The decision by Ascot to give two free entry badges to the breeder of any runner at the Royal meeting was gratefully received by all those who took advantage of the offer, and the racecourse’s subsequent invitation to a lunch and presentation of a strawberry dish for winning breeders was, I know, greatly appreciated.
York also made available two free badges to those who bred a runner at the Ebor Festival, provided they were TBA members, and for the past two years the Jockey Club has given a reception and made a presentation to breeders of Group-race winners at their racecourses.
Let’s give two and a half cheers for these initiatives. It is a good start, representing excellent progress, which hopefully will encourage other racecourses to support and embrace breeders just as much as they do owners, for whom serious consideration has become much more the norm over recent years.
After all, most breeders are owners as well, and a glance down the table of top 20 winning owners at the halfway stage of the Flat season reveals how the individuals concerned owe much of their success – and in some cases all of their success – to horses they have bred, so they form a pivotal and vital section of the sport.
A healthy and vibrant breeding industry in Britain is so important to racing, international competition and trade. Yet British breeders have in the past been somewhat reticent in putting forward a case for greater recognition and support by the industry in general and racecourses in particular.
For too long breeders have had to be content with picking up crumbs from the prize-money table. While I wouldn’t necessarily advocate going back to breeders’ prizes, I do believe that at least 10% of prize-money should be used to encourage direct support for the British breeding industry.
Reality dictates that there will never be ‘enough’ prize-money to go round, but I seriously believe that one of our chief duties in racing is to improve the quality, soundness and health of the breed – an important part of the BHA’s welfare pillar – which means we must make sure the best incentives are in place to race and test the breed, in particular the females who produce the next generation.
Ways must be found in the future to make much smarter use of prize-money by focusing a reasonable proportion of it in areas where it will really make a difference.
Using bonuses or other mechanisms, we must seriously encourage purchasers to buy yearlings, in particular fillies, and also encourage breeders to race their fillies and mares. If it is so important to test the breed, the best way to do that is to race them.
Breeding from horses that are unsuccessful or do not run must be detrimental to the breed’s soundness and quality
One or two exceptions do not make a rule, and breeding from horses that are unsuccessful or do not run must in the long run be detrimental to the breed’s soundness and quality. Therefore incentives have to be great enough to change behaviour, and the Plus 10 and MOPS schemes are starting to achieve this in the limited areas they cover.
There needs to be a strategy to provide more races for schemes such as Plus 10, so that, for instance, they embrace the more stoutly-bred three-year-old, the potential stayer or dam of a potential stayer, and we don’t simply concentrate on the short-term promotion of two-year-olds, helpful though that might be in the current climate.
MOPS also has scope for expansion and enhancement to become a real game-changer for British breeders. The example of France, where a comprehensive programme to encourage the racing and testing of females has proven so successful, is evident virtually every day on our jump courses.
So, thanks to those racecourses that have started to recognise the worth of breeders. We look forward to engaging with them and many more. But also, let’s be bold and step up our efforts to encourage the racing and testing of fillies and mares, and so that we can breed from those that have proved their worth on the track.