While all eyes are on Cheltenham, it’s worth focusing on a new initiative that will benefit British jumps breeders across the board. I refer to the NH Mare Owners’ Prize Scheme (MOPS), which has taken time to put together but, thanks to the hard work of all concerned, was launched on January 1.

The Levy Board and BHA have been extremely supportive, and the TBA’s ability to highlight the difficult market for jump-bred fillies, through our Economic Impact Study and statistics on British-bred foals, has helped everyone to appreciate the seriousness of the situation and to get behind a scheme that sets out to address the problems.

The TBA’s ability to highlight the difficult market for jump-bred fillies has helped everyone to appreciate the seriousness of the situation

The increase in races for National Hunt fillies and mares, with proposals for further additions, has to be the ultimate goal, as providing more opportunities to run and therefore win races with these horses has to be the best driver of progress. But an extension to the race programme will alter behaviour only over the long term.

We needed a scheme that could kick-start the process of change and encourage more breeders and owners to support and race fillies and mares over jumps. MOPS is it, with eligible owners able to earn bonuses of £10,000 in qualifying hurdle races and chases and £5,000 in mares’ NH Flat races.

As Princess Zahra Aga Khan pointed out in her keynote speech at the recent Asian Racing Conference, “Success should be confined to the results achieved on the racecourse.” So a pattern emerges: we need the fillies’ and mares’ races in which horses can be tested competitively, and then we need to breed from the best of them.

There is no better example of what can be achieved than the support given to fillies and mares in jump racing by the French racing authorities. A process of thorough testing on the racecourse and subsequently breeding from proven performers has produced a standard of runner that is highly sought-after and is having a profound effect at the top of the sport in Britain. The large number of fancied horses for this month’s Cheltenham Festival that carry the FR suffix proves the point.

While we cannot expect to match the financial incentives given in France, we should not shy away from trying to improve the breed and in particular to test our fillies and mares on the racecourse.

As we catch up with registrations for MOPS, please be aware that the deadline for filly foals of 2013 is March 31, 2016.

Inevitably, jump racing takes centre stage at this time of year, but for breeders, especially Flat breeders aiming for early foals, foaling and covering are of the utmost importance. Those with early foals will be looking to register them, and I very much hope that by the time you read this the registration form carries an agreed declaration on the use of steroids.

The TBA wholly supports the BHA’s determination to stamp out the use of anabolic steroids, and to create a robust regime which achieves that objective we have worked hard to agree a form of words that both the TBA and our Irish counterpart the ITBA can recommend to breeders.

Different wording or compliance in each country would not make sense, given that so many Irish-breds run in Britain, and I believe we have achieved a sensible position. It is then up to the racing authorities to develop suitable tests to prove that horses bred and born outside Britain and Ireland have not benefited from steroid use at any time.

On a personal note, I attended the memorial service for Peter Willett at the end of January, and it was rewarding to see so many old, and not-so-old, faces paying their respects to a man who had a passion for the thoroughbred and all that the breeding and racing of the horse encompasses.

We must never forget that, while we work away on projects and schemes to advance the cause of breeders, it is the horse that fascinates and binds us together.