In last month’s column I predicted that a lack of orders and the threat of a double-dip recession would impact on the domestic appetite for racehorses. However, results from Deauville, which in truth were as expected and, more importantly, Doncaster, have given vendors some reason to be
more optimistic.

British and Irish vendors provided a strong catalogue at DBS, matched by quality individuals which boosted the 2011 Premier Sales turnover by 11% on 2010 results. It was also pleasing to note that the sale was topped by Stowell Hill Stud’s Oasis Dream colt. The results certainly endorse the theory that the successful, well-respected and established breeders, who know their market and product, will be able to withstand this recession and provide British racing with, albeit a smaller number of horses, but the quality and robustness to meet the fixture list requirements.

If we explore this theory a little further, while it is disappointing to be proven right in my earlier observations (December 2010), it was surely no surprise that the rest of the world is recruiting proven quality racehorses from Great Britain. Currently British form is universally respected and buyers are prepared to pay well for proven UK performance. On the positive side, the sale of proven horses enables British owners to re-invest in yearlings, but the downside suggests that breeders are losing their ‘seed corn’ as these horses include future broodmares and stallion prospects.

October provides the real test for the yearling market. In the meantime, however, I hear that the future of the Racing Post Yearling Bonus Scheme is under consideration. There is no doubt that the scheme has been a considerable incentive in encouraging owners to invest, but there is a general feeling that bonus schemes have a limited shelf life. Whilst the entry costs have reduced for the breeder/vendor since its launch, they do make a hole in sales proceeds.

Sales races should be targeted towards the areas that need most support; we all have lesser lights to sell

The role of sales races should also come under the microscope. From the heady days of the Million Sales, provided by both Tattersalls and Goffs, we are now adjusting to a more appropriate return. I, however, would like to see these races targeted towards the area of the market that most needs this support. Offering a sales race at the premier auctions has, at least to my mind, little effect on the demand for these horses. As vendors, we all have lesser lights to sell and the incentive of a sales race can, I believe, be more effective at this level. The TBA Board is discussing this matter at its next meeting and I look forward to constructive debate on both sales races and bonus schemes, and welcome feedback on this subject from TBA members.

No regular reader of this column can accuse me of inconsistency. And, therefore, once more, I want to step up the call for the Levy Board to increase investment in the Quality Support Fund. The QSF’s principal objective is to provide finance to encourage races for young, developing horses of above average ability.

This type of race is not considered commercially attractive by racecourses and, as such, would not be programmed in sufficient number. Running such quality races is a relatively simple, if somewhat costly, commitment which provides the antidote to the concerns that some racecourses are focusing on meeting the tariff at the expense of the quality race programme.

It is disappointing that some racecourses would rather offer their customers moderate fare, but racing’s rulers need to step in to ensure that as the fixture list cuts are felt, racecourses that both meet tariff and provide quality racing, supported by the QSF, are adequately rewarded. The breeding industry has a duty to respond to additional economic challenges and recent sales results suggest that the breeders that do their job best will be rewarded and survive; the same principle should apply to the rest of the industry.