longfields and foal post image
longfields and foal post image

Longfields and foal

(Photo : Summerhill Stud)


A case brought against stud book authorities in the federal high court of Australia by a past chairman of the Sydney Turf Club, Bruce McHugh, for the right to practice artificial insemination on his mares, has brought this decades-long debate back into the spotlight.

Let me say at the outset, in the short term, the practice of artificial insemination would be extremely beneficial to Summerhill Stud from a financial perspective, because two thirds of the broodmare population of South Africa resides so far away from us as to make travel inconvenient. We’re reminded regularly by our colleagues in the Western Cape, that if our stallions were standing there, they would be massively popular.

However, apart from the remarks made by our old friend and Australian visionary, John Messara, about the anti-competitive impact of a ruling in favour of artificial insemination, they’re other far-reaching consequences, which neither Mr McHugh nor anyone else connected with the case appear to have thought through. It follows that if we could access these mares by the simple delivery of semen straws on the overnight plane to Cape Town, we’d open up new markets.

John Messara piece from The Mercury

Messara warns artificial insemination “would be lunacy”

Arrowfiled Stud chief John Messara, in his 1st public comment on the controversial Artificial Insemination (AI) litigation begun last week in Australia’s Federal Court, stated the “consequences of the introduction of AI would be different to those which are contemplated by its proponent Bruce McHugh” (former leading bookmaker and Sydney Turf Club chairman)

Messara emphasised that “rather than creating more competition, it would concentrate stallion power in the hands of the few farms who control the proven stallions at the top of the list.”

He explained: “To date, conception by natural means has placed a lid on the number of mares each stallion can serve, but if that lid is lifted through AI the consequences could be dire for the industry. With breeders flocking to proven horses, huge numbers of mares would be inseminated by a small number of the most commercially desirable stallions and in this way there would be less competition, rather that more competition among stallion owners.

Gene pool

So while the stallion fees might reduce to accommodate the much larger books, the revenue of the big farms would increase substantially and that would lead to bigger profits, increased concentration of industry power and reduction of competition.”

Messara also noted: “Then you have the impact on the gene pool. The few thousand mares that comprise the active band in Australia will be served by a handful of stallions; logic dictates that AI would be harmful to the diversity of the breed.”

Messara also stated: “Of course, if AI were ever to be introduced into thoroughbreds in Australia, horses produced by means of AI and their progeny would not be regarded as thoroughbreds in other parts of the world and would not be able to compete internationally and would therefore be useless for breeding purposes internationally as well. This has the capacity to destroy the commercial viability of the thoroughbred industry in our country.”

Messara concluded: “AI is not without its advantages in reducing the transmission of disease and assisting sub-fertile breeding stock, but the disadvantages far outweigh the possible benefits and I believe it would be lunacy to introduce AI into Australia.”

Common to most horsemen’s thoughts though, will be the fact that at any stallion farm, the stallion barn is the soul of the stud. Personally, I’m reviled at the thought of collecting semen from a stallion in an artificial vagina, on the back of a wooden horse. That’s the emotional response.

That said, as we understand Mr McHugh’s case, it is based on the fact that the restraints against artificial insemination, constitute an unfair trade practice. He has an argument of course, and there’s a possibility the court might rule in his favour.

However, unless they give some thought to what could then occur down the road, not only in relation to the narrowing of the gene pool, but to the general value of our bloodstock, the outcome could be too “ghastly to contemplate”, as a once-misguided president of South Africa so infamously said.

But if the argument that it’s an unfair trade practice is to hold up, then surely it must follow that the transfer of embryos, or for that matter, the cloning of thoroughbreds, should be permitted. Embryo transfer would enable production through surrogate mothers of a replication, in any one year, of a stream of brothers and sisters conceived on the same mating by the same stallion, from the same foundation mare. That could conceivably mean that a breeder with a “blue hen” in his stud, could take six or seven brothers and sisters from the same mare to the sales in the same year.

Equally, through cloning, he could take any number of identical siblings to a sale, and in a single renewal of a Durban July, for example, there could, quite bizarrely, be as many as six of precisely the same animal replicated in the field.

To us, that would destroy the sport as we know it. Simple as that.

Mr McHugh is reputedly a leading bookmaker. We’d be interested to see how he’d mark that one up on his odds board.

From a purely South African perspective, there has long been envy among breeders of the “shuttle” concept, and the fact that our counterparts in the Antipodes have enjoyed liberal access to some of the best horses standing in the northern hemisphere. The truth though, as we pen this note, is that the Australian Dollar represents six Rands and some change, while there is only another Rand in it in matching that to the US Dollar. This means Australian breeders are able to afford, (using their own currency), access to these stallions when they’re standing in their own backyard.

But you have to ask yourself, as a South African breeder, what our market can afford in the way of northern hemisphere stallions, in the hypothetical event that access would mean the importation of semen straws. For the sake of convenience, I’m going to assume that R100 000 is a reasonable fee to pay for a top stallion, notwithstanding the fact that some of our horses in this country command more. I speak as a commercial breeder acutely aware of the risks involved, and knowing that even at R200 000 a pop, our own stallions (like their top-end counterparts abroad) can still throw a disappointing foal. Convert R100 000 to US Dollars and you get of the order of 12 000 – 13 000 dollars. Then cast your eye across the spectrum of stallions in the United States that stand in this bracket, and you’ll be disappointed.

The truth is, our own top-of-the-range stallions are better value, because you get a highly proven animal locally for R100 000, while in the United States you may fluke a first or second season sire for that (which is pure speculation, as we know), but if you’re looking at the proven ranks, all you’re likely to get is a disappointment.