IHRB’s Curious Accounts

In 2019, the IHRB introduced a 9 stroke limit on the jockey’s use of the whip. This year, they themselves are suffering a beating at the hands of their detractors . They have eventually posted their 2019 accounts and it seems they are intent on giving their detractors more sticks with which to batter their reputation…

  1. The missing €1.6 million:

Their 2018 accounts were incorrect by €1.6 million (in income and expenditure) and had to be restated…….You might want to reread that sentence… It seems extraordinary that an error of this magnitude was not noticed by anyone in the IHRB (or their previous auditors) . The Comptroller and Auditor General has come on board as auditor for these accounts and it would be interesting to know what the staff of the C&AG’s office made of such a material financial mis-statement in a previous set of accounts. The excerpt from the accounts is shown below…

note from accounts

Interestingly, the 2019 accounts were submitted to the CRO a number of weeks ago but then returned for unspecified reasons (but not seemingly the restatement issue).

2.Publicly funded salaries that are being kept secret

Despite being almost entirely dependent upon public funding, the IHRB are not disclosing salary details of senior staff. It is the norm in all public sector bodies (and all PLC’s in the private sector) that the salary of the CEO is disclosed. It is remarkable that the IHRB have been allowed to refuse to disclose this salary by the Dept of Agriculture. The stated reason is due to the ‘commercial sensitivity’ of the information. This is a complete nonsense given that the organisation does not operate in a commercial sphere and there are no competitor organisations to the IHRB. I have no beef with Denis Egan but as someone whose salary comes from the public purse it should be disclosed the same as other public servants. Not disclosing the salary obviously gives rise to concerns that the real sensitivity is the embarrassment it would cause. We already have a situation in which the soon to depart Brian Kavanagh is paid a salary of c €190,000 which is well in excess of the supposed salary range for that role. HRI’s budget is a multiple of IHRB’s, yet I suspect that the salary differential is minimal (if indeed it exists). The IHRB have also been granted a derogation on the requirement to even list the number of staff in each salary band for higher earning staff. Both of these derogations are unacceptable in any public body…An FOI request to the Dept of Agriculture on the lobbying around this derogation would be interesting…

3. The Turf Club (they haven’t gone away you know)

Another interesting element of the accounts is the relationship with the Turf Club. That private members club hasn’t gone away… In 2019, €90,000 was paid in rent and it would be interesting to know why and what was involved in the payments made to and from the Turf Club/INHS relating to the transfer of assets/liabilities (see note below)..

Final Word:

The question has to be asked if Irish racing needs two highly paid (overpaid?) Chief Executives who are funded from the public purse. The accounts of the IHRB show a €2.8 million spend on administration with 33 staff. Rather than attacking Jim Bolger, perhaps a question for the upcoming Dail Committee could be if we need two separate bodies each with their own payroll, accounts functions, legal functions etc ? Why not absorb the integrity function into HRI? The arguments to retain the IHRB became harder to sustain when they seem unwilling to let the taxpayer know what salaries they are paying themselves and when they couldn’t correctly account for what they claimed to spend…..

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….

140-A Useful Restriction?A Straw in the Wind?

At a time when people are complaining about lockdowns and restrictions, the Jockey Club of North America has introduced what could be an intelligent and helpful restriction. Limiting book sizes to 140 for stallions born during or after 2020 is a first step in regulating the market. It is surprising that the ultra-capitalist USA has intervened in the free market, whereas European countries don’t act. US racing is no exemplar having failed utterly to deal with its drug problem and it has serious welfare issues but this is welcome example of intelligent leadership coming from Trump’s America. Alternatively, maybe there is a secondary motive that is in line with Trump’s protectionist policies. It might not be a coincidence that ‘foreign’ owned Coolmore is likely to be most impacted by this change…..

Gradual Introduction:

The new rules only apply to foals born in 2020. That means it is unlikely to affect any new stallions until the 2024 breeding season.

