Are large stallion books good for the industry?

Byron RodgersByron Rodgers (thoroughbreddailynews)It would be populist to say “no they are not good for the industry,” but I am sure that is the wrong answer. I think from a genetic viewpoint there is not a lot to worry about. Any suggestions about narrowing of the gene pool is plain fear-mongering by the uneducated as the Thoroughbred is a long, long way off having any problems with lack of genetic diversity. Any geneticist will tell you that. Actually the internationalisation of the Thoroughbred has done a good job in creating a fairly diverse gene pool and the free market does a great job in regulating itself. In Australia for example, the commercial gene pool is really reaching saturation with Danehill/Danzig blood, so you are seeing 1) breeders only wanting to buy mares that are not from this sire line so they can send them to the Danzig line; and 2) stallion owners desperately looking for a “foil” to Danzig. The same is occurring in Japan with Sunday Silence/Halo. It will sort itself out. The common argument that “the next Danzig/Red Ransom wouldn’t get an opportunity in this day” is also popular but far from reality based. The reality is that a lot of stallions that got mares in the past really don’t deserve the mares that they got.

As the bar to become a top commercial stallion rises, then naturally the bar for the lesser commercial and regional areas rises as well as instead of these areas getting the unraced half brother to the good stallion, they are getting a Grade 3 winner or a Grade 2 winner. They are getting a better horse to start with so from that viewpoint I think that bigger books are actually helping the industry breed a better horse overall. At any rate, if the stallion truly upgrades he will prove it despite the market’s best efforts to deny him. One matter I would raise as a concern is that because an increasing number of foals are entering the sale ring as opposed to being bred to race, from a product differentiation viewpoint we are starting to enter dangerous territory. As a sire serves bigger books, the uniqueness of the product is lost. When you went to a sale a decade ago and wanted to buy a Seattle Slew, you knew that there were probably going to be about 10-20 of them offered each year at the most, and that you would have to work hard to get one. Now you know that there are probably going to be 40-50 of them offered (and some times up to 100) which is a little different. There is not that sense of desperation to buy, but rather comparison to buy as buyers start grading each foal by a sire more extensively than they would have in the past. This is not “good” for breeders as they are the ones that are taking the product to sale and subject to this arbitrage by the marketplace.

Will book size continue to grow?

Absolutely. Large stallion books will continue in a natural fashion because we are seeing across the world that there are less and less stallions to go to. The bar to be a stallion in any country is being raised each year as the market expects the stallion to provide more (or at least that is how the market is being marketed to believe!). Twenty years ago in Australia, there were some 2,000 stallions serving 25,000 mares; last year, there were a little over 700 serving the same number. The same is occurring in North America and Europe. Go and take a look at the stats from The Jockey Club. This is not a bad thing, either. More mares are tending, and tending is the key word, to go to better-class stallions, so the bar of what is being bred is rising.

The flip side to the coin is, of course, that stallions who ultimately turn out to be bad stallions get a lot more chance at stud than in hindsight they probably deserve. By the time we find out that a stallion should have been gelded for disservice to the breed, there are 400+ of his foals running around that, in the case of fillies, we then decide are good enough to breed from. Again, this is not the ideal, but you can’t have it both ways, and ultimately the marketplace and the winning post decide who survives as far as stallions are concerned. The more pertinent question is that while we are now applying a fairly severe genetic, conformation and performance test on the stallions that retire to stud, why are we not applying this test to the other side of the equation—the mares? It seems to me that we are quite happy to breed out of a mare that proved herself completely useless as a runner and can have next to zero pedigree to her—she still gets a chance to prove herself a useless breeder also, and of course we blame the stallion if her foals are useless…. Does this count as a win for the feminists?

Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News