NO comment. That is what it said … or rather did not say, because nobody said anything….beneath the Sporting Post’s article of 6th September setting out the USA proposals to limit the number of mares covered by individual stallions, thus protecting the gene pool shrinkage.

The American Jockey Club is the keeper of the US Stud Book which brings with it the responsibility to safeguard the welfare of the breed. This is why all National Stud Book keepers are generally loaded with analytical expertise with regard to the gene pool.

In USA, UK and Ireland, the authorities publish detailed breakdowns of breeding and sales related data to add to the encyclopaedias produced by Weatherbys and pedigree companies. Commercial “annuals” do the same thing plus journalistic commentary.

The data for the USA has demonstrated that over a period of a dozen years, the foal crop has dropped from around 38,000 to around 20,000.

Divide those numbers by ten and fiddle around with the years, and we’d not be a million miles from our South Africa figures.

In 2007 in USA – a year before Lehmann Brothers – around 1% of stallions covered in excess of 140 mares. There were then some 3,850 stallions which presents a picture totally different to that in Ireland or South Africa. Even though Ireland has a host of National Hunt stallions swelling the numbers, most stallions are largely stood by a handful of stallion stations and the ones that are “independent” are in geographically similar locations.

In South Africa, thoroughbred stallions are concentrated in the Western Cape, there being a gene -drain from KZN which may or may not reverse, and very few indeed elsewhere.

The figures for Kentucky only would be more apt – and show much higher percentages of high coverers because that is “where it’s at”. The published USA figures include lesser regions such as Florida and New York, and many smaller volume states.

In 2010 or thereabouts, the number of American sires covering 140+ dropped. No money. Now it has risen again while the stallion numbers have halved countrywide.

Dr Ashley Parker demonstrated to me in Joburg the other day the comparison between Page 160 of Sires 2019 published by Raceform and an edition some years ago, starkly showing the difference in stallion numbers in South Africa.

In South Africa, the syndrome, sadly, is for plenty of very worthy stallions to get very few mares. Wealthy racing and breeding operations, as elsewhere, also stand stallions which are strongly supported by their own mares of which they can be “Full” together with other shareholders and some outside services.

Thirty years ago when syndication was more or less dying out in Europe, only 5 or 10 services were sold to pay the bills.

Sales companies come under pressure to take the progeny of this or that stallion, and create their own funnel of diversity by themselves determining what is “commercial”, usually based on recent history which thus becomes self-perpetuating.

That is not unique to South Africa. Some such tendencies in Europe have been berated in the industry press for acting against diversity and choice. It is unusually marked in South Africa because of the smaller pool of stallions, and the smaller number amongst them considered to be “commercial”.

Why do this or that trainer’s owners “not want” anything except a horse by a handful of sires? Where’s the logic that whichever one by “I’M A SUPERSTAR” who stands at The Cape Grace will be better than the super individual on a cracking mating that the trainer adores, or an agent adores, or a knowledgeable owner adores, by “I’M QUITE AN ORDINARY FELLOW” standing at the Protea but “I HAVE GREAT STATS AND WHEN THEY LOOK GOOD THEY ARE VERY GOOD”?

There is no such logic, only statistics which are always bolstered by having large numbers of runners and are therefore self-perpetuating. Some buyers buck the trend, bless ‘em, but don’t have to pay much.

The USA bloodstock industry is riven with problems and is deep in self-analysis. Aside from Coolmore and Darley which are truly global, major non-Americans have largely bailed out. Gone is the constant flow of mares transatlantic to be covered. Gone is the atmosphere at the wonderful Keeneland complex in Lexington, all mixed in with American cousins showing us the way years ago with consignment techniques and stickers on a mare’s backside telling us what she’s carrying.

We would like to see the USA sorted out and back to its old trading self, standing stallions that the world would want. Let’s hope that this week’s largest yearling sale in the world gets the two huge aircraft parked across the road at Bluegrass Airport that signal the presence of the two main Maktoum princes.

Will the USA Jockey Club’s proposed limitations spread to other countries? Good Luck in Ireland where DARK ANGEL and KODIAC and some of their new sons cover either side of a couple of hundred. There, Coolmore, even with some massive books, has much influence in one very special way.

Sure, they have a tremendous success with NO NAY NEVER already selling yearlings this year for multiple hundred thousand pounds or euro each in early sales and siring fast Group 1 winners, but their respect for and concentration on the Classics is more than admirable – hence the success of SADLER’S WELLS and GALILEO, not wanted in Australia, but revered from their Day 1 at stud in Ireland.

So in South Africa, will the gene pool wither on the vine as the number of stallions actually used shrinks (or stays shrunk)? Or would a USA-style restriction make sense (setting aside who/what would implement it)? Or would limiting “I’M A SUPERSTAR” and others to 90 mares simply lead to yet fewer foals?

-From Turf Talk Newsletter.