Friday, January 12, 2018

Stallion Review - 2017

The breeding of Standardbreds in North America, based on the number of yearlings, continues to be in decline. A big part of the problem in recent years has been the big drop in Ontario and New Jersey breedings, both crippled by Government policies that hurt the industry. While both jurisdictions, along with Quebec, are recovering somewhat, the impact on the stallion population there and elsewhere continues to present problems for the future.

In 2017 alone we saw 139 stallions retired from breeding compared to the 96 that quit the ranks in 2016. This is offset somewhat by the meager 10 new stallions listed to date for 2018 breeding in addition to the 62 that may have first crop foals in 2018.

The number of stallions with yearlings registered to date in 2017 stood at 449 and many of them had just a handful of foals including 32 with just one foal registered. The number of yearlings in North America last year overall dropped to another 50 year low of 7234, with 4167 pacers and 3067 trotters, and all indications are that the drop will continue in the 2017 crop. The immediate effect is on the yearling sales where we are seeing reduced consignments and sale consolidations. This has a temporary good side in the form of increased sale averages but considering that the breeders have struggled with lower that cost sales in the past it is like a 100% increase going from 1 to 2 on a scale of 10.

The shortage of yearlings ultimately results in a shortage of racehorses, and a reduction in racing opportunities and purses as tracks struggle to maintain their market share. Track closures are inevitable as we have seen recently in Illinois. Even the biggest tracks are not immune since they are dependent on the "farm" system of smaller tracks for the development of race horses and the trainers and caregivers related to them.

Add to this an almost total absence of interest on the part of the two organizations responsible for the breed in doing anything positive to turn around the decline in their base. The USTA and Standardbred Canada continue to bury their heads in the sand claiming that they need to increase the bet and the purses as a first priority. Meanwhile the breeders that remain continue to struggle and pay ever increasing dues to these so-called breeders Associations getting little ground level support in return.

Here on Prince Edward Island we are blessed to have an active industry association to fill the gaps left by a delinquent national organization. Supported by local government at all levels of the industry, racing on PEI has a strong rural base with an active matinee track program that gives small breeders and younger people the opportunity to learn about, and grow their interest in, harness racing. While we have also seen the demise of several of our larger breeding farms in recent years the number of mares bred has stabilized and the number of small breeders has increased somewhat. Our yearling sale set an all time record average with a substantial 34% increase of the previous year record and the accolades should go out to the breeders accordingly and to the many volunteers that are key to our continued success.

Solutions are elusive to the problem. Increased promotion and assistance in the form of education and basic farm gate services are basic building blocks to encourage new breeders. A switch to broodmare residency requirements as the basis for regional stakes eligibility would open up a new market for struggling breeders to board mares. Breeders awards as a percentage of earnings are already in place in several jurisdictions but should be universally available. Broadening the ownership base and level of interest through initiatives like The Stable is also a positive development that should be encouraged at the regional level.

I am sure that readers have their own suggestions for ways to support the successful breeding of Standardbreds. After all the future of the breed in North America is at stake and leaving the problem to the next generation is not an option - there may not be another generation.