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DOT HEM ATH! Foalc rop numbers demonstrate why US-bred horsesn o longerh avethe sames uccessr atesi n Europe FRIDAYV IEWPOINT Guest columnist Jocelyn de Moubray looks at the figures behind America's 'decline'.

There has been much debate recently about an apparent decline in the quality of thoroughbreds bred in the United States. But has it been exaggerated? The US bloodstock industry probably has lost a little lustre since the boom years, which ran from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, but there is no obvious reason to believe that American breeders are producing vastly inferior horses today.

Yet it is not so surprising that many European bloodstock professionals are convinced that US-breds today are inferior to those of 30 and 40 years ago. In the 1980s the progeny of US-based sires were the dominant force in European racing. In 1988, 50 per cent of all the three-yearolds with a Racing Post Rating higher than 110 in Europe were by American sires. By 2001 this figure had fallen to 20 per cent and in 2011 to ten per cent. This year has been a better one for US-breds in Europe and the figure for three-year-olds was about 14 per cent at the end of last month.

It is easy to see why people have jumped from this evidence to the conclusion that - thanks to issues such as medication rules, the racing programme and errors of selection - t he quality of US-breds has declined dramatically. There is other evidence to support that view. Looking at the results of the major races in Britain or France in the 1980s, half of all the winners were US-breds.

However, let us try to look at this from a different perspective. Firstly, the distribution of the world's thoroughbred population has shifted during that same period. Throughout the 1980s the US foal crop averaged 46,000 and for three years from 1985 to 1987 it was more than 50,000. This means that during the 1980s the number of foals born in North America was more than double that of those born in the major European breeding countries.

From 1952 to 1986 the US foal crop rose every year bar one, climbing from about 9,000 to 52,000. Since then there have been two major declines and a slight recovery. From 1986 the foal crop dropped 32 per cent over ten years. There was a slight recovery of ten per cent over the next decade, and then, since 2005, the foal crop has plunged again, falling by nearly 40 per cent to a predicted 24,000 this year.

By an accident of statistics that figure is exactly the same as in 1971, more or less the beginning of the great bloodstock boom.

At the time when US-breds were dominating European racing there were overall twice as many of them as there were European-breds. By 2005 the number of European-breds had risen to 80 per cent of the US total. Although there has been a decline in Europe in recent years it has not been of the same magnitude as in the US and so this year's crop will be around 90 per cent of the US total.

It could be that US-breds are every bit as competitive as they were in the 1980s - there are just fewer of them and fewer are sent to race in Europe. Indeed, the number of US-breds exported to Europe has fallen by 40 per cent since 2001. Although exact figures are hard to come by, I predict that of the two-year-olds going into training in the major European racing countries in 2014, fewer than ten per cent will be US-breds.

THE great bloodstock boom is long enough ago for even those who were there to have forgotten quite how crazy and extreme it was. It should really be in economic text books alongside the tulip mania of Holland in the 17th century.

For seven years from 1976 the average price at the Keeneland July yearling sale rose by at least 24 per cent every year, and twice - in 1978 and 1984 - b y more than 40 per cent.

This was a purely speculative boom and had nothing whatsoever to do with any individual stallion who happened to be in Kentucky, or even in Canada, at the time. For those with horses to sell it must have seemed as if it was raining $100 bills.

For a time the major Kentucky studs had so much money they could buy any potential stallion in Europe if they felt like it. There was a stampede to join in the fun and that is why the US foal crop doubled during the boom years, while stallion fees soared to seven-figure sums.

But then, from 1988 to 2011, the US foal crop declined by 45 per cent and the number of races run in the US fell by 36 per cent. From 1991 to 2011 the number of active Kentucky-based stallions halved from 500 to 250. There was a tentative recovery at the end of the 1990s but of course recent events have seen the foal crop fall again sharply since 2008.

These statistics will not convince those who wish to argue about medication, or other US racing issues.

For a long time US-breds were seen to be inherently superior, which they weren't, and today they are seen by many to be inherently inferior, which is in all probability an equally misplaced conclusion.

Horses such as Elusive Kate, Main Sequence, Princess Highway and Reckless Abandon have shown there are still plenty of US-bred horses capable of competing with the best in Europe.


US quality: Elusive Kate
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Aug 10, 2012
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