Badger discusses Breeding

13th August, 2009

The most exciting part of the European season so far was the moment in the Epsom straight that Mick Kinane was having his arms pulled out while every other jockey was hard at work. Barring a re-run of the El Gran Senor scenario, it was obvious to the world that SEA THE STARS was going to win The Derby. Although I had neither backed nor tipped this colt to win, the sight of this magnificent thoroughbred stretching out to the line filled me with awe, pride and wonder.

For the relevance to this subject is that the Tsui family bred their Derby winner. They mated his dam URBAN SEA for both 'the market' and 'the racetrack' and sold three daughters at public auction, each for millions. All previous colts (including Galileo) were sold privately... and the unpublished prices are likely to have been substantial. But the most inspired decision was to retain and race SEA THE STARS!

However, very few of us will be able to start our breeding operation with an Arc winner, so I will not dwell on the elite. You will want my thoughts on more relevant and mundane matters. What I want to say today relates equally to " Breeding for the Market" as "Breeding for the Racetrack"...For it is a sad fact of life in this current financial climate that a slightly brave reserve 'in the market' or one orchestrated bid in the ring too many... and you are "Breeding for the Racetrack" anyway! So if you are consigned by bravery to be paying the training fees for your yearling, be sure that it is one that you believe in!

Probably the alternative title for this essay would be " Advice to Breeders for surviving in The Breeding Industry."And perhaps the best place to start would be to examine why so many breeders fall by the wayside. Every year we sadly witness dozens of people exiting the breeding industry. Most are disillusioned with their lack of success and nearly every one of them financially poorer for the experience. Yet many of these people are highly accomplished businessmen and women, so how come they cannot make a success of their breeding venture? So can we benefit from a study of their mistakes?

I have listed the likely scenarios that led to the loss of breeders, who may have:
Had Unrealistic expectations.
Had known that It was a business, but they ran it like a hobby.
Had No clearly defined objectives....no planning, no strategies.
Their Decisions were made with little or zero research.
Their Decisions were made based on whims, anecdotal information, experiments, etc.
Their Decisions were made based on sub-standard advice, opinions and information.
They did not fully appreciate the things that can go wrong....and did not know how to put themselves in a position to avoid those pitfalls.
They were Over confident in their ability.... This has always led to people taking larger than necessary risks.
They had Early success or luck, which can be the worst ally. The "easy come, easy go" or over confidence syndrome kicks in, and it’s all downhill from there.
Their Financial planning or budgeting was either non-existent or extraordinarily inaccurate.
They were Impatient. The tortoise usually beats the hare in our game.
They lacked Passion and resilience. You will require lots of both, perhaps more of the latter to get you through a run of bad luck.
They had A limited or no real understanding of stockmanship.
They had Too high an opinion of their stock. Many will start with inferior stock and expect to produce superior stock.
They had An unwillingness to cull. Unlike other livestock producers, thoroughbred breeders are usually less willing to cull inferior breeding stock early in the process.

My main message is simple; CONCENTRATE ON BEING STOCKMEN AND NOT SPECULATORS. Never forget that we are primarily breeding horses to win races...not a commodity to be traded. We should all remember the phrase of "Necessity is the mother of invention". In the current financial climate, our 'necessity' is to survive. And this is no different from the great stockmen of previous centuries who developed specific breeds of cattle, sheep, pigs and plants to help them have an edge on their peers. A better product enabled them to survive and prosper.
So what makes great stockmen?
They all know their particular subject intimately.
They know what they want to achieve.
They pay great attention to detail.
They will spend enormous time in research and keeping records.

I suggest that these are habits that all breeders of Thoroughbreds should aspire to achieve. And my personal recipe for survival is summed up in one phrase that will be a recurring theme of this address. PLAY THE PERCENTAGE GAME
This message relates to each of the subjects that I will address today:
1. Selection of breeding stock
2. Selection of stallions
3. Culling

I appreciate that there are very many ways of arriving at the starting point of the first steps into the Breeding Industry. You may have raced a filly and developed a fondness for her that you may want to perpetuate. You may have inherited a mare… maybe even as a bad debt! Or most likely, you just fancy the idea of getting involved in the Breeding Industry. WHICHEVER WAY, the very first step into this business MUST be with the right article …for you are about to get involved in a relationship that could last decades! If the raced filly or inherited mare does not tick every box, then you are much better moving it on at the very next appropriate sale.
So which boxes need to be ticked?
Race record
All of the above carry a different weighting in my mind… Pedigree and Conformation being the most important.

If you are 'Breeding for the Market', then this is THE starting point! If your filly / mare does not have the required depth of pedigree, then you