Mixed Response to US Jockey Club 'Diktat'

Stallions born from 2020 will be limited to covering a maximum of 140 mares in America, Canada and Puerto Rico | Emma Berry

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The US Jockey Club's announcement of an impending cap on the number of mares a stallion can cover has received a mixed reaction among breeders in Britain and Ireland.

As reported in yesterday's TDN, colt foals born in 2020 who eventually retire to stud will be restricted to covering 140 mares in a season. No limit will be set for stallions already at stud or for those born before 2020.

The US Jockey Club figures for 2019 show that 43 stallions served books of more than 140 mares. In Britain and Ireland combined that number stood at 44 for last year, but that includes 17 National Hunt stallions. The British and Irish mare population for 2019 was 23,318, and 8,300 of those mares visited one of those 44 stallions with a book of 140 or more.

Eight Flat stallions covered in excess of 200 mares—Australia (GB), Churchill (Ire), Dandy Man (Ire), Kodiac (GB), Lope De Vega (Ire), Sioux Nation and Zoffany (Ire) in Ireland and Kingman (GB) in Britain.

Classic-winning owner-breeder Julian Richmond-Watson, who is also chairman of the TBA, cannot envisage a similar cap being implemented in Europe. He said, “I think it would be much more difficult to do here, whereas in the United States, the Jockey Club runs the show to a large extent when it comes to studbook. It would certainly be worth discussing but it simply wouldn't be possible to do it here without the whole of Europe agreeing to the same thing.”

He added, “We do have different dynamics here, especially with the National Hunt side where stallions take a long time to come good and then have a few years at the top. It could potentially give chances to more stallions but whether it widens the gene pool I'm not entirely sure.

“It obviously means that for the same number of mares there would need to be more stallions, which has to be a good thing, the more diversity we have should surely be better, and that could certainly help early on in a stallion's career. But presumably it will make certain stallion fees more expensive, because logically supply and demand would push up the price.”

Joe Foley, who stands four stallions at Ballyhane Stud and is President of the ITBA, was also doubtful that a similar rule could be applied in this part of the world. “There are obviously merits and demerits to what the Jockey Club in America have come up with but I wonder about the logistics of actually putting such a rule in place, either in America or certainly in Europe,” he said.

Colin Bryce of Laundry Cottage Stud, the breeder with his wife Melba of Group 1 winner and successful stallion Wootton Bassett (GB), sounded a note of caution in regard to interfering with market forces.

He said, “Theoretically it might sound very good but when you start to put theory into practice you start to come and get up against lots of little issues. You'd like to think that it's a good idea, and plenty of people write about the dangers to the breed of overproduction. Given that, you'd have to think that the corollary is in favour of [a cap], but it is intervening in the market, and is intervening in the market a good thing necessarily? I suppose it depends on your political views.”

To a degree, the stallion choices available to most breeders are dictated by myriad factors including price, pedigree, location and, of course, availability. A cap for the most in-demand stallions naturally imposes another limitation and one which does not find favour with Luca Cumani, who has just welcomed the final foal of the season at his Fittocks Stud.

“In principle I'm against these sort of impositions and I think that the market should dictate,” he said. “I do see why they've done it, and I do see that everybody is getting worried about the narrowing of the gene pool, with too many mares going to too few top stallions, but I'm still not convinced that that is the right thing.”

Cumani continued, “I think these sorts of things generally find an equilibrium—either the top stallions become too expensive or there are too many of their stock at the sales and then people change their minds and redirect their mares to other stallions. Basically I'm against this sort of diktat, so I am surprised that a nation like the US, which is a standard bearer for freedom and freedom of choice, makes an imposition like this. I very much hope this doesn't come to Europe as well.”

Cumani's fellow breeder Anthony Rogers of Airlie Stud gave the plans a warm reception, however, describing the new ruling as “an interesting and positive development.”

He said, “I think it's a good idea. It's good for the breeders, it's good for the horses, it's good for everyone really. It's 140 mares—that's still quite a lot of animals. It wasn't too long ago that we were covering 40 mares and syndicating stallions with 38 shares and they were covering 42.  The horses aren't machines and we are finding out that the impact of covering high numbers, Northern and Southern Hemisphere, does take its toll on them.”

Lanwades Stud owner Kirsten Rausing, the chairman of the International Thoroughbred Breeders' Federation (ITBF), feels that one of the repercussions of the stallion cap could be an increase in the number of horses shuttling.

“There are two inevitable effects of this, it seems to me, and one is that the very top stallions' fees will markedly increase,” she said. “The other thing is that, by implementing this, the Americans are almost forcing the stallion studs to shuttle to the Southern Hemisphere as much as they can, which is probably not what they had in mind. They say that what they have in mind is to protect the gene pool and you don't protect the gene pool by shuttling stallions—it has the opposite effect.”

Rausing continued, “I cannot really comment on domestic American matters, however, as chairman of the ITBF, we the ITBF were extremely surprised that there seems to have been no international consultation at all and we did indeed approach the American Jockey Club in autumn 2019 about this.

“If it goes through it seems to me that they have issued a diktat. No doubt it will be challenged, it would have to be challenged by some of the big stud farms, you would think.”

The restraint of trade argument would almost certainly render a similar limitation on European stallion books extremely difficult to implement, and David Redvers of Tweenhills Farm & Stud expressed surprise that the ruling has been announced in America.

He said, “I don't think it would stand a chance of becoming legislation over here. I think there are all sorts of unconsidered outcomes likely to show themselves but anything that increases competition in the marketplace has to be good, and that's for any marketplace. So if it gives more people an opportunity to start up stallion farms and feel that they've got an opportunity then maybe it is a good thing.”

 

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