While British racing’s strategy for growth includes many strands, the ambition to have more horses racing – a thousand more by 2020, in fact, which breeders will have to supply – depends entirely on there being a market for the horses, so that those breeders can expect to make a reasonable return on their investment.
At the moment this only partly appears to be the case for many on both sides of the Irish Sea. A significant number of breeders have been disappointed with their sales results this autumn, as buyers have not matched sellers’ expectations and clearance rates have fallen.
Inevitably, breeding for sale always has been, and always will be, a risky and long-term business. Decisions made on the back of this year’s sales will determine the foals of 2018 and yearlings of 2019 who will feed into the pool of racehorses for 2020 and beyond.
Without more owners and better returns for breeders, it is difficult to see how, or why, that number should increase. Only better returns to all in racing will move this necessary progression forward.
Of course, the numbers are not that simple and it should be remembered that most of the increase in supply is from Ireland. The 2015 Flat foal crop in Ireland increased by nearly 800, and over the past five years we have seen an annual increase of more than 1,200 Irish foals. By contrast, Britain has produced fewer foals year on year over the same period, with a total of 4,569, against Ireland’s 8,780.
So Ireland has produced the extra foals needed for the growth strategy, but Britain has responded only partly in finding the owners to buy them.
It would be no surprise if the mismatch in supply and demand leads to a reduction or standstill in British foal production
British breeders have not increased the supply to the market, and it may be that as the impact of Brexit takes shape, Irish access to the British market will become more difficult and more expensive, and this should be seen as an opportunity for British breeders and stallion owners alike.
Furthermore, the fact that far more foals and yearlings came to the sales this year, as the number and influence of owner-breeders declines, shows how vital the market is to thoroughbred production.
Commercial breeding was never for the faint-hearted but it would be no surprise if today’s mismatch in supply and demand leads to a reduction or standstill in British foal production, just when the industry is looking to move forward.
The sooner long-term certainty over racing’s funding and strategy can be established, the sooner breeders can make plans for the future. And breeders should and will be at the forefront of developing this strategy.
Prize-money matters at every level, as the cost of breeding and training horses inevitably increases. So it is heartwarming to see those who work so hard for the love of the horse and breeding being rewarded. The story of Mrs Danvers gives us all hope. She was bred by Mike Burton and Connie Hopper, breeders with only one mare and who cared for her. After a superb campaign she has now amassed £196,000 in five unbeaten runs. Well done to everyone connected with Mrs Danvers.
The EBF Breeders’ Series, for fillies just below Listed class, provided opportunities that were well supported throughout the season, and the final four races run on the same programme at Newmarket produced good fields and competitive racing.
I was delighted to present the TBA’s £25,000 nomination voucher to Gay Jarvis on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed Obaid for Sharja Queen’s win, a filly who fits exactly into the bracket we hoped to attract when setting up the series. Hopefully this series will gather momentum in its second year (see news story, page 14) and encourage more people to keep fillies in training.
British racing needs a steady supply of horses to fulfil its fixture list, so let’s hope British breeders can find the enthusiasm, optimism and encouragement to bridge the gap.