Book Review: “The Black Horse is Dying” by William Jones

This is an important book. The issue of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED’s) in Irish racing is now a hot topic following recent articles by David Walsh in the Sunday Times and Paul Kimmage in the Sunday Independent. Both journalists have rightly credited the work of William Jones in documenting the issue. William Jones is a former journalist who spent a number of years working with Coolmore before becoming a whistleblower about what he saw as unacceptable practices in Coolmore. These were documented in his first book ‘The Black Horse of Coolmore”, that led to a lengthy and bitter legal dispute with Coolmore.

His second book is especially damning in its portrayal of American racing. Reading the litany of positive tests/infringements in horses with US trainers such Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen, Doug O’Neill, Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis is both shocking and dispiriting. More concerning is the ongoing medication that is normal and legal within US training circles. A revealing extract from the medication history of seven Baffert horses who died at Hollywood Park, shows just how far removed US training is from the ideal of trainers using just water, hay and oats. He questions what he sees as the hypocrisy of European trainers and owners who follow the ‘when in Rome approach’ and run their horses on Lasix in the States despite condemning their use in Europe.

Lest, we get complacent in Ireland and the UK, Jones details various drug cases that occurred here and the trainers and vets who were sanctioned. He covers the high profile UK case involving Nicky Henderson and the Queen Mother’s horse Moonlit Pass. The book is revealing in highlighting inconsistencies in approach by the Irish authorities. The lack of accountability of the IHRB who are not covered by Freedom of Information legislation despite received c.€9 million in taxpayers money is an interesting anomaly that he raises. The author was instrumental in getting the Veterinary Council to change its rules about having fitness to practice hearings in public. He has been meticulous and no doubt an irritant to the authorities and yet Irish racing owes him a huge debt.

This book is not perfect; it could have done with better editing, the details of his legal battles and the repeat of some of his grievances with Coolmore might have been better left for another work. His belief that the UK administration and testing regime is more effective and impartial than the Irish system is also debatable. His criticism of some individuals can at times seem unduly harsh but he is a skilled polemicist and gets a lot right.

Reading this book it is easy to conclude that racing and breeding is ignoring a serious animal welfare/PED crisis. He covers the unacceptable behaviour of big bookmaker in exploiting problem gamblers and given the reliance of racing on these same bookmakers it is another area of concern. Whistleblowers are rarely thanked for the difficulties they cause those in power. If you want to thank Mr Jones you can purchase his book via Amazon or some independent booksellers. I urge you to do so….https://www.amazon.com/Black-Horse-Dying-Corruption-Exploitation/dp/1838536523

Covid shows the need to plan for Artificial Insemination

Despite the shut down of so many industries, the horse breeding season was able to continue in the UK, Ireland and France. It benefits from its classification as an agricultural activity. Agricultural activity is of course essential to ensure a stable food supply.  However, thoroughbred breeding isn’t about food production and in a possible future pandemic,  travelling thousands of mares to stallions in their own countries or overseas may not be allowed. They say you should never let a crisis go to waste and now is the time to agree on a set of rules to cover the use of Artificial Insemination in horses.  AI is by far the best option to ensure that breeding can proceed as normal in the event of a future disease outbreak (human or animal). The move to AI should also be linked to new stallion book quotas such as the upcoming US limit of 140 mares.

The Benefits of Artificial Insemination

Compared with live covers, artificial insemination offers the following benefits:

  1. Cost efficiencies
  2. Environmentally friendly (transport of a straw versus a mare)
  3. Improved disease control (reduction in animal and human movements)
  4. Improved choice for breeders

With a global pick of stallions, even for low value mares, we can reverse the narrowing of the equine gene pool. It is this narrowing of the gene pool which has prompted the proposed US cap of 140 mares per stallion. 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

d) danger that new stallions won’t get a chance as stallion semen is used after the death of a stallion

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. Better still, a cap can be put in place in terms of the maximum number of foals registered for each sire in a given year. The proposed US cap of 140 is a useful starting point- see my previous post http://www.montjeu.com/140-a-useful-restrictiona-straw-in-the-wind/ for a full discussion on that issue.

b) Available stallion options will increase. To take an example, Irish breeders will have ready access to sons and grandsons 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 or non-existent foal crop or a legislative change, what do you think will happen?

d) A rule can be introduced that straws can only be used for 2 months after the death of a stallion. This avoids a situation where Galileo is still champion sire in 2050 🙂

Conclusion

AI works successfully for other horse breeds such as quarter horses. The use of AI, linked to quotas can stop the narrowing of the gene pool. This is what the American Jockey Club is trying to achieve with its cap of 140 mares. Breeding needs to work on its green credentials and the reduction in road and air miles due to the elimination of mare transport will be significant.

Covid has changed everything. However there were previous disease outbreaks such as foot and mouth that also threatened the viability of the current breeding system. We should plan for a new system now before some future disease outbreak threatens the loss of an entire foal crop. Lenin once said “there are decades when nothing happens and there are weeks when decades happen”. The last few weeks meet that description. AI is still unthinkable for many, but once it has happened, people will wonder what all the fuss was about. The benefits outweigh the costs. The world has changed. Breeding needs to change….