To see its potential impact, I looked at the 2019 covering figures in the US. IN 2019, 46 sires in the US covered 140 or more mares (see table at end of this article) . If the 140 mare limit was imposed on all of those stallions then 1397 mares would have gone to alternative stallions . However, under the terms of the phased introduction it would have applied to just 4 stallions (Justify, Mendellsohn, Bolt d’Oro and Good Magic) who collectively covered 322 mares over the cap. If the logic is to help improve diversity in the gene pool, then it’s not going to transform the landscape dramatically. It is a small step in the right direction and the impact will increase over time.

Implications for Stallion Values

A decrease from 252 to 140 equates to a 44% reduction in mares covered for Justify and Mendellsohn. In absolute terms, had the cap been in force there would have been a notional loss of over $20 million to Coolmore (assuming these mares didn’t switch to alternative Coolmore stallions). Justify was standing for $150000, and based on 112 mares this equates to $16.8 million and for Mendelssohn at $35000 the loss would have been $3.9 million. The excess over the cap equates to $1.8 million for Bolt D’Oro (74 mares at €25000) and €840000 for Good Magic (24 @$35000).

It doesn’t automatically follow that their values or purchase prices would have dropped by 44%. They can still shuttle to the Southern Hemisphere where their earning potential will not be impacted. Stallions are typically less popular after their first season so the impact will be reduced in those years. Most stallions can only dream of attracting more than 140 mares so for the majority of stallions it will have no implications.

Coolmore’s Modus Operandi

In the past Coolmore could outbid rivals for stallions but still recoup the higher price through greater utilisation of those stallions (ie more mares covered). Coolmore usually recoup the majority of their investment in the initial years before the first runners arrive.

They can still outbid rivals but the ‘stack ’em high’ advantage will be gone, at least in the US (shuttle coverings won’t be impacted). The phased introduction of the cap, lessens the threat to Coolmore and they have time to adjust their purchasing decisions and pricing strategies for new recruits. I suspect, they would prefer if the cap wasn’t introduced but they will adapt to it’s introduction.

Implication for Genetic Diversity

The stated reason for the rule is to improve genetic diversity and to avoid the narrowing of bloodlines that we have witnessed in recent decades.

I think quotas are to be welcomed and the intervention is warranted. For 200 years, the unwritten cap on stallion books was 40 mares. It is only since the 1980’s that we have seen the relentless rise in what is considered acceptable. Given the multiple variables at play it is hard to definitively prove that larger books have damaged the soundness of the breed, as measured by starts per runner.

However, the lack of definitive proof doesn’t mean that nothing should be done. It is reasonable to suggest that a more prudent and precautionary approach should have been adopted. To me it makes sense to avoid situations whereby 1% of all US mares are bred to a single unproven stallion (as was the case with both Justify and Mendellsohn).

The Situation in Europe

The European regulatory environment is complicated by differing national laws and possible the need to comply with EU competition law. Changes could be implemented by industry agreement and self-regulation. Hopefully this US initiative may prompt debate and action on the issue.

In the National Hunt sphere there are some ridiculous book sizes, particularly amongst unproven sons of Galileo (see http://www.montjeu.com/1122/ for a full discussion on that issue). Ireland’s National Hunt breeding environment would benefit most from book size restrictions.

Conclusion

If this change was in effect in 2019 only 322 mares out of c.20,000 would have been redirected to other stallions. It is a modest initial intervention but a significant ideological shift and an acknowledgment that the market isn’t always right. It will hopefully spur other countries to act and follow the US example…

List of stallions covering more than 140 mares in 2019

StallionMares BredMares over capYear born
Justify2521122015
Mendelssohn2521122015
Into Mischief2411012005
Uncle Mo2411012008
Goldencents239992010
Bolt d’Oro214742015
Munnings202622006
Practical Joke200602014
Sharp Azteca195552013
Cross Traffic188482009
Klimt187472014
American Pharoah178382012
Mor Spirit176362013
Cloud Computing171312014
Kantharos171312008
Violence171312010
West Coast168282014
Accelerate167272013
Gun Runner166262013
Always Dreaming165252014
Good Magic164242015
Good Samaritan162222014
Candy Ride (ARG)161211999
Collected156162013
Nyquist156162013
Hard Spun155152004
Union Rags155152009
Quality Road154142006
Tapwrit154142014
Twirling Candy154142007
Cairo Prince152122011
Arrogate14992013
Girvin14992014
Kitten’s Joy14992001
Stay Thirsty14772008
Street Sense14772004
Uncaptured14772010
City of Light14662014
Frosted14442012
Mo Town14442014
California Chrome14332011
Mastery14332014
Speightstown14221998




