A call for central support for British NH breeding

Investment in domestic production required in addition to TBA initiatives

With the jumping season in full swing, it’s appropriate to point out that one of the major practical challenges facing the TBA is to identify and support measures that will aid the preservation and survival of National Hunt breeding in this country.

There’s no denying the facts: it’s hard going for jump-race breeders in Britain, and our domestic challenges are in part made more difficult by the dominance of Ireland and France. Yet Britain is generally recognised as the major marketplace for French and Irish bloodstock.

However, there are some bright spots in the overall picture, thanks to the hard work of the TBA in promoting a series of initiatives, particularly for mares.

Improvements to the jump-racing programme, the TBA’s Mare Owners’ Prizes Scheme (MOPS) and the Elite Mares Scheme have ensured progress in this vital area, while there have been recent increases in stallion book sizes, with several exciting young sires emerging, as well as the stalwart champion Kayf Tara still managing to attract high quality, British-based NH mares.

Faced with the commercial realities of the modern sport, time is rarely on the side of the jumping breeder, but green shoots are coming through and we must take measures to ensure their continued growth.

With just 13% of British foals – a total of 596 in 2015 – bred specifically for jump racing, there needs to be a significant incentive to boost domestic production. Clearly this is best done by creating a demand, which realistically is only likely if fueled by increased prize-money.

The arrival of a filly foal used to be economically unviable for the National Hunt breeder, and this is still the case to some extent. Several factors are at play, including a lack of appetite for the traditional store horse in favour of a proven performer, preferably one with French ‘black type’ or point-to-point form in Ireland; that discrimination in the marketplace has created a difficult climate for UK breeders.

The renewed buying strength of Irish owners and trainers, as witnessed by the success of Irish-trained horses at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, and the attractions of generous prize-money and owners’ premiums in France have meant that recruiting good horses from overseas has become more competitive and consequently more expensive for British owners.

A renaissance in British breeding is, therefore, in everyone’s interests, in order to give owners more choice and put value back into the sport

In the absence of a viable domestic product in the future, this situation will only deteriorate and the basic core of jump racing, which is inevitably more home based, will suffer long-term damage.

A renaissance in British breeding is, therefore, in everyone’s interests, in order to give owners more choice and put value back into the sport, to bolster jump racing at the grass roots, where our domestic horses learn their trade at smaller racecourses, and to safeguard the future of the sport.

The TBA maintains that investment in domestic production is vital and calls upon the Horsemen’s Group, the BHA and racecourses to continue to advance and recognise the benefits of raising the profile and attraction of racing jump-bred mares, but more particularly British-bred mares, which, after all, account for 50% of production. We believe the case for central support is strong.

Looking outside jump racing, the EBF Breeders’ Series has been a great success, and I am encouraged to hear that many trainers have noted these opportunities and have indicated they are on their radar for next year.

We have kept veterinary matters in general and the issue of EHV in particular under constant review and, along with the European Federation of Thoroughbred Breeders’ Assocations, have a better understanding of what is possible in this field.

Genomics and the study of genomes remains a topic of continuing interest, and Peter Webbon’s report, which the TBA commissioned, should be ready to inform all of us in the New Year, demonstrating that while there is much work to do, the TBA board will continue to examine ways to support and enhance the lot of British breeders.

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