Ten predictions for 2030

Looking ahead to 2030 here are some predictions that can eventually be thrown back at me….

1. Bloodstock writers will be bored of trying to find something interesting to write about all the major winners incorporating versions of Galileo/Dubawi and Dubawi/Galileo crosses

2. Coolmore will no longer be home to the GB/Irish champion sire. It is remarkable that they have homed the champion every year since 1990 via Sadler’s Wells, Danehill, Danehill Dancer and Galileo. However, I don’t see anything in the current roster that looks like following in those big shoes. Amazingly Galileo was their only sire in the top 10 by earnings in the UK/Ireland for 2019.

3. Coolmore will find compensation for the relative decline of their dominance in Europe with the success of their US stallions. To purchase two triple crown winners is a serious statement of intent and sooner or later, their US investments will pay off.

4. Trainers will properly embrace technology. All trainers will use wearable tech for real time data monitoring of horse health and fitness. Trainers will spend as much time looking at an app with data about the horses workouts as they did watching them gallop.

5. Winning the battle over animal welfare concerns will be the key battleground of the decade. Racing needs to not just lobby politicians, but to employ a well resourced team of social media professionals to tackle the opposing arguments. If a State such as California bans racing (and see the petition at https://www.change.org/p/governor-gavin-newsom-outlaw-horse-racing-in-california to get a sense of the arguments involved ) , then pressure grows in other areas (the domino effect), sponsors leave the sport, the overall industry shrinks and decline sets in. Greyhound racing found itself banned in most countries and it is the sport most comparable to horse racing. Racing needs to manage its PR very carefully and professionally. That applies even more so to National Hunt racing, which is a particular target for animal rights groups.

6. Chinese racing will grow but not as much as the number of articles about the new gold rush in the Chinese mainland. I wouldn’t be pinning too much hopes on this market offsetting declines elsewhere.

7. Speaking of decline- I can’t imagine Brexit doing much good for the British bloodstock industry. Firstly, there will be the practical problems that any sort of border checks and delays will cause to horse/mares travelling between Britain and Ireland. The economic shock/decline caused by Brexit will impact on funding to the sport. Perceptions matter, and if the perception is that Britain is unwelcoming to outsiders, then that will discourage foreign owners who previously overlooked the low prize-money due to the traditional prestige of British racing. The quality of British racing could quickly fall due to a lack of investment.

8. On course bookmakers could be gone by 2030. They are already on life support in most mid-week meetings and it is difficult to imagine that the traditional model will survive much longer. The decline in the use of cash merely exacerbates the issues they face. People complain about them, but they will miss them when they are gone..

9.AI will happen eventually:

AI (that’s artificial insemination not artificial intelligence for the benefit of the nerdier readers) should/will happen. If it does happen, it will not be driven by the industry but by external events. The most likely catalyst is a disease outbreak that restricts the travel of mares. In the new era of climate change awareness, the carbon cost of transporting hundreds of mares to a stallion farm rather than shipping semen straws should be re-examined. Compared with live covers, AI is

  1. Cost efficient
  2. Environmentally friendly
  3. Improves disease control
  4. Improves choice for breeders

With a global pick of stallions, even for low value mares, we can reverse the narrowing of the equine gene pool which has occurred. The ‘traditionalists’ chief concerns have been

a) the fear of huge crop sizes

b) a reduction in stallion diversity

c) the practical issue that foals conceived by AI are not eligible for inclusion in the stud book

These fears can be overcome. Taking these issues in turn:

a) Huge crop sizes are already a reality (Soldier of Fortune covered 341 mares in 2017 and 261 in 2019). 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. Alternatively a cap can be put in place in terms of the maximum number of foals registered for each sire in a given year.

b) Available stallion options will increase. To take an example, Irish breeders will have ready access sons of Sunday Silence or AP Indy, without having to ship the mares to Japan or the US.

c) The rules around registrations are not unalterable and previously Kentucky considered allowing AI during a disease outbreak. Faced with the prospect of a dramatically curtailed foal crop or a legislative change, what do you think will happen?

AI is still unthinkable for many, but once it has happened, people will wonder what all the fuss was about. With a few sensible rules regarding the timelines for the use of semen after the death of a stallion and limitations on crop sizes the industry can continue largely as before. The benefits outweigh the costs.

10.Beware the impact of science/technology – The predictive tests offered by Plusvital and other equine-tech firms haven’t transformed the training and breeding world just yet. This is probably a good thing, as if they become too accurate then our traditional breeding industry model will simply collapse. Variability, uncertainty and hope are the bedrocks of our breeding industry, betting and sport( I’d like to be remembered for that quote). Good luck trying to persuade someone to buy a horse, which a test predicts (with 98% accuracy) won’t achieve a rating above 45 :). The tests may not be there yet, but there is no reason that they can’t continue to improve and if they do, then expect serious market turbulence with lots of unsaleable horses.

It may sound like the plot of an unwritten Dick Francis novel but what happens when gene editing techniques such as CRISPR are adopted by unscrupulous types on thoroughbreds? We are familiar with racehorses being tested for illegal substances but there is no testing undertaken for genetic doping. There was always an incentive to cheat in racing and there is no reason to think this avenue won’t be explored by some, given the huge potential rewards.

Conclusion:

Racing has been around for centuries but the future is uncertain and industry leaders shouldn’t be complacent that the industry will continue on as before. The Nobel Prize winning novellist John Galsworthy once said “If you don’t think about the future you cannot have one”. Incidentally you can read an interesting description of racing at Newmarket by Galsworthy at http://www.online-literature.com/john-galsworthy/country-house/4/ .

Happy New Year….

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.