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Zenyatta wins the Classic Santa Anita 7.11.09

Zenyatta wins the Breeders' Cup Classic, the pinnacle of the meeting

  PICTURE: EDWARD WHITAKER  

US isolationism could harm breeding industry

THE repetition of the falls experienced at the Keeneland September yearling sale at both the Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton November breeding stock sales inevitably raises questions about the likelihood of equally dramatic falls at this year's breeding stock sales in Europe.

Whereas Europe bucked the trend set by Keeneland's substantial downturn in the market for yearlings it will be harder for it to do so in the market for broodmares, not least because year on year comparisons of breeding stock sales are much more influenced by what breeders are prepared to supply than is the case with yearlings – where commercial breeders are faced with the stark choice between realising what they can for it as a yearling- a valuation which the majority of horses are unlikely ever again to attain – or put them into training with the risks and costs that implies.

Talking to prospective purchasers ahead of this week's sale the perception was that the catalogues reflected breeders concern over the state of the market, a concern which was also felt to have impacted on the quality of what will be on offer in Europein the coming weeks.

But, while in both North America and Europe the state of the market may be determining the quality, or lack of it, on offer, fundamental differences are emerging as to the respective health of the two bloodstock industries. Whereas in the past it may have been true to talk of a global market place there are indications that this is now breaking down.

Although a substantial number of the top lots purchased at Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton this weekmight have been for export, there is a growing perception that the American breed is becoming somewhat isolated from the rest of the world, not least because of its continuing domination by traditional dirt racing, and the reliance which that creates on medications banned in other racing jurisdictions.

The client of a leading bloodstock agent who decided against even attending this week's sale because "he did not know what (drugs) they would have been racing on" was perhaps being overly optimistic – as most would assume that a horse would be being treated with everything that it can legally receive.

For those who think that British racing is overly pessimistic the Thoroughbred Daily News "Prescription For Racing" published this summer is required reading, suggesting as it does that the problems facing racing in America are even greater than those in Britain.

Whereas here the inadequate return from off-course bettingremains the principal issue, in the US problems exist across a whole range of issues including betting, medication, surfaces and above all the welfare of horses, where a number of high-profile fatalities have brought the industry much unwelcome publicity in the non-racing media.

Yet it is American racing which also gave the world two days of the very highest quality at last weekend's Breeders' Cup meeting; after two years and four days of holding the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita the success, and participation, of horses trained in Europe not only mean that the meeting is coming close to its ambition to be the world championship of racing, but, more importantly, the absence of the horse ambulance from centre stage has ensured that the publicity, highlighted by Zenyatta's win in the Classic, has been uniformly positive.

While synthetic surfaces may not be a cure for all the problems of American racing, statistics on injuries suggest thatthey remove at least some of the risks of dirt, while the tendency for trainers to use these surfaces as the last resort for unsound horses may mean that they are performing even better than the bare statistics would indicate.

More importantly they send a message to racing's critics in the outside world that racing is concerned about its horse population- one area where the British Horseracing Authority has a record of which it can be truly proud.

The return of theBreeders' Cup to Churchill Downs and a true dirt surface in 2010 may appeal to traditionalists in American racing, and in particular trainers and breeders who do not welcome the increased competition which the synthetic surfaces have brought to the sport.

But, at a time when its racing industry needs to win new friends, and in the face of a slump in domestic demand, its breeding industry is in need of increasing international demand for its product, many regard it as a retrograde step.

The Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita was an unqualified success and a testament to all that is good in American racing. It may be too much to ask that the Board of Breeders' Cup establish Santa Anita as its permanent home, but at the very least they should only award the fixture to tracks with synthetic surfaces- a step which would show American racing to be both internationalist in outlook and aware of the need to restore its image with the wider public.

The alternative is isolationism – with its racing and breeding industries not only looking to protect themselves against foreign competition but also leaving the sport isolated from the public to whom it must appeal – a position which history suggests will hurt not only American racing but all on whom a healthy global industry depends.

 

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