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Isolationism would do great harm to the US and the racing industry worldwide.

Byline: Philip Freedman

THE repetition of the decline 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.

While Europe bucked the trend set by Keeneland's downturn in the market for yearlings, it will be harder 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.

With yearlings, commercial breeders are faced with the stark choice between realising what they can for the yearling - a valuation that the majority of horses are unlikely to attain ever again - or put them into training, with the risks and costs that implies.

Talking to prospective purchasers ahead of this week's sales at Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton, 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 Europe in 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 week might 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 the continuing domination of traditional dirt racing, and the reliance 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 treated with everything it could legally receive.

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

Whereas in Britain the inadequate return from off-course betting remains 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 that gave the world two days of racing of the highest quality at last weekend's Breeders' Cup meeting.

After two years and four days of holding the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, the participation and success of horses trained in Europe means that the fixture is coming close to meeting its lofty ambition to be the World Championship of racing.

More importantly, though, 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 they remove at least some of the risks of dirt surfaces, and the tendency for trainers to use synthetic surfaces as the last resort for unsound horses may mean that they are performing even better than the bare statistics would indicate.

They also send a message to racing's critics in the outside world that the sport is concerned about its horse population, one area in which the BHA can be truly proud of its record.

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

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

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 the Breeders' Cup establish Santa Anita as the meeting's permanent home, but at the very least they should award the fixture only to tracks with synthetic surfaces - a step that 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 that history suggests will hurt not only American racing but all on whom a healthy global industry depends.
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Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Article Type:Industry overview
Date:Nov 13, 2009
Previous Article:'The decrease in the quality at the sale compared to other years is frightening' What they are saying.
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