, or are an owner, trainer, jockey or stable employee, you have no employment or role without the thoroughbred, which is where the problem turns into reality. Fewer horses mean fewer staff to look after them, less racing, less betting, and so on.
“The breeding industry does not have enough raw material to react to economic recovery”
Even if the recovery from Covid-19 brings the British economy back to, or close to, pre-pandemic levels by 2022, the idea that bloodstock sales in 2021 will be boosted is difficult to imagine, and, of course, the prize-money situation does little to encourage or help the situation.
The scenario portrayed in the TBA assessment is a reminder of what happens once breeding activity falls as a reaction to lower sales prices, as experienced in 2020, and is expected to occur again this year. The number of starts ought to recover to pre-Covid-19 levels by 2025 or 2026 through an improvement in general economics, but it cannot happen, because there will not be sufficient horses to make these starts. The situation would be exacerbated if the decline in the worldwide foal crop accelerates and the export market for British-bred horses continues to grow.
Breeding has a medium- to long-term turnaround and is therefore unable to react quickly to short-term trends. The worldwide decline in foal crops, which started after the 2007- 08 financial crisis, was only just showing signs of recovery in 2015-17, before starting to slide again in 2018-19. The effects of Covid-19 will only accelerate this decline.
Once the number of broodmares and fillies and mares in training falls, the breeding industry does not have enough raw material to react to economic recovery. So, the foal crop, and consequently the pool of runners required for the race programme, will remain low after the economic shock and take several years to recover.
A reduced number of filly foals born in 2022-23, as a result of mating decisions made this year and next, will affect racing in 2024-2026, but equally importantly they will then lessen the number of mares entering the breeding cohort to produce foals in 2027 and onwards.
That is why it is so important for racing’s future to support breeding activity now, and to do our best to ameliorate that decline as much as possible. It is in everyone’s interest to encourage the production of British thoroughbred foals as much as possible, so that we maintain a sustainable breeding and racing industry going forward.