Celebrating 100 years as thoroughbred guardians

The TBA is every bit as vital today as it was at its formation during wartime

On May 14, 1917, a meeting chaired by Lord D’Abernon agreed a proposal to establish a Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association. Today, as we celebrate 100 years of the TBA’s history, it is a time to reflect on what has happened in that time and then to look forward.

Lord D’Abernon, who was later confirmed as the TBA’s first President, and his 18-strong Council came together to ensure that the thoroughbred continued to be tested on the racecourse, even during the war years, and they persuaded the government of the day that this was so important for the breed that a limited amount of racing was allowed to take place.

By the time of the TBA’s second AGM in December 1918, the war was over, and the newly-formed association set about asking the Jockey Club, the sport’s ruling body, to recognise its existence. Perhaps not surprisingly, this took some time and even when recognition came, the TBA was given little credit for its original initiative.

However, not only has the TBA survived, it has gone from strength to strength. Its work might lack the glamour and excitement that is often associated with owning, training and riding racehorses, but nevertheless it is vital to both the breeding and racing industries.

As thoroughbred breeders, we must be very thankful for the work that many generations of TBA Council and committee members have encompassed over those 100 years. Lord D’Abernon and his original Council were setting out on a long journey. Yet I am sure they would recognise the many challenges the TBA faces today. 

In certain instances little seems to have changed, and it is interesting to note that the argument, which still rumbles on, about the number of mares a stallion should cover was already underway in 1922, when Sunstar was reputed to have serviced 75 mares instead of the usual 40 or 45.

I wonder what the leading lights of the association then would think about the advances in veterinary science and practices that the TBA and Equine Fertility Unit have brought about, so that even unproven stallions regularly cover more than 150 mares in a season and many National Hunt stallions over 200.

The TBA will stay true to its founders in ensuring that there is a race programme that tests the breed

However, history and heritage remain so important, and the patronage of royalty, latterly by Her Majesty the Queen, and many substantial breeders from around the world has been vital in securing the quality of the British thoroughbred over the last century. 

The ability to go back over so many generations of stars and make mating decisions on their racing and breeding performances is due to the constant mantra that the horse must be tested on the racecourse before deserving its place in the paddock.

The TBA will always work with the racing authorities, and stay true to its founders, in ensuring that there is a race programme that tests the breed and rewards and defines the best, across all distances and age-groups, for those who strive to produce top-class thoroughbreds. Recent work by the TBA on a suitable pattern of races for stayers and fillies illustrates the importance of race planning to breeders.

The TBA has succeeded in ensuring that breeders not only have a voice within the sport but also are active in every aspect of equine reproduction, welfare, veterinary science, international trade and the education and training of staff, all of which are vital to the industry. This has helped to encourage British breeders such as Cheveley Park while bringing in overseas investors such as Juddmonte, Darley and Shadwell, and the best veterinary expertise.

Veterinary advances and the increasing globalisation of our sport bring their own disease and welfare issues, while training and education are as important as ever for those handling thoroughbreds. These and the many other issues the TBA has to address make its role every bit as vital as it was 100 years ago. I have no doubt that the association will be equally important and relevant to thoroughbred breeding in another 100 years’ time.

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