Total74171397

Blind Optimism

I recently purchased a half share in a one eyed, two year old (who should make a nice three year old), for a four figure sum 🙂

Unsurprisingly, this expenditure got me curious about horses with partial blindness. There is no central data point to uncover listings of horses with this affliction, but I was able to compile the following listing of partially blind horses who had an impact on racing or breeding:

1. Dante (1942 Nearco ex Rosy Legend by Dark Legend).

Dante was the first Northern trained Derby winner since Pretender in 1869. He started suffering a decline in vision before the 2000 Guineas in which he was a narrow loser and was probably blind in his left eye at the time of that race. He was an unbeaten two year old, successful in the Coventry and Middle Park and the Guineas was his only defeat in 9 starts. He was being prepared for the St Leger but never ran again after the Derby.Dante enjoyed a good stud career (despite a relatively early death) with the likes of 2000 Guineas winner Darius and the Oaks winner Carozza to his credit.

2. Arctic Tern (1973 Seabird ex Bubbling Beauty by Hasty Road).
Arctic Tern came from the last crop of Sea Bird but came from a quality female line having Almahmoud as his grandam, a position she also occupied in the pedigrees of Northern Dancer and Halo. He was blind in his right eye but this did not impact on his racing career which saw him consistently competitive at the highest level. His 22 race career over three seasons saw him amass 4 victories with the highlight being a Group 1 victory to his credit in the 1977 Prix Ganay. He was also placed in that year’s Eclipse Stakes behind Artaius.
He did even better at stud, siring consecutive French Oaks winners in his first two crops (Harbour and Escaline), a Derby runner-up in Glacial Storm and best of all the outstanding Bering who would have been an undisputed champion most years but had the misfortune to be a contemporary of Dancing Brave.

3. Pollard’s Vision (2001 Carson City ex Etats Unis by Dixieland Band)
Pollard’s Vision was named after Ron Pollard best known these days as Seabiscuit’s one eyed jockey. A decent career saw him win the Grade II Illinois Derby and later finish runner up in the Pimlico Special. He made a big start to his stud career with the outstanding filly (and wonderfully named) Blind Luck (Pollard’s Vision ex Lucky One by Best of Luck) , being a member of his first crop. However, to date he has failed to sire anything comparable to Blind Luck.

4. Among the vision impaired fillies, The Dancer (1977  Green Dancer ex Khazaeen by Charlottesville ) won the May Hill Stakes and finished third to Bireme in the 1980 Oaks. At stud she produced a high class performer in Mack the Knife (by Kris) who finished runner up in the Racing Post Trophy.

5. Mention of Kris leads us neatly to Moon Cactus (1987 Kris ex Lady Moon by Mill Reef ) who came even closer to classic success having finished runner up in the French Oaks to Rafha (also by Kris and even more famous as the dam of Invincible Spirit and Kodiac). Moon Cactus did achieve stakes success in the Prestige Stakes and Sweet Solera Stakes .She proved a top class broodmare producing the 1995 Oaks winner Moonshell (by Sadler’s Wells) and her full brother the impressive 2004 King George winner Doyen. She had restricted vision in her left eye.

6. Among National Hunt horses Winning Fair (1955 by Fun Fair ex Winning Hazard by Atout Maitre) was only partially sighted but it didn’t prevent him from winning the 1963 Champion Hurdle. As a gelding Winning Fair obviously had no breeding legacy but his trainer was George Spencer who is the father of top jockey Jamie Spencer. Many punters have also questioned Jamie’s eyesight over the years :)….

