Horse Racing: Breeding by the Numbers

Written by JANE ALLIN
Research Analyst, Int’l Fund for Horses

GLOBALLY in excess of 100,000 Thoroughbreds are produced each year, few of which in actual fact make it to the finish line. Current statistics from The Jockey Club (2009) identify the USA as the most prolific country in terms of foal crops holding almost 30% of the world’s foal population on a continuing annual basis; Australia, Ireland and Argentina follow with 15%, 9.5% and 7.8% respectively.

In fact, the top 10 breeding countries in the world comprise 87% of the total number of Thoroughbreds foaled each year.

Racing Breeding Chart 1

Racing Breeding Chart 2

Over the last 6 decades (i.e. 1950-2009), in North America alone, the foal crop has quadrupled to massive proportions, particularly during the 1980’s which saw the number almost double from the previous decade. The situation in NA is typical of the global picture where the quest for profit by the horse racing industry’s influential investors has led to over-production of physically weak Thoroughbreds built for speed rather than endurance. Currently only about 35% are sufficiently robust and healthy to start racing.

Breeding Thoroughbreds became a greed riddled business in the late 80’s and continued through the 90’s.

Racing Breeding Chart 3

More recently, the breeding of Thoroughbreds has abated as a result of the sagging economy and its negative impact on sales. According to The Jockey Club statistics, in North America there were 27,233 thoroughbreds produced in 2010, down 15 % from 2008 with a further estimated decline of 10% in 2011. On a global basis the same trend has been observed for several of the major contributors to the foal crop, but not all.

For example, Australian and Irish coverings are down by 11.5% and 20% respectively over the period from 2008 to 2010 while slight increases (i.e. 2% – 3%) have been estimated for France, Japan and New Zealand. Nonetheless, over-breeding remains problematic for the “unwanted horse” epidemic from both a North American and global perspective.

Depending on the country, in any given year on average only 60% to 65% of the thoroughbreds foaled are destined for a career on the track of which even fewer make actually make it to their first race. Even more sobering is that only 5% of these Thoroughbreds will go on to win a larger-pursed stakes race and a mere 0.2% will win a Grade I stakes race. The remaining “unremarkable” racehorses who equally push the limits of their endurance are consigned to lower grade races on cheap tracks without fame or glory.

These facts and figures make a profound statement of the global breeding industry. Most importantly, what happens to the 35% to 40%, or more, of those who never see the track? Secondly, given that most of these horses only race until the age of 6, the question as to their fate for the remaining 20+ years of their lives emerges. The majority of those who don’t make the grade are sold to slaughter while the prognosis for the racing contingent is equally dismal – on average, two out of every three Thoroughbreds that come off the track — even those who are sound and healthy — are euthanized, abandoned or shipped to slaughter.

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