An early deadline means I am writing this while surveying the dying embers of the December Sales in Newmarket, where foals and breeding stock alike are exposed to the market and fashion, which seems more and more to drive the breeding industry nowadays. Stallions are in or out of favour and can be condemned on the back of one foal crop, to be replaced by the latest headline-maker.
Fillies and mares have to possess exceptional pedigrees or be, at the minimum, black-type winners to command serious attention, and there seems to be very little interest in those who do not reach the higher echelons of ability.
That’s fine for those associated with horses who fetch the higher prices, but fancy figures are out of reach for the average breeder or owner. However, the fact is there needs to be a healthy environment in the middle and lower tiers to support a racing industry that runs for 12 months of the year.
The TBA believes that this situation will only come about when more owners are brought into the sport at every level, which is why the association so enthusiastically supports the Plus 10 scheme on the Flat and the Mare Owners Prizes Scheme (MOPS) for jumping fillies bred in Britain.
MOPS is still in its infancy but Plus 10, which was introduced in March 2015, achieved two notable milestones in December by registering its 800th bonus winner and taking total payments over £8 million. Four hundred owners and as many breeders have benefited, and more than half the total payout came in 2016.
Giving owners an achievable bonus target is one of the sport’s best selling points, and ways other than just focusing on prize-money must be found to make ownership more attractive. Telling owners that on average they will recover only 25% of their costs, which compares badly with many other racing nations, is not particularly helpful.
After all, this is about selling the dream and excitement, not the financial return, but bonuses and, of course, the chance to win good races, are part of the excitement. Efforts should be focused on this and achieving the jackpot in top-class races on top-class racecourses.
Plus 10 achieved a notable milestone in December, registering its 800th bonus winner with payments over £8
In 2016 the TBA launched #thisfillycan to explain the advantages of owning a filly, who on average will win more money than a colt once rated 75. The promotion, which will continue in 2017, is aimed at owners and trainers, and along with the EBF-sponsored fillies’ series should encourage more to buy and race fillies.
The issue of the decline in stayers and staying stallions is not new.
It was highlighted in the 2015 TBA report ‘A study into British stayers and staying races’, since when the BHA’s racing team has made steady progress, which should lead to a turn-round in the next few years. Only long-term planning can make a difference here.
The TBA celebrates its centenary in May and the challenges that breeders face are in many ways very different from those in war-torn Britain in 1917, but the reasons why the association came into existence and still exists – to support breeders and encourage the testing of and breeding from the best thoroughbreds – is no different.
The TBA is having to adapt to the modern world. Change is never comfortable or easy, but to best serve our members we must move forward and maintain this as an organisation ready to support every breeder, including the next generation, for whom we have created the increasingly well supported Thoroughbred Club.
However much time we spend on the many challenges, it should never be forgotten that every thoroughbred foal born over the coming months is the lifeblood, the vital ingredient and the dream that breeders live for. Each one could realise the dream for some lucky connections as a big-race winner.
I wish you all the very best for the New Year, and to all our members a successful breeding season.