7. Among current runners, the Aidan O’Brien trained Eye of the Storm (2010 Galileo ex Mohican Princess by Shirley Heights) won last year’s Group 3 Ballyroan Stakes.

Infirmities of old age often mean horses lose their sight but they can continue to have breeding success.  The outstanding stallion Monsun (Konigsstuhl ex Mosella by Surumu) was blind in the latter stages of his career as were a number of prominent broodmares. Among the celebrated broodmares who went blind in later life (which typically meant their foals wore a bell so that they knew of their presence) were Floripedes, the dam of Montjeu and Park Express the dam of New Approach. Lord Derby’s, Samanda who was blinded as foal became grandam of Ouija Board and Teleprompter.
Conclusion:

It’s easy to imagine that horses might have difficulties with tight right or left handed tracks depending on which eye was lost. Similarly, they might be at a disadvantage if challenged on their blindside. However each case is different and it is difficult to evaluate just how much of a handicap sight loss is to a horse. All we can say is that the above examples prove it is not an insurmountable obstacle. I suspect my horse is far more likely to fail from lack of speed than lack of sight in one eye, but I titled this piece blind optimism and I can only hope that I might soon be adding his name to the above list of notables.

 

 

How to choose the right stallion-10 tips

montjeu topten list

It’s the most important decision of the year- which stallion to choose? Below are my ten top tips to help make the right decision for your mare.

1. Set an appropriate budget. This is easier said than done as opinions will differ widely as to what is ‘appropriate’. I would suggest asking yourself two simple questions:
a) is my mare worth at least 4 times the stud fee of the stallion?
b)Will my mare be in the top third of the book of mares visiting that stallion?
The hardest temptation to resist is the temptation to over-breed your mare in the hope of quickly upgrading the family. Resist this temptation or your will lose money. The old maxim of ‘breed the best to the best and hope for the best’ remains true, but don’t extend it to include ‘breed the moderate and worst to the best’.

2. Know the conformation of the stallion you are using. Do your research, have a good look at photos, videos and in the flesh. Look at his offspring. It’s critical that you look to balance out any weaknesses in your mares conformation by choosing a stallion who will offset, not reinforce these defects.

3. Know the fertility statistics of the stallion. Although modern management and scanning techniques have greatly improved the situation, having a barren year is an expensive lesson.

4. Look at the other costs. It’s not just the stud fee but the ancillary costs, such as transport, mare boarding fees, veterinary fees etc. What are the payment terms?

5. Does the stud have a reputation for fairness? If the foal dies shortly after birth will they strictly adhere to the contract? Will they facilitate you in future years?

6. What is the stallions book size? This is a critical factor as it can impact on

a) the stallion’s fertility
b)the level of competition you will face in the sales ring you tend to be benchmarked against the other offspring of that stallion rather than unrelated foals)
c) the likelihood that you can get more favourable terms on the stud fee.

7. Know your purpose. Are you breeding to race or to sell? If breeding to sell you are a slave to market fashions and will have to exclude many perfectly sound stallions who are out of fashion. There is no point being right about an underrated stallion but losing money when it comes to sell.

8. Remember you might have a filly! This might sound obvious but if the offspring is a filly consider how easy or difficult it would be to subsequently breed her. This is particularly the case in Europe where there are a lack of alternatives to the Sadler’s Wells and Danehill lines and we are seeing increasing inbreeding to these influences.

9. Proven vs Unproven. If you are dealing with a young mare remember that you should have a long term plan for the management of her career. It is critical to try and achieve early success with her offspring as this will obviously make later foals easier to sell. For that reason don’t use unproven stallions with an unproven mare. Later in her career you can use first or second stallions once she has established her record.

10.Get impartial advice. Breeding horses is not cheap and it makes sense to get expert advice. You wouldn’t buy a car or a house without getting a mechanic or engineers report yet people seem loathe to pay for another opinion on their mating plans. Look at sites such as www.ematings.com for a list of available experts or contact this author directly at victor@montjeu.com to get a fresh perspective on your options.