2020 Vision

It’s a new year and a new decade,
so I dusted off the crystal ball and thought about what the next decade holds for the thoroughbred world. In a European context the changes from 2000 to 2010 were incremental rather than revolutionary. It’s a largely familiar landscape in which Coolmore and Darley still dominate.  Sadler’s Wells and Danehill may be gone, but their sons are now dominant. In an American context the one truly radical change is the adoption of synthetics. However by 2020 I foresee dramatic changes worldwide.

1. AI is coming.

Artificial Insemination is inevitable and I for one would welcome this development. Economics (reduced travel costs), safety considerations (reduced injuries to stallions and mares) and critically AI’s role in disease prevention will ensure that it eventually happens. The ‘traditionalists’ chief concerns have been:

  1. the fear of huge crop sizes
  2. a reduction in stallion diversity
  3. the practical issue that foals conceived by AI are not eligible for inclusion in the stud book

If we consider these arguments they don’t stand up to close examination. Huge crop sizes are already a reality. The marketplace will find a level at which demand (finite) will equal the new level of supply (almost infinite).  After an adjustment period, I do not envisage the top stallions greatly exceeding some of the current crop sizes. Commercial breeders have always factored in scarcity value to their deliberations and they will quickly adjust to the new environment. One interesting dilemma for stallion masters is whether they will be able to continue to charge different amounts for shuttle sires in different hemispheres.

Stallion diversity it is argued will be reduced as everyone tries to use a smaller number of elite stallions. I disagree, as firstly crop sizes may not alter as much as expected (see above) but more importantly breeders can now access any stallion regardless of location.  For breeders in small regional markets this offers huge opportunities. As a mating analyst it would mean that geography was no longer a consideration and it would allow experimentation on a grand scale.

Inclusion in the stud book will be driven by other factors. In the event of a major breeding country eg the US being forced to adopt AI as a disease prevention measure, the rules will be changed.  Australia contemplated AI when they had an outbreak of Equine Flu in 2007 amongst their shuttle stallions and other court cases have challenged the ban on the grounds of restraint of trade. Whatever the catalyst, once change comes, I believe the other major countries would eventually accept the new realities. If I was to make a practical suggestion I would recommend that foals would not be registered where the stallion has been deceased for 12 months or more. This would ensure that new stallions get a chance and that for example we would not still be seeing offspring of Sadler’s Wells in 25 years time.

 2. The scientists are coming.

Genetic research is about to usher in a brave new world and one with implications for the bloodstock industry that are far more profound than the impact of AI. Take the following example(www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/innovation/2010/0108/1224261770182) and consider the implications of this work. If scientists can identify and then test for the genetic markers that determine performance, the consequences for the industry are dramatic and traumatic. Who will buy a horse who is lacking these critical indicators of success? Currently the industry is supported by the triumph of hope over probability. Genetic tests will eliminate this hope and will make the majority of foals/yearlings effectively worthless. Other possibilities arise. What if these tests can be performed on embryos? The logical thing for a breeder to do would be to cease the pregnancy and try again, which raises ethical issues. 

 On a more positive note the scientists will help debunk many current breeding theories. We should get a proper understanding of inheritance with due regard and understanding of female influence. Looking back in 2020 I suspect us modern pedigree ‘experts’ will be viewed in the same way that we regard 19th century doctors who relied on bloodletting and leeches for many ailments!

3. The Japanese are coming

Japanese horses have already finished 2nd (El Condor Pasa) and 3rd (Deep Impact) in the Arc. They have finished first and second in the Melbourne Cup (Delta Blues and Pop Rock) and have achieved major success in America (Casino Drive and Cesario), the UK (Agnes World) and France (Seeking the Pearl).  It is a long time since Japan was a dumping ground for failed or unfashionable European stallions and the effect of their investments in recent decades mean that their horses are competitive at the highest level. The huge prizemoney at home has probably restricted travel to date but that might be about to change. If the Japanese bloodstock industry follows the example of other Japanese industries then they will be anxious to prove themselves to the world.  It might be no more than a hunch but I predict that Japanese winners will become commonplace in major events here and in the US.

8 thoughts on “2020 Vision

  1. Point 3 -The Japanese are coming.

    I think Deep Impact and Delta Blues were merely tasters, a little dip in the water to see if the were on the correct path.

    I agree with your hunch and expect many more Japanese runners to be entered in all the major worldwide races.

  2. A nice trio! AI has been looming for some time, and the associated JCs around the world have done their best to stonewall the pressure to change without discussing the benefits and massive problems AI may cause. When it comes, AI will not be easy or pleasant, just reality.


  3. Victor congrats on making it to number 1 in Sid Fernandos list of top 10 racing and breeding blogs in 2009- keep it up.

  4. Victor, interesting article, thought provoking as usual!!
    history shows most conventional thinking upside down, no doubt all the traditional arguments which you challenge in this piece about A1 will eventually fall neatly into horseracing’s dustbin of upside down thinking.
    The justification for arguments defending the status quo against A1 can spring from the perception that A1 will threaten current stake holders in the commercial bloodstock marketplace. Not an original idea i admit.
    Yet any open discuss about how we reconcile economic self interest while acting as stewards for the sport leaves us indebted to you and all the others who continue to press on with such important topics about the governance of the sport.

  5. Consider a breed where AI has been well established, the American Quarter Horse. Foal crops for the better stallions are huge, and the prices received for those foals quite small. Several deleterious genes have been passed through huge segments of the horse population, prior to the discovery of these genes. It is common to see “HYPP-negative” in sale ads for these horses.
    Genetic diversity would likely decrease with AI as well. Already, the degree of inbreeding in Thoroughbreds is increasing, as witnessed by the recent discussion since Oppenheim wrote about Northern Dancer’s legacy. Why limit the use of frozen semen to a stallion’s lifetime, if we are to use AI at all? Frozen semen may be viable long after the horse is not. As new genetic techniques are developed (such as sexed semen), more appplied science will result. Perhaps the same sire could act as paternal and maternal gene donor–well, just clone ’em if you like ’em. After all is said and done, it is merely one step further into that brave new world.

    Ever wonder just why average start statistics decline? Ah yes, the law of unintended consequences…

  6. I work in the bloodstock industry & have had some involvement with The International Breeders Meeting. The major breeding nations are very anti AI and it would not be possible for one country to “go it alone”. As you say any foals got by AI would not be recognised by the International Stud Book Committee.

    Also it is worth mentioning the recent CEM outbreak in US Quarter Horses. Because of AI some 900 horses in 48 states were exposed to the disease.

    All it takes is one lapse of protocol, however small, and we could be looking at a major disease outbreak that would bring the racing world to its knees. That is exactly what happened in the EI outbreak in Australia – a few human errors and the industry came close to the brink.

    I’ve seen a few articles on the subject bringing up the fact that the Governor of Kentucky sanctioned AI in the 70s when faced with a serious disease outbreak. What these articles failed to mention is that not a single breeder took up the offer and he ended up withdrawing the sanction within a few weeks!

    AI, Embryo Transfer, etc are very good innovations and have their place in other breeds and Sport Horses, etc where stallions are often still competing, but I can’t see AI being accepted in the Thoroughbred world for a very, very long time. If at all.

    Interesting Blog. I’ll be checking back regularly!

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