Imagine being on a ship that experienced engine failure with 99 other passengers and crew. After days of drifting, land was sighted off starboard and 80 of your shipmates rushed to that side to see their salvation. As the ship listed badly but managed to stay upright, curiosity got the better of some of those initially more sensible people, who one by one crept over to convince themselves that rescue was in sight. Was it the 81st or 99th who caused the ship to capsize, losing all on board?

This is a clumsy example of polarisation and the effect of operational gearing thereto. Or in respect of the latter, perhaps “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

British racing and breeding, along with its Irish neighbour, is experiencing a growing influence of polarisation. Some trainers, for example, have substantial and increasing numbers in a free market driven by choice and results. Why wouldn’t every owner want the best chance of success, where readily available data and statistics make it clear where that might be best delivered?

However, there are only so many horses to go around and the short-term opportunity may cause unwanted and irreversible consequences in five, ten or 20 years’ time. For instance, how will the great trainers of the future be developed if they cannot get a start or go out of business before their full talents are evident?

The same argument can be levied at the breeding industry. Popular stallions get full books, which are not the same in the 21st century as in the past, when the simple logistics of book size and veterinary capabilities dictated fewer mares to a single stallion and a more even spread of coverings across the industry. Again, choice and a free market operate, and as every breeder wants either to breed a winner or a sales prospect, they will make their decisions reasonably based upon what’s best for them.

In both examples there is a danger of polarisation leading to an operational gearing consequence, which if it does not sink the ship, could compromise the future of a breeding and racing base that has long delivered and raced horses that are the envy of the world. What, if anything, could or should be done?

Take middle-distance horses as an example. Whilst they are clearly very much on shopping lists at the horses in training sales, this is not the case at yearling auctions. My arithmetic suggests that in 2023, 170 yearlings by sires that won at ten furlongs and above were offered from a sales catalogue of 2,500-plus. Digging deeper, of the 2023 foal crop of 4,650, only 15 per cent met middle-distance criteria, and of those just 12 per cent were by British-based sires and dams.

Considering that 28 per cent of the British racing programme is at ten furlongs or above, it is clear there is a mismatch between demand and a dwindling supply. British racing is a compelling spectator attraction, in some part for its diversity of distances, and in any event these horses offer significant opportunity to both discerning breeders and owners, with a scarcity value at the sales providing better commercial opportunity than swimming in the much larger and competitive ‘speed’ sector.

The same advantages apply to the increasingly threatened owner-breeder from a different perspective. For them there is the opportunity of increased purse winnings and strong residual value returns when a UK racing career is over, with international markets prizing the middle-distance horse highly.

For good reason the middle-distance ship cannot be left to flounder; the TBA is developing an intervention and incentive scheme, with the encouragement of the Levy Board and BHA, specifically to support the breeding, buying and racing of British-bred middle-distance fillies.

More news will come in early summer, but the taster is that it will be designed to increase the attraction of these fillies in the sales ring and on the racecourse, a clear point of difference. The scheme will operate alongside and be complementary to the highly successful Great British Bonus.

Whilst markets will dictate popularity, fashion and demand, sometimes it is essential that intervention and incentive are introduced to change perceptions and behaviour. Having too many people on the starboard side of the ship is not a good thing!