I’m a huge admirer of the unrelenting excellence of the Ballydoyle/Coolmore operation. However recent races have led to serious questions about their use of team tactics. Ballydoyle are arguably pursuing tactics that are against the spirit of the sport. Pacemakers have an acceptable and valuable role in the sport, however we are witnessing tactics that seem more akin to the use of ‘domestiques’ in cycling and that is objectionable.
The BHA’s rules on team tactics are as follows: 46: ASSISTING ANOTHER HORSE IN A RACE A Jockey must not ride in such a way which is intended to, or does, give an advantage to or is in the interests of a horse which: -shares one or more Owners in common with; or -is from the same stable or team as the horse they are riding in the Race. A Trainer is also responsible for any breach of Rule (F)46 by a Jockey riding one of their horses, except where they can demonstrate that they instructed the Jockey to treat every other horse in the Race equally. Nothing in these Rules prohibits pure pace making.
Watch the ride on 50-1 shot Royal Dornach (see video below) and you have to wonder, was he more interested in riding his own race or in inconveniencing Threat?
This incident follows closely on the Irish 2000 Guineas where 6 of the 11 runners were Ballydoyle trained. Thankfully Siskin and Colin Keane were good enough to extract themselves from a phlanx of Ballydoyle runners and the best horse won on the day. However as Ger Lyons said “we were up against a football team”.
Nobody expects Ballydoyle’s jockeys to adopt an ‘after you’ approach to their rivals, but they are sullying their reputation with this behaviour. Given their power in the industry the media give them a relatively easy time.
It is time for the British and Irish stewards to get serious about this issue.
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:
Environmentally friendly (transport of a straw versus a mare)
Improved disease control (reduction in animal and human movements)
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 🙂
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….
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…..
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.
Implicationsfor 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.
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
With the world in the grip of a pandemic, it may seem crass to write about something as trivial as horse racing, but we all need our distractions.
I was asked via Twitter to look at the overall performance of grandsons of Galileo in National Hunt Racing (I recently wrote about their performance at Cheltenham). As the overuse of sons of Galileo is a bugbear of mine, I didn’t take much persuasion to accept the challenge.
To make a meaningful comparison, I looked at the performance throughout the 2019/2020 season of sire sons of Galileo, Montjeu and Monsun. The numbers confirm that sire-sons of Galileo are nothing special in the world of National Hunt racing. In fact their performance is inferior to that of sires by Montjeu and especially by Monsun.
I looked at the sire standings for National Hunt in 2019/2020 for the top 550 sires from the Racing Post website. I then extracted and aggregated the results for the sons of Galileo, Montjeu and Monsun. The summary results are shown below:
GALILEO SIRES TOTAL
MONSUN SIRES TOTAL
MONTJEU SIRES TOTAL
Summary of Findings:
Sons of Galileo fare poorly in terms of winners to runners and wins to runs compared with sons of Montjeu and especially sire sons of Monsun. There may be some reasons to account for the difference such as a younger age profile of the representatives of the Galileo tribe but there is nothing in the figures to suggest that National Hunt breeders should be flocking to sons of Galileo…
Blindly believing in sire lines on the flat or in National hunt racing will lead to lots of disappointments. There are individual sons of Galileo who could be promising jumps sires (Nathaniel especially) but overall the figures suggest that most sons of Galileo are not that welcome an addition to National Hunt pedigrees. The real concern is that sending one third of mares to sons of Galileo may eventually cause long term damage the National hunt breed by narrowing the gene pool. National Hunt breeders may feel reassured in using sons of Galileo ( everyone else is doing it) , but as the Corona virus has shown, being part of the crowd isn’t always such a good idea….
Detailed Workings:Stallions listed by their placing in the sires table by earnings- figures as shown on Racing Post website on 28/03/2020and referring to UK and Irish earnings for 2019/2020 season
I recently wrote about the deeply concerning rush by National Hunt breeders to use sons of Galileo http://www.montjeu.com/archives/1122. The results at Cheltenham don’t lessen that concern.
