Speed, stamina, precocity and class: find the right balance in a racehorse and who knows what might be achieved. But what goes for a single racehorse, also applies to the industry as a whole. A full program from five to 20 furlongs, contested by top-class horses with the requisite aptitude is what everyone wants. But the economics of racing in Britain and Ireland is such that it applies downward pressure on the production of stayers – or that’s how the story goes. But to what extent can we measure this phenomenon?
In this article I have looked back over a 12-year period for signs of the contraction in the aptitude of the British and Irish thoroughbred. But before we get started, it is perhaps pertinent to take a look at what has happened in Australia over the years. There is no question that the modern Australian stallion is required to produce stock that are highly competent from six furlongs to a mile. Sires that can only produce 10-furlong horses don’t do well down under – just look at what happened to Galileo there. When Danehill arrived on the scene in Australia, he reinforced the importance two-year-old racing and races for sprinter-milers. It is important to recognize the part played by a dominant sire in the shaping of the breed. Had it not been for Sadler’s Wells and Galileo in Europe, can we be certain that our great staying races would enjoy the standing they do today? The Australian industry – predominately made up of a generally more cost-conscious, commercially minded ownership base – promotes speed and precocity over sires that can produce genuinely top-class stayers. Just witness what has happen to the Melbourne Cup fields in recent years, dominated as they are by European-bred horses.
But the landscape in Britain and Ireland is altogether different. To start with, we have big private breeding establishments that are to a greater extent immune to the economics of racing and breeding. It is they that are the custodians of the prosperity and diversity of European racing. Whilst it’s true that there are fewer owner-breeders around today than there were 30 or 40 years ago, it would be hard to argue that there are substantially fewer mares today under the control of owner-breeders.
In Europe in general there exists inherent stamina in the broodmare population that will take some changing.
Our study looks at the mares and stallions that have made up our industry over the past 12 years. If there is a move towards speed then it will eventually show up in the winning distances of mares in the broodmare population. The 7,585 winning mares covered in Britain and Ireland in 2018 had an average winning distance of 8.54 furlongs, which is indeed the lowest figure posted in the past 12 years. But it’s a marginal decrease from the highest average of 8.66 recorded in 2012 and is given further context by the 8.61 furlongs recorded in 2007.
AVERAGE WINNING DISTANCE OF WINNING MARES COVERED 2007 TO 2018
||Sires with Book AWD <8F
Moreover, we also have to be wary of the effect of ebb and flow of general market forces. The comparatively high average stamina figures recorded between 2009 and 2013 are a function of the market. Those were the tough years after a downturn in foal production that had a deeper effect on the cheaper speed sires that typically cover speedier mares. In hard times they tend to disappear and return in times of over production. Similarly, the percentage of commercial stallions with a book stamina index of less than a mile shows no real movement in 12 years. In 2018, 29% of all commercial stallion covered speedier books, but that percentage had been as high as 33% ten years earlier.
In Britain and Ireland and Europe in general there exists inherent stamina in broodmare population that will take some changing. It will be important to monitor the make and shape of the broodmare population for significant changes over the coming years. Should the stamina index fall again next year and the year after, then the proactive approach being taken by the racing and breeding authorities on safeguarding the stayer will have been well founded.