The Jockey Club Breeding Report


I was (err, am) not working very hard today and figured I should probably put something up. I saw this article at TB Times today and realized how much I despise sensationalist headlines. While the lede for the story is "The Jockey Club’s Report of Mares Bred for 2011 shows that the number of stallions declined 11.5% and the number of mares bred dropped 10% in North America compared to a year ago," it immediately contradicts itself by saying that, "the number of mares bred to each stallion and represent approximately 90% of the mares that eventually will be reported as bred in 2011."

The harbingers of the decline of the thoroughbred racing industry make me mad. Sure, overall investment dollars are down from an all-time high, but if ANYTHING is dependent on disposable income, it's gambling. And owning a horse is just as much a gamble as any ticket you can buy at the track.

So let's take a look at the numbers the Jockey Club (and TBTimes) are trying to sell.

 

First- Here is the list of Stallions bred by number of mares in 2010. An 11.5% decrease probably means that only a small handful of mares were actually affected since there is a huge number of stallions that were bred to 1-3 mares. So no big deal. Those that are really the major influences on the breed are going to keep 75+ dates a year. When one of them becomes infertile, dies, or is just retired, that is a much larger impact than a 11.5% decrease.

Second, here's the mares by aggregate number. So, as I am prone to do, let's do the math:

 

2011
Type # Reported Percent Total for year
Stallions 1935 100% 1935
Mares 36504 90% 40560
       
2010
Type # Reported Percent Total for year
Stallions 2186 100% 2186
Mares 40567 90% 45074

 

Looks like a big drop, right? Well how many poorly bred, non-winners lifetime, who are injury prone are out there right now? I'll tell you what, it's way more than you'd think. And that's not to say they're not all bad horses, but does it really matter if they don't get bred? And those will inevitably be the first to be left open during a breeding season. Not taking those mares to the breeding shed, when you are more likely to get a lesser quality foal anyway with a higher likelihood of not even getting to the track, isn't a loss to the industry. Even if that mare is going to Medaglia or Dynaformer, or Scat Daddy, it's not a huge deal. Their overall dates may decrease slightly (as is mentioned in the article as well), but as long as their breeding the better mares, it's still ok.

When you hear the pundits crying about the fact that there is TOO much racing, well doesn't that mean there is too much breeding as well? One inevitably fuels the other. If you have lots of horses looking for races, racing secretaries put in more starts in their meets. If you have more starts per meet, you'll breed more horses since there are more opportunities to make money.

So, what I'm trying to say is that this isn't necessarily a bad sign. While climbing numbers overall would certainly indicate a positive trend, marginal declines (provided the major players still remain involved). Pure numbers don't tell the story. Growth or decline of total numbers do not mean a decline in quality of the product on the track (which is the ultimate end state and determinant of the industry) or a lack of excellence in the bloodlines of the current runners out there.

I think there is the tendency to directly equate numbers in the shed to success of the industry on the track. While they certainly aren't mutually exclusive, there is no directly correlation that lower numbers directly equal industrial decline. The major players (Coolmore, Darley, Three Chimneys, et al) still have the same business, and they are far better indicators of the strength of thoroughbred racing and breeding that having lower level mares and stallions drop off the radar. We know there are issues aplenty out there, but these numbers are certainly not the direct indicator of anything.

That's my rant for the day.

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