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Gastkolumne Bill Oppenheim: International Breeding Trends

TDN-Kolumnist Bill Oppenheim. www.billoppenheim.com


Daniel Delius


Ausgabe 192 vom Donnerstag, 24.11.2011

Der in Kansas/USA gebürtige, seit einigen Jahren in Schottland lebende Bill Oppenheim zählt seit vielen Jahren zu den einflußreichsten und meistgelesensten Zucht- und Rennsportkolumnisten der Welt. Er schreibt u.a. für die amerikanischen  Thoroughbred Daily News, arbeitet aber auch als züchterischer Berater. Im Frühjahr besuchte er das Frühjahrs-Meeting in Iffezheim, am vergangenen Samstag hielt er unter dem Titel "International Breeding Trends" ein Referat beim Züchtertag im  Gestüt Röttgen. Wir veröffentlichen seine Ausführungen im Folgenden ungekürzt und im englischen Original.

  1. Where We Are Now: The Ocean Between America and Europe

 In the six-year period between, 1985 and 1991 the location of two specific stallion prospects changed the course of modern racing and breeding history forever. The first was the retirement of  Sadler’s Wells to stud at  Coolmore, in Ireland, in 1985. The  Northern Dancer sire line had been making a huge impact in European breeding all the way back to when Nijinsky II, from his second crop, swept the English Triple Crown in 1970, but until 1985 all his top sons had ended up on Kentucky. Sadler’s Wells’ retirement to Coolmore marked the beginning of a revival in the European breeding industry. Twenty years ago the top 30 sires were 80% Kentucky, 20% Europe; now it’s 50-50.

Second was the purchase of  Sunday Silence by the  Yoshida family to go to stud in Japan in 1991. Remember, the year after  Seattle Dancer set the world record for a yearling (which still stands) of $13.1-million in 1985, the thoroughbred market crashed. By 1990 the market was on its knees, both in America and in Europe, and the Yoshidas offered owner-breeder Arthur Hancock significantly more than he would be able to generate in stud fees in what was then a depressed Kentucky market. In fact, the Yoshida family’s buying over the last two or three years is reminiscent of their activity in the early 1990’s. They may not have Sunday Silence any more, but they’ve been a serious buying force at the top level again recently, Danedream and Workforce being just two prominent examples.

Veterinary improvements which resulted in the virtual doubling of book sizes by 1996, plus the proliferation of dual-hemisphere stallions put the Americans, and the Europeans, too, for that matter, back in the stallion game. But America had been weakened in relation to Europe, and the gulf between the two has continued to widen in the intervening years, not least because of America’s twin proclivities for dirt racing and raceday medication.

  1. The War Between Darley and Coolmore

If Sadler’s Wells and Sunday Silence hadn’t been superstar stallions, today’s landscape would look a lot different. If the $2.5-billion thoroughbred auction marketplace is sensitive to such discrete, individual influences such as a particular stallion happening to be a superstar, imagine the influence of the biggest thoroughbred operation in the history of the world effectively declaring a boycott of the second biggest. That’s what happened in 2006, when Sheikh Mohammed declared the Maktoum operations would henceforth be self-sufficient – meaning they were going to stop buying horses by Coolmore stallions.

Five years later, it’s debatable whether Sheikh Mohammed’s program has yet achieved its objectives – in fact, you need only look at the results achieved, and the Classics won, by Coolmore, and particularly by their top two stallions, Galileo and Montjeu. But, as Sheikh Mohammed’s chief Bloodstock advisor, John Ferguson, points out, Sheikh Mohammed wasn’t looking ahead five years – he’s looking ahead 15 years, or 25 years, only the first five of which have passed. Already they have developed top homebred stallions Street Cry and (they hope) Bernardini in America, plus they inherited Medaglia D’Oro; and they’ve developed homebred Dubawi in Europe. The difference between the world’s two biggest and most powerful operations is that one – Darley – is largely undisciplined, while their rival, Coolmore, is highly disciplined. That has left them in front so far, but the Maktoums’ sheer numbers may eventually dominate. That may depend on some extent on whether Coolmore can create another generation of stallions to follow Galileo and Montjeu.

The Maktoums have consistently continued to support their stallions in the sales ring – more so than Coolmore, which still does, but on a considerably smaller scale, due to their considerably smaller numbers. But the whole scenario creates a problem for breeders – is the horse they want to breed to a Darley stallion, a Coolmore stallion, or a ‘neutral’ stallion? – which is one reason why stallions like Juddmonte’s Oasis Dream are all that more attractive: both camps will buy them. I’m not quite sure that having to contend with choosing sides, or if possible, remaining neutral, should really be a consideration in reaching breeding decisions, but, right now, it is, at least to a certain extent.

