Enhancing the appeal of stayers and fillies is vital

Owners and breeders need promise of suitable rewards for their patience

It is that time of year when the many thoroughbred sales dominate breeders’ lives, and those few precious seconds in the auction ring decide the success, or disappointment, of many years of planning.

The debate about the faster, more precocious two-year-old versus the slower-maturing stayer is topical, and one that many of us wish to address. Whatever the pros and cons, though, it is certainly wrong to blame commercial breeders, who are supplying a demand-led market, for using sprinter stallions and speedy mares to produce early-maturing two-year-olds.

With the percentage of horses heading into the market higher than ever, those market forces are bound to dictate. If we wish to see that situation change, there must be a long-term strategy to support the slower-maturing stayer.

It is now two years since the TBA produced its Stayers Report, which first highlighted the problem and illustrated the alarming decline in the number and quality of horses bred or able to populate a part of the race programme that contributes so significantly to the variety in British racing. I am delighted to say that both the BHA and the European Pattern Committee have taken the issue on board and are looking creatively at supporting and nurturing a programme for these horses.

As part of the process, the BHA recently canvassed opinions on the stayers’ programme and asked how any deficiencies should be addressed. The findings will be debated and acted upon wherever and whenever practical.

Interestingly, an overwhelming majority of respondents felt that programming further suitable opportunities for staying horses, especially high-profile ones, would influence their decision either to breed or own a horse who was likely to develop into a stayer.

There cannot be any quick solutions to a trend that has been evident for years, and initiatives are to be welcomed. What’s more, we should not be frightened if some of the ideas fail. Better to try and fail than not to try at all.

Straight-line achievement will be impossible, and progress is bound to have its ups and downs, but for the sake of racing’s future and the diversity of the thoroughbred, we must persevere with the challenge.

For the sake of racing’s future and diversity of the thoroughbred we must preserve with the challenge

The extra cost and time involved in delivering a slower-maturing horse to be competitive at the races is considerable, and breeders and buyers will have to be persuaded that suitable rewards are available at the other end, and that their patience is worthwhile.

So it is up to racecourses and those in charge of the racing programme to continue to create a variety of worthwhile opportunities, with appropriate conditions.

As events unfold, longer-distance races are exciting to watch – witness last month’s St Leger, in which Harbour Law came out best of a three-way photo-finish – a British-bred, who was unsold at 24,000gns as a yearling and changed hands for £30,000 as a two-year-old, leading home four Irish-breds!

Stayers often last longer and have a higher resale value than those that run over shorter distances, so I would urge everyone to work hard to preserve and enhance the variety that makes British racing such a fascinating spectacle.

It is always rewarding when initiatives such as the TBA’s Stayers Report are embraced by others. The same can be said of our joint review with the BHA into opportunities for racing fillies and mares, in which many misconceptions were exposed.

Our campaign #thisfillycan is aimed at showing potential purchasers just how much fillies can achieve and what opportunities there are for them.

I hope that everyone going to the sales is now aware of the possibilities offered by buying a filly, often priced more competitively than a colt, not only from the tailored race programme but also the resale value which a filly offers.

Good luck to vendors and buyers alike, and let’s hope that by the time your yearling is racing we have a replacement levy system in place.

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