Herd mentality will see one third of NH mares go to sons of Galileo this year. Looking at the results at Cheltenham, where Galileo had 3 runners and his sons sired 17 runners, there is nothing to justify such faith.
Nathaniel did very well with 2 winners (albeit Burning Victory was fortunate that Goshen unseated) from 3 runners. However, he is a £25000 flat sire and if you take him out the results are very ordinary. If Irish and UK breeders want to reclaim some of the ground they have lost to French breds then they will have to put less trust in the adverts from the stud farms and look at supporting a more varied range of NH stallions… The full listing of runners by Galileo and his sons is shown below.
Back in 1633, Galileo was convicted of heresy for his espousal of the heliocentric view of the universe. He was sentenced to house arrest which lasted until his death in 1642.
Sadler’s Wells transformed National Hunt breeding, so breeders seem to assume that Galileo will do the same. Here is my heresy; when it comes to National Hunt breeding, I don’t believe in Galileo… The Catholic Church admitted it was wrong in 1992. I wonder if it will take as long to admit to a mistake by National Hunt breeders?
Grounds for Concern:
1. Sadler’s Wells was a great sire of jumpers, Galileo isn’t.
Looking at Racing Post Ratings, from 294 runners over jumps, Galileo has sired just two runners rated over 155, Celestial Halo on 167 and Supasundae on 165 . In contrast from 362 runners, Sadler’s Wells has 11 runners including the imperious Istabraq on 181, Synchronized on 171, Pridwell on 169, Essex on 165 and Theatreworld on 164 .
Galileo also suffers in comparison with Montjeu. Montjeu had fewer National Hunt runners at 249, but has sired 8 horses rated 155 or above, headlined by Hurricane Fly on 173. To date sire sons of Montjeu have also achieved more than sons of Galileo in the National Hunt realm(eg Douvan, Min, Tiger Roll, Might Bite aka Does Bite) but that’s a discussion for another day. The fact that Galileo hasn’t sired good jumpers doesn’t mean that his sons won’t succeed, but it does create a doubt. Where there is doubt, you would expect caution but instead we have a reckless herd mentality on an almost unprecedented scale.
2. Galileo’s National Hunt Stallion Sonsare unproven
Galileo has no proven, established National Hunt stallion sons. Mahler has made a good start (eg Chris’s Dream, Ornua) but not enough to warrant 227 mares in 2019. Soldier of Fortune attracted 275 mares in 2019 and 290 in 2018. That is a lot of faith to put in a stallion who still has to deliver a really top horse but who at least has Busted and Lord Gayle as his dams grand-sires.
Displaying even more faith, but without a comparable female line or any racecourse evidence, were the 275 breeders who used Order of St George, the 225 who went to Idaho and the 190 mares who went to Telescope. That is around 1200 mares from those 5 sons of Galileo. Am I the only person who thinks this might be insane?
3. The sheer scale of the problem
Next season those five stallions will be joined by Leger winners Capri and Flag of Honour, who can both expect significant books. There are a host of others including Finsceal Fior, Imperial Monarch, Proconsul, Vendangeur, Sans Frontieres, Shantaram also in the marketplace. The total foal crop in the UK (4655) and Ireland (8788) in 2019 was 13,443 foals. In Britain it is estimated that 23% of the foal crop is intended as NH or dual purpose and in Ireland it is 48%. This would equate to 5,288 national hunt or dual purpose foals. We could be looking at over 1,700 or around one third of the National Hunt crop being by sons of Galileo.
I’m sure that there will be many good horses sired by the sons of Galileo. The sheer weight of numbers make that almost inevitable. However, the percentages may be less than expected.
No one is asking about the implications of having so many foals from the same sire line. Half of the foals will be fillies so we are the changing the National Hunt breed forever.
French National Hunt breeding has outperformed the UK and Irish sectors over the past two decades. There are a lot of factors at play, but a willingness to embrace diversity in sire lines and smaller books that allow more stallions a chance have an impact. Irish breeders acting individually think they are being rational but the cumulative effect of their group-think could damage everyone in the National Hunt sector…