Tue | Sep 27, 2022
Jimmy Says

The end is nigh

Breeding numbers continue to dwindle as thumbs continue to twiddle

Published:Wednesday | August 10, 2022 | 12:09 AM
Atomica, ridden by Dane Dawkins, runs away with the 1000 Guineas at Caymanas Park on Saturday.

A YEAR ago, the article ‘Numbers don’t lie’ ( Jimmie Says…) pointed to a troubling Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) report on the dwindling number of yearlings, resulting from a 34 per cent decline of the national foal crop in a three-year span, 2017-2020, an all-time low in 15 years.

In 2020, total registered yearlings averaged 182, down from a high of 397 in 2016. This resulted in the first two-year-old race of 2021, a 12-horse field, being run in August. It was worse this year, with nine two-year-olds debuting August 1.

The article posited that the 182 foals registered in 2020 would futuristically add an average of 18.2 starters to a routine 10-race card, making it 1.82 starters per event yielded from an entire season of breeding.

However, very few horsemen paid attention, too busy arguing over purse money, who should lead the United Racehorse Trainers Association, or simply plotting how to submit 100 claims for the only horse worth claiming on an entire racecard.

The yearlings of 2020, now racing among themselves as three-year-olds, have averaged 10 runners per race this season, keeping bang on target with the 1.82 average when they eventually graduate - including those yet to debut and others who could finally turn up as four-year-old maidens next year.

Don’t expect it to get any better, certainly not for the next two years. The trend is set to continue, evidenced by TOBA running a series of advertisements in the Track and Pools, urging its members to submit entries for a ‘Mixed Sale’, the second year running, “due to the limited number of yearlings available for sale”.

Even with the numbers staring them in the face, horsemen at Caymanas Park still don’t get it…numbers don’t lie, exposing the undeniable truth that, structurally, the industry is not conducive to who it should attract, owners with disposable income, who can inspire breeders to invest in breeding stock, instead of being Airbnbs with a handful of stallions serving visiting mares. Truth be told, some horsemen are clueless to the real state of the industry, whereas those who know better could care less. As long as promoting company Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment Limited (SVREL) accedes to purse-increase demands, it seems they are all okay in a situation of trainers choosing to own horses they can’t afford after losing owners, who have become owner/trainers because they can’t afford to pay training fees.

Everybody knows the genesis of this dilemma, including those with the power to effect change – TOBA, the Jamaica Racehorse Owners Association, successive promoting companies, and the regulatory Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC) – yet continue to play Russian roulette with a system of horse racing that belongs nowhere near a one-track jurisdiction.

“Where are we going to get new racing stock from when it costs breeders close to $600k to bring a horse for (to) sale? Who should (will) buy an unknown entity when he can claim a runner for $180k and $250k,” TOBA President Howard Hamilton asked in a Letter to the Editor, his ‘tribute’ to Christopher Armond, who oversaw the January 1993 implementation of claiming and conditions racing in Jamaica, cynically closing his piece, “May Armond rest in peace and light eternal shine. Gone but never forgotten.”

Hamilton’s lament that “the current purse structure prohibits investment in good bloodstock, so it is only a matter of time before the industry has to close down”, is correct. However, from whence should more money come when the tote faces a daily scourge of lopsided betting in small fields, placed by a closed user group (CUG) of bettors twice weekly?

SVREL has been using every tactic in the book to have the same CUG spend more at the betting windows by playing up its lottery-like exotic bets – the Reggae 6, Twilight 6, Placepot 8, Ketch 9, Pick 4 and Pick 5s – making all but the Twilight 6 single-ticket winning jackpot bets, culminating in Mandatory Payouts of every gambler’s dream – winning millions in one go.

However, SVREL’s wheeling and dealing of Mandatory Payout Days does not change the fact that numbers don’t lie. Horseracing starts in the breeding shed, funded by owners who can afford the sport, without who, as Hamilton added before closing, have forced “…the directors of Ham Stables (champion breeders for the past 20 years) to discuss our future. No doubt the decision will be taken to stop investing and wind down our operation until there are major changes to interest owners with the disposable income to support the industry”.

It is a really sad situation when an industry that boasts members of Government, the Opposition and the Senate as interested parties, can’t join forces with TOBA, the JRC and SVREL to replace claiming and conditions, which, quoting Hamilton, “…has pauperised the ownership structure of racing with the promoters (now) running paraplegics going three furlongs and four furlongs”.

How much longer will these horses hold up? Why aren’t all the interested parties, stakeholders they call themselves, putting together plans, with government input and participation, for a national stud at Bombay Stud Farm, which was advertised for sale some months ago?

Richard Lake, a former Caymanas Track Limited board member, has been in dialogue with a source in the United Kingdom about acquiring stallions. Lake is looking to syndication to fund the venture, but that’s not the answer to the long-term national issue, similar to the United States-bred juveniles SVREL recently sourced and are awaiting importation.

The international price of good horseflesh dictates that Jamaica needs a national stud modelled off Newmarket in England and Kildare in Ireland, with hardy bloodstock from that side of the world, not North American bleeders.

However, before breeders are inspired to import quality mares for service at a national stud, don’t believe for a moment that owners who will be able to afford their offspring at sale will want to sell them in a cheap claiming event in order to win a race.

People willing to spend money on horseflesh aren’t idiots. That lesson should have been learnt from the introduction of claiming and conditions in 1993 – numbers don’t lie.