Attending a recent British Racing Industry Roadshow, where a range of topics, from regulation, ownership and promotion of the sport to under-18s, was promoted from the stage, and industry employment and the fixture list were hotly debated from the floor, I realised how complacent Britain has become about the supply of its essential raw material.
In the US, state-by-state schemes abound, with California just one interesting example, where $30m is provided to support local breeders
Even with the potentially damaging elements of Brexit looming, there appears to be little concern that the horse, the essential ingredient for the future of the sport, will continue to be produced and be available in sufficient numbers and of sufficient quality to populate the fixture list, which ultimately provides the reason for all that employment and racegoer attendance.
Working on the TBA’s policy to base its strategies on evidence-based information, the board has commissioned an Economic Impact Study to examine the state of British breeding. The report will be out by June, and, without wishing to prejudge its findings, I have little doubt it will expose the fragility and poor economics of breeding in Britain.
The TBA is also leading the industry’s Breeders’ Strategy Group, which has looked at how several overseas jurisdictions appreciate the importance of the supply side, how they support their breeders, and what the effect of that support is.
As I have previously mentioned, 10% of France’s total prize fund, which works out at €26 million, is used to support premium schemes for owners and breeders of French-bred horses. The results are clear: the number of thoroughbred foals born in France in 2017, 5,334, has almost returned to the level of 2008, while over the same period the number bred in Britain has fallen from 5,920 to 4,778, a reversal of more than 1,100 foals in the space of ten years.
French breeders are proud of their success, and as more stallions are being located in France, and covering more mares, they now have 306 stallions to choose from, compared with 169 in Britain. Taking up a message from the Caulfield Files in last month’s magazine, it is obvious that the French breeding industry is thriving.
In the US, state-by-state schemes abound, with California just one interesting example, where $30m is provided to support local breeders. There is a particular keenness on attracting stallions and 25% of the awards are based around the progeny of California-based stallions. Races restricted to Cal-bred horses are also staged, but tempting though it might be, that’s not something I would advocate for Britain!
Australia also has a myriad state schemes to encourage local breeders, while the survey revealed that most major racing jurisdictions give substantial support to breeders to ensure the supply of horses to fulfil the requirements of racecourses and public alike.
There is one very obvious exception to the general rule – Ireland. And for that situation there is a simple explanation: the British market provides adequate incentive for the Irish.
Commercial history is littered with industries that have relied on relatively cheap imports, produced under – as in this case – more benign fiscal conditions, where home production has been damaged to such extent that it becomes unviable and many home producers disappear.
Ireland does not need to subsidise its breeders. Britain provides a ready market and an enormous fixture list, and even those horses not bought to race here are encouraged to plunder British prize-money, which this country has worked so hard to build up.
With Brexit on the horizon, Britain needs to secure its base of breeders through a prize-money support scheme that positively favours British-bred horses. Reallocating 10% of levy prize-money to support owners and breeders of British-bred horses would strategically affect behaviour among breeders and buyers. It should benefit everyone involved in the sport in Britain.
The saying ‘charity begins at home’ has its origins in the 17th century but still holds good. British racing must be ambitious, and I call on all those involved to support breeders and owners with a meaningful redistribution of prize-money aimed at those who support us and buy or breed British.