Coronavirus overshadowed everything in 2020, even keeping Brexit off the front pages for most of the year. Yet despite the various lockdowns and local tiering, careful planning and industry-wide co-operation meant that racing and breeding were extremely fortunate to be able keep the show on the road, both on the racecourse and at the sales.
While everything else has felt very different, breeders and owners have at least been able to test the breed on the racetrack, to trade, and to avoid most of the potentially debilitating welfare issues that might have arisen.
The last independent Economic Impact Study carried out for the TBA in 2018 and recent evidence from a number of breeders had already exposed the lack of profitability in breeding thoroughbreds. The situation inevitably deteriorated again in 2020 and I can only expect this year to be worse.
We will get a better view of how the land lies when the TBA’s second survey to discover how Covid-19 is affecting breeders has been completed. The deadline for responses is January 11 and I urge all members to spend the 15 minutes or so required to fill out the questionnaire on the website.
How long we can expect 60-70% of breeders to continue to sustain losses is a question no-one can answer with certainty but contraction in the industry is inevitable, with all the consequences that entails.
However, hopes springs eternal and the New Year is a time to look forward. By the very nature of the activity, every breeder or owner has to be an optimist even to be involved in our thoroughbred world, as Overbury Manager Simon Sweeting makes clear in our Breeder of the Month feature. So, let’s look into the TBA’s crystal ball and see what could go well in 2021, if only to encourage us to remain optimistic and keep up our breeding numbers.
• Covid-19 will be sorted with the aid of multiple vaccines quickly rolled out across the country, and by Royal Ascot substantive crowds and the buzz of the racecourse will have returned;
• Brexit will be sorted and horse movements between Britain and Ireland will be carried out smoothly, so that minimum paperwork is required under the new regime outside the EU;
“Every breeder or owner has to be an optimist even to be involved in our thoroughbred world”
• The Chancellor of the Exchequer and other government ministers and officials will listen to racing’s case for reform of the levy, and the betting industry will agree to move to a basis that more readily reflects the value it extracts from the sport and its punters. We will then be able to work with bookmakers, retail and online, to “grow the cake”;
• Along with sponsors returning to racing, the increased levy will help to boost prize-money, in particular for Britain’s top races, making it less attractive to race or sell abroad;
• The government’s gambling review will accept that betting on horseracing is a leisure activity and part of the entertainment of the industry, and so the sport will be allowed to continue its responsible relationship with the bookmaking industry;
• Stallion fees, which have been generally adjusted downwards for the coming covering season, will continue to become more realistic, better reflecting a market where currently so many foals and yearlings sell for little more than their covering fee;
• The demand for British bloodstock will continue to increase and sales prices will reflect the value of the quality horses bred and raced in Britain;
• The Great British Bonus scheme will grow and gain further traction, and more small breeders will win meaningful prizes. British breeders will keep more fillies and mares in training in 2021 and form syndicates and partnerships to keep hold of their bloodlines that can be brought back to their studs;
• The enhanced programme for fillies and mares over jumps, including the new mares’ chase to be run on Gold Cup day at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, will continue to gain support;
• And last but not least, we all stay healthy, meet in person again and have a smile on our faces.
Let’s hope as many of these as possible come true in 2021. They are all attainable and what a difference they would make to everyone.
Happy New Year to you all.