Bloodlines presented by VTA Stallion Season Auction: AI Battle Not Over Yet

by | 02.18.2014 | 8:08am

Wealthy Australian Bruce McHugh is once again pushing for the legalization of artificial insemination in breeding Thoroughbreds.

In 2011, McHugh filed suit against the Australian Jockey Club, Australian Racing Board, and Australian Stud Book on the grounds that the live-cover regulation which prevails round the world with Thoroughbreds was an illegal restraint of trade.

Slightly more than a year ago, a Federal Court judge in Australia issued a 375-page ruling against McHugh, upheld the status quo in breeding regulations, and handed McHugh the bill for the trial, which was estimated at Aus$2 million.

Now, McHugh has been granted an appeal of the Federal Court verdict. A panel of three judges from the Federal Court of Appeal in Australia will evaluate the case over three days, as opposed to the months required for the original trial, and presumably the Court of Appeal will produce a verdict in shorter order than the Federal Court, which took a year.

Do not expect this issue to go away, however. Both sides in this struggle for the future of Australian Thoroughbred breeding are dug in so deeply that this is effectively a battle to the death.

Whether this decision goes for or against the live-cover provision, there is expected to be an appeal to the Australian Supreme Court.

And so the game goes on.

But does this legal tangle in Australia mean anything to breeders in America or the rest of the world?

For better or worse, it does.

One line of thought is that if even a single country breaks ranks in the world-wide prohibition against breeding Thoroughbreds using AI, then several more will follow in quick order.

A support to that line of thought is that, according to information from persons close to the rule-making body that governs racing precedent, only two countries are strongly against AI. Several are lukewarm, and quite a number see it as an advantage if AI became legal for Thoroughbreds.

Several things are certain if Australian courts rule for McHugh and legalize AI. It will create a nightmare of regulations for Thoroughbreds in Australia and in other jurisdictions, whether they accept AI as the law or not. Then, it will be a serious monkey wrench in the export of racing stock from Australia.

And that is not even considering the economic turmoil that AI would cause among the sectors of the Thoroughbred industry.

Part of the economic turmoil would be in stallion seasons, their pricing and availability. Although some farms will hold the line and not offer AI service from their stallions, other farms will ride the wave as far as it will take them.

So the potential volume of foals from some stallions would almost certainly reach record levels, with as many mares being impregnated as there are owners willing to pay the fee for a stallion who has a bottomless book.

These bottomless books would have a lethal effect on variety and competition in the stallion market. We have already seen what happens when a $50,000 stallion has 175 or mares in a single hemisphere. With the seemingly simple process of booking those mares, the stallion has put another horse out of business. If we consider that a 175 mare book is four times the book of a stallion 25 or 30 years ago, he has put the equivalent of three 1985 stallions out of business.

And we see the effect of “out of business” stallions everywhere. From the fees and pricing of second-tier stallions in Kentucky to the downward pressure on the pricing and use of regional stallions across the country, horses who are slightly less than the very best in pedigree and race record are not just slightly less in demand. They scarcely have a home.

These are the effects of the nearly bottomless books that currently prevail in Thoroughbred breeding. Will it get any better with AI? Certainly, I cannot imagine it.

Should breeders and stallion owners be considering their options if AI becomes available here or elsewhere? I would highly recommend it. Organizations and breeders have authority over their own actions and livestock, and there are means to make Thoroughbred breeding secure in its future, whether AI becomes accepted practice or not.

The key is to plan for the future and even to seize the initiative with AI and other technologies so that American breeding is proactive, rather than reactive, in determining its future course.

Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is a private consultant to breeders on pedigrees, matings, and conformation. He is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.

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