Just as numerous individuals around the world rejoice in the fact that the one day of the year devoted to love and romance has passed, on the 15th of February the thoroughbred breeding season begins and various equine engagements that have been planned for months begin to take place.
Uncertainty of thoroughbred matings
This is the time that thoroughbred breeders can dream that the mating they have arranged will result in the next champion, but for that to happen you need the perfect combination between stallion and mare along with a good share of luck.
The biggest drawback to this plan is often seen to be time, as it will take at least three years from the moment of conception to the resulting horse making its first appearance on a racetrack and then being able to demonstrate what a fantastic, or otherwise, breeding decision it was.
For a select few the plan will work and those horses that possess an above-average level of ability and are able to win the best races will then be tasked with continuing the development of the breed.
This time last year horses such as Harzand – winner of the Derby – The Gurkha, and New Bay were all being prepared by their trainers to compete in various Group One races around the world with the hope being that they could add to their already impressive racing résumés. They all succeeded, winning several races and demonstrating how they are exceptional examples of the modern-day thoroughbred.
Shifting from racing to breeding prowess
This year, however, they and 58 other top-class racehorses from all across Europe are preparing for an entirely new kind of challenge, as on the 15th of February these top-class racehorses will be tasked with passing on their best attributes to their offspring.
The process of attempting to pass on certain abilities is made all the more fascinating by the fact that on-course dominance doesn’t always translate into similar success in the breeding shed.
Galileo is widely considered to be the greatest sire of modern times and, although he was a fantastic racehorse who won the Derby and several other big races, he was actually defeated in the Irish Champion Stakes in 2001 by a horse called Fantastic Light. Fantastic Light was a top-class racehorse in his own right but he struggled to impart his numerous qualities to his offspring when retired to the breeding shed, producing the occasional good runner but nowhere near the string of champions that his racecourse rival Galileo has fathered.
Challenges of being a stud
You could be excused for thinking that, as racehorses earn their place at stud through their ability on the racecourse, they would be in for an easy time once they relocate to the breeding shed. It isn’t all plain sailing, though, as whilst being a racehorse is a demanding existence of frequent high-intensity exercise, being a stallion must also be considered to be a challenging career.
The best stallions will have up to 200 mares to ‘cover’ between mid-February and early May and, as artificial insemination is banned for thoroughbreds, there is little chance for the stallion to rest during the season. Stallions can complete up to three coverings a day and when some of them are able to charge upwards of £100,000 for the pleasure you can appreciate how this is a serious financial operation.
The mortality rate of stallions is approximately 2%, on top of which some 5 out of every 100 new stallions will be deemed to be sub-fertile or infertile. This is usually defined as failing to get 60% percent of mares pregnant. The market can provide insurance for the stallions on a bespoke basis, taking some of the financial burden away from you.
So, if you have spent millions of pounds on a new untested stallion, you need to protect your investment, both in his first season at stud, and then for the next 5 years whilst you watch his offspring replicate his ability.
Guest blogger David Lawrence joined Willis Towers Watson’s bloodstock specialists, Hughes-Gibb, after three years working for the Niarchos family as part of their internationally renowned racing and breeding operation. In 2013 David completed the British Horseracing Authority’s Graduate Development Programme following his graduation from the University of Nottingham.