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Stallion masters unsure about Hancock theory

"TIME has moved on" was the response by European stallion masters yesterday to Arthur B. Hancock's assertion that "over-breeding a stallion compromises the quality of the offspring."

Hancock recently placed an advert stating that, according to his father, the legendary Bull Hancock of Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, a stallion should make 100covers a year. Hancock senior believed that anything above that level would lead to "diminished semen vitality."

However, that has yet to be scientifically proven, according to John O'Connor, a vet and managing director of Ballylinch Stud in Ireland.

"I'm not aware of any scientific evidence to support that over-breeding reduces the quality of stock although maybe now someone will think of doing a study on it," he said. "You have to respectthe view of horsemen of the calibre of the Hancocks but time does move on and veterinary practices change and advance.

"We also mustn't forget that some of the busiest stallions of recent times have also been the most successful."

Although the size of stallion books have almost doubled in some cases during the past 15 years, many studs nowadays place a cap on the number of mares a stallion covers to avoid his progeny flooding the market.

Whitsbury Manor Stud's Compton Place, Avonbridge, Refuse To Bend and Sakhee's Secret are all limited to 100 mares.

"A first season sire needs 125 foals on the ground to make him competitive," said Charlie Oakshott, stud manager of Whitsbury Manor Stud, "but each of our stallions will cover around 100, which allows us to set a strict value on the nomination.

"The problem with larger books is that there are only so many top-class mares. If a stallion covers a large book, the other mares going to him will be of a lesser grade and therefore the overall crop are going to be of a lesser quality. I don't like big books and in an ideal world, I would like to see restrictions of about 100-120."

Ballylinch Stud also sets a limit on their stallions' books, although O'Connor recognises that the balance between flooding the market and making the stallion competitive is extremely hard to get right.

"Our mostpopular horses would cover a limited book although I doubt those restrictions would fit in with Hancock's theory," he said. "It makes good commercial sense to restrict them and I'm sure it increases the longevity of the stallion. Over the years, we have been involved with two stallions who have covered well into their twenties; Soviet Star is still covering at 26 and Bob Back is now 29.

"It's a difficult one to get right as you have to give the horse enough foals to be competitive."

Hancock has called for an industry debate on the matter but both O'Connor and Oakshott are in agreement that the current relevance of one would be limited.

"We need accurate factual data before the industry can debate the merit of large books," said O'Connor. "We need studies and information that we can rely on before we can discuss it effectively."





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