(Photo : Bloodlines)

“International victories tougher to come by

for North American horses.”

American-bred horses are gradually disappearing from the winner’s circles of European group stakes races.

So far this year less than 7% of the group stakes in England, Ireland, France, Germany, and Italy have been won by horses bred in the United States compared with 30% in 1985 and 32.8% in 1990. The ability of American-bred horses to compete among the most elite European runners has suffered just as much. American-breds have accounted for only 3.8% of group 1 wins this year through Aug. 30. In 1985 American-bred horses won 37.1% of the European group 1 races, according to data supplied by The Jockey Club Information Systems.

Several breeders and trainers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean said the reasons behind this trend are no mystery. American breeders don’t support stallions whose progeny are likely to be successful in Europe running a route of ground on the grass. An equally significant change is that Kentucky no longer possesses the same status it once had as the hub of the world’s Thoroughbred breeding industry because the quality of stallions has improved substantially in other countries.

(Coolmore Stud managing partner) John Magnier told me if a horse like Sea The Stars had dominated racing 15 years ago, it would have been assumed the horses would have stood in Kentucky,” said Garrett O’Rourke, manager of Juddmore Farms near Lexington. “The difference between the 1950’s and today is the strength of the U.S. economy. At that time they could offer prices the European breeders could not refuse. Now the quality is more spread out, and you can’t do that as much anymore.”

America’s Thoroughbred breeding began growing in international stature in the 1950’s when Arthur “Bull” Hancock Jr. started acquiring top stallions from Europe. Hancock shipped their leading English sire Nasrullah and French champion and top sire Lebhuleux to Claiborne Farm, believing that sires from around the world would add vigor on American blood-sires. Hancock’s son Seth continued the tradition, bringing over 1970 European Horse of the Year and top sire Kinsky II. The 1970’s John Gaines began building his own internationally renowned stallion station called Gainesway and introduced more prominent European sires to the North American market than any other breeder. He acquired, Lyphard, Riverman, Blushing Groom, Green Dancer, Irish River, Sharpen Up and Vaguely Noble, who were all either European champions or major stakes winners. John T.L. Jones Jr. did his part too, standing European champions Alleged and Nureyev at Walmac International, while John Galbreath imported the undefeated champion Ribot to stand at Darby Dan Farm.

Part of what has kept top European runners out of the United States has been described as the “Coolmore-Darley influence.” Coolmore Stud and Darley have build up substantial stallion operations in Ireland, England, France, and Australia. Coolmore Stud, which is based in Ireland, has 19 stallions standing in Ireland, 11 at its U.S. Ashford Stud operation, and 15 in Australia, of which 10 are  shuttlers from the U.S. and Europe. Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, has done even more to build up stallion operations under his Darley brand. Darley owns 63 stallions : nine in Great Britain, eight in Ireland, seven in France, 27 in Australia (including 13 that shuttle from the U.S. and Europe), 16 in the U.S., and nine in Japan.

The decline in the U.S. Thoroughbred market makes it even harder for U.S. farms to recruit the next big horse. And even though E.P. Taylor proved he could stand the best horse in the world - Northern Dancer - in Maryland, the competition for stallions is remarkably stronger now around the globe.

Purses aside, the U.S. Thoroughbred breeding market has been profoundly shaped by the commercial market that offers a premium of the progeny of sires that excelled on dirt tracks. Bloodlines that promise precocious early speed are also desirable. European-type stallions - again, think turf runners with stamina - are decidedly non-commercial.

John Gosden said he sees two key problems with the American breeding industry as it relates to the rest of the world : the emphasis on dirt and speed, and the emphasis on breeding for the commercial market.

“The issue of the commercial world itself is the tendency, and we have seen it in Europe, to see breeders breeding to sell rather than to race. When you breed to sell rather than to race, you raise the horses a little differently, and I’ll leave it at that. I will say I think breeding to sell has been to the detriment of the breed.”

John Sikura of Hill ‘n Dale agreed the American breeding industry faces some challenges because of different cultural attitudes about horse racing. Overseas, horse racing is more about sport and there is status associated with owning a horse. In America, the attitude is more businesslike and less cultural, according to Sikura.

“America for better or worse is the purest capitalist country in the world,” he said. “It is easy to like the horse business when you are selling million-dollar horses. It tests your commitment when that horse sells for $200,000. There are a lot more people in the industry in this country that have an exit strategy.

A continued decline in European bloodlines in American stallions is expected to shrink future demand for all American-bred horses offered at auction because it eliminates the incentive for overseas buyers to travel to U.S. Sales.

Gosden Predicts America’s breeding industry has had its time at center stage and that the market will now shift elsewhere.

“In 10-15 years I would expect the strongest racing will be in the Far East. Continously we are suffering by being marginalized in both America and Europe. It is something we are all keenly aware of.”

“The American dirt horse is a very noble creature, but it’s not terribly relevant to the rest of the world. There has been something of a seismic shift,” Gosden said.

Extract from Blood Horse