  1. You have a mare who is already Danzig/Sadler’s Wells or Sadler’s Wells/Danzig. What next?

One of the things I like best about what we call ‘pedigree work’ – looking at, thinking about, and advising on pedigree matters, such as matings or advising at sales – is how wrong we usually are. Thank goodness John Magnier didn’t ask all us pedigree geniuses whether he should breed Sadler’s Wells mares to Danehill – we would all have definitely told him no, it’s too risky, not proven, Northern Dancer over Northern Dancer, etc. Result? One of the top crosses of the last ten years. Look at Galileo over Danehill, for example: four Classic winners this year.

But the success of this cross, either way up – Danzig over Sadler’s Wells; Sadler’s Wells over Danzig – creates another question: what next? The obvious answer is the Mr. Prospector line, or an outcross stallion, like Monsun. Ironically, though, the war between Darley and Coolmore has effectively – for the moment, anyway – removed the Mr. Prospector option for Coolmore, at least in Europe. Darley has Dubawi, and his son, Poet’s Voice, and another son, Makfi, stands in England under Qatari ownership. Coolmore is unlikely to breed to any of these, so they will be forced to devise other strategies for the many top mares the have already, which are bred on some version of this cross. Mind you, there’s no guarantee the logical strategy will work; in another five years it might turn out that breeding them to a second cross of Danzig, or a third cross of Northern Dancer, was the right move to make, and not what we would have predicted at all.

  1. Development of the International Winter Racing Season

One of the big developments affecting the marketplace has been the emergence of a winter racing season in which the money, if not yet the prestige, exceeds most of the top races in the established Northern Hemisphere season. As some of you know from my trip to Baden-Baden in May, I am on what’s known at the ‘big board’ of the Breeders’ Cup. We watched with dismay as the last two winners of the English Oaks (and this year’s Preis der Diana). Snow Fairy and Dancing Rain, clashed for at least a £1.2-million prize in Japan instead of meeting at the Breeders’ Cup. But we didn’t pretend it wasn’t happening. What was it, the first five or six finishers in this year’s Melbourne Cup were all bred in Europe? Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, now Qatar – there is a big-time international racing circuit now, and trainers like Luca Cumani, with Previs, and now Ed Dunlop, with Snow Fairy – they are targeting these rich winter prizes, often with transport paid and no entry fees. This circuit is impacting both the ‘normal’ Northern Hemisphere season, and has created new markets for horses to be sold to compete on these circuits.

  1. The Challenge for Germany

You don’t need me to tell you the reputation of German pedigrees could hardly be higher than it is at this moment. German breeding has been respected in the major European racing centers for some time now – just a few years ago Monsun was nearly Champion Sire in France one year. With the dam of this year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, and this year’s Arc winner, Danedream, both being German-bred – and both now owned by the Yoshida family in Japan, by the way – the credit rating of German pedigrees right now is A++. You should justifiably be very proud; as Team Valor, the Yoshidas, and many others have proved – the market for German-breds has never been stronger. Yet you German breeders have a problem – a big problem: not enough product.

There were barely 1,000 foals born in Germany this year, and the prediction is it will be somewhere over 800 foals born in 2012. There are more foals than that born in New Mexico and Oklahoma, not to mention states like Texas and Louisiana, which among them wouldn’t produce five foals a year whose names you need to know. It’s appalling, really: of all the places in the world that should be breeding less horses, here’s one place that should be breeding more. There is a market for more foals yet, almost perversely, the German foal crop is shrinking rather than expanding. The market won’t wait, either; it may like German-breds, but if it can’t find enough good ones to satisfy the market, it will quickly move on to other sources – Australia, South America, even, perhaps, Japan. The window of opportunity does not remain open indefinitely.

Of course, part of the problem is not that the quality of German-breds needs to improve, as is the case with so many of the American programs, but that it requires numbers to actually produce quality. No doubt Germany can and does beat the odds, but let me just give you an example – not even from the race track, where success is measured by wins and is harder to achieve; but from the sales ring, where success is measured by profit. You may already know that – even if you ship to France or Italy to race – the proportion of racehorses which actually make money is only about 8%, or 1 in 12. You’d think the odds would be a lot better for the suppliers – breeders and consignors. Yet the percentage of yearlings sold which actually show a profit varies between 1 in 7 – 14% - when times are tough, like they are now – to 2 in 9 – 22% - in the boom years. That’s of foals produced, not of mares bred. Right now you probably need to have 10 mares to have a fighting chance of producing 1 money-making horse, and the truth is it probably takes 40 mares to produce 1 horse of international standard. If the entire foal crop of a country is 800 foals, it’s maybe 25 horses of international standard. How confident can you be than 1 of those 25 will be yours?

