Many stud owners and managers reserved their comments following a September 6 announcement from the Jockey Club that they would consider limiting the size of the stallion book to 140 mares. The reaction from those willing to give a first opinion was mixed as to the potential ramifications of such a change.
The Jockey Club Board of Directors seeks comments on the proposal that would cap the number of mares from the 2021 breeding season. The Board of Directors is considering this action due to concerns about reducing the diversity of the gene pool thoroughbreds due to an increase in the number of stallions breeding 140 or more mares each year.
According to the Jockey Club, 37 North American stallions in 2007 bred over 140 mares out of a total of 3,865 stallions. By 2010, that number had fallen to 24. Since then, the number has nearly doubled to 43 bulls in a stallion population that is less than half the size of the population in 2007.
On the mare side in 2007, according to the Jockey Club, 5,894 mares (9.5% of all mares bred) were bred by stallions that covered over 140 mares. In 2019, 7,415 mares (27% of all mares bred) were covered by stallions with pounds over 140, a threefold increase.
In 2018, 39 American stallions had pounds exceeding 140 mares, with five pounds spanning over 200 mares—in evil (245), Cupid (223), Klimt (222), Prank call (220), and Violence (214). The average book size for these 39 stallions was 170 mares.
“The combination of these changes has resulted in a substantial increase in the percentage of foals produced by a discrete stallion segment, signaling a worrying concentration of the gene pool,” said the Jockey Club, who noted that as keeper of the American stud-book, he maintains the Main rules and requirements of the American Stud Book in order to ensure the well-being of the thoroughbred.
“I feel like it’s a really good thing because the pound size has gotten completely out of hand,” said Bill Farish of Lane’s End near Versailles, Ky., Who had six stallions who bred over 140 mares in 2018. “Basically, the numbers tell the story. With the number of stallions dropping and the average pound size so high, it’s a recipe for disaster for the gene pool.”
Farish said he was comfortable with the 140 mare cap offered. If each American stallion who bred more than 140 mares in 2018 had been limited to 140, then 1,165 mares would have been redirected to other stallions.
“It would be good for the new stallions who are unlucky at the moment and for the second and third stallions, if you had that limit,” he said.
The Jockey Club proposal proposes a progressive approach as follows:
- Stallions entering stud service for the first time in 2020 would be exempt from the 140 limit until the 2023 season
- Stallions entering service in 2019 would be exempt until the 2022 season
- Stallions who entered the stud service in 2018 would be exempt until the 2021 season
- Stallions entering service in 2017 or earlier would be subject to the 140 cap as of January 1, 2021
In 2021, with the exemptions and using the 2018 breeding statistics, the change of the first year would redirect around 720 mares.
Although Lane’s End has had stallions with bigger pounds, Farish said he would not hesitate to limit all of his stallions to 140 mares.
“The good guys tend to be successful at all levels, whether they get 80 or 160 mares,” he said. “The law of supply and demand will take over, and stallions in high demand will have higher service charges. It will help commercial breeders as well. It really helps everyone.”
Ned Toffey, the managing director of Spendthrift Farm, home of Into Mischief, the current leading North American stallion, was not in favor of the proposed cap. The Lexington-area farm owned by B. Wayne Hughes had 26 stallions in Kentucky during the 2019 breeding season, which included four stallions who bred 165 or more mares in 2018.
“We are disappointed that the Jockey Club launched this idea without anyone approaching us and asking for our opinion,” said Toffey. “We obviously breed bigger pounds. If you were to shrink Into Mischief’s book, his would become a very expensive stud royalty, and the way it works now for a lot of small breeders.”
While the main concern with this change is protecting the gene pool, Toffey said he wanted the evidence to support that concern to be released with this proposal.
“If you limit the book to one Harlan’s Holiday son and then send the mares to another because you have two, have you really saved the genetic makeup?” asked Toffey. “We would like to see the data. I think there is no doubt that there is an economic factor here. Is it the gene pool or the competition?
“As a major player in the stallion market, it would have been nice if this had been offered to us. It was never discussed with us,” he added.
Duncan Taylor, president of Taylor Made Farm, said he supported the phased approach to be fair to farms that have already purchased new stallions, but said he could not commit 100% to the proposal without seeing the details. He added that there are always concerns about unintended consequences.
“I can see some potential benefits,” Taylor said. “You could get more people buying shares in those stallions so that they can guarantee that they have access to the horse. You will also have more unique products in the sales with the little books. I actually think the more big pounds wiped out the (Keeneland) July sale because you might have only four or five of the best by a stallion that only had 60 foals, so people had to come. Then that changed with the Giant’s Causeway. Once that you were 150, then people knew they could go to September where it would be 70 and pick one. “
Taylor Made also owns shares in a few Standardbred stallions, and Taylor noted that although this industry allows artificial insemination, pound size has been limited to 140 mares in the United States. These same restrictions, however, do not apply in other countries where frozen semen could be shipped from the United States, providing another economical avenue not available with thoroughbreds.
“Right now I’m neither for nor against,” Taylor said of the Jockey Club’s proposal. “It needs to be thought through, and I’m concerned about playing with the market. I am more for the natural market forces. “
The Jockey Club invites breeders, owners and anyone with an interest in the thoroughbred industry to provide feedback on the proposed rule. They are welcome to contact the Jockey Club online at jockeyclub.com.