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
- Cost efficient
- Environmentally friendly
- Improves disease control
- 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.
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….