The problem in Germany, it seems to me, is very simple to explain, but very complicated to fix: you have virtually no domestic market. Moreover, without a domestic market you can’t produce enough foals, either, to supply lower-level foreign markets, for example Scandinavia, Russia, Poland, and other emerging markets to absorb the lesser stock.

Why is there no domestic market? This is also pretty simple: because the prize-money in Germany is now so bad, you can’t really afford to race horses in this country. It’s all very well for a few of you to be sportsmen and sportswomen, but a domestic breeding industry cannot grow without meaningful prize money for owners.

Without a healthy domestic racing industry, there cannot be sufficient demand for German-breds to expand the mare production and therefore the foal crop. The rule of thumb is that 50% of any racing population – except in countries that don’t breed, of course – should be bred in that country. Look at France, for example – especially because if a domestic market can’t be developed in Germany, for thoroughbred breeding purposes, Germany will essentially become a province of France: yes, they have a great French program, but it also means they’re able to run big fields of French-breds for decent money. In America, where as you know there are many state-bred programs, sponsored by state legislatures, the percentage may be lower than 50%, but it’s still significant, and goes to prove the principle: in general, a successful racing economy is being fed by a successful breeding economy.

Germany right now is proving the opposite is true: an unsuccessful racing economy seriously compromises the breeding economy. When you have to ship to France to win decent prize money, by definition it means the arithmetic of breeding horse in Germany not add up.

There are three issues which need to be addressed – and soon – if German breeding is to recover and still manage to benefit from its window of opportunity:

  1. There is not enough betting, and, of what betting there is, not enough is going back into purse money;
  2. There are too many racetracks which end up competing with each other because of outdated ideas about how racetracks should be run; and:
  3. Unity is mandatory, period. It has to happen. The Breeders’ Cup in America has proven that everybody can check their egos at the door long enough to develop programs which have consensus. That has to happen in Germany, now: consensus.

Dr. Andreas Jacobs of Gestüt Fährhof and Baden-Baden racecourse estimates that turnover on the German Tote has declined by 80 percent since it peaked in 1996. Like everywhere, horse racing’s market share has shrunk as the opportunity to bet on other sports, especially on the Internet, has increased. However, the amount that is bet on horse racing, either via the Internet or via retail bookmakers based outside the EU, is also significant. It’s pretty simple economics that if you give away something for nothing eventually you will go out of business. It is incumbent on Totes everywhere, including in Germany, to find ways to partner with other betting providers (co-mingling of Tote pools is one way, to build bigger pools) to actually create a bigger pie for everybody to split, rather than haggle over the same old pie. This is all very difficult, but let me state one principle which, to me, should drive this and a lot of other discussions: we need to get over the idea that we are competing among ourselves. We are competing with every other sport and form of entertainment out there, and we need to compete far more effectively through cooperation with each other, not competition. That is a message to offshore betting providers, among others, but can only be achieved by growing significantly bigger pools.

Though it is not something I’ve experienced myself, having only been to Baden-Baden; as the structure of the racetracks in Germany has been explained to me, this ia a totally archaic and unsustainable situation which needs to be fixed immediately. Germany doesn’t need, and can’t afford, 18 racetracks, owned by a central authority and then leased separately to racing clubs. You could maybe do that in the 19th century, but we live in a different world now. Gerhard Schoening at Hoppegarten, and maybe five or six other racetracks like Baden-Baden need to stage the racing; with 18 you’re incurring unsustainable costs by reinventing the wheel every time you stage the races. The surviving racetracks need to be modernized and streamlined, perhaps, and to work in partnership with good betting providers. The system of social clubs running racetracks has to go.

Finally, every element of the German thoroughbred industry – all of you – need to realize that German racing and breeding is at a crisis point. One thing I am absolutely certain of from 30 years working in and watching this business: we can all have our own opinion when we walk into the room, but when we walk out, we must all have the same opinion. This industry – everywhere, but especially in Germany – does not have the luxury of endless discussion any more; it will disappear while be argue amongst ourselves. The industry must unify, must speak with one voice, and offer one program, which the rest of the outside world can comment on and respond to. You have a great product in this country, and the world knows it. But that does you no good if you have no products to offer the world, and that is perilously close to being the case today. Because the lead time between buying a mare in foal and when you have a yearling to sell is three years, advance planning is highly recommended. The Breeders’ Cup started in America because the breeders made it happen; in Germany, today, it must fall to the breeders as well: you are the ones who have to fix the racing product; you have to make it happen, and create the demand which will revive German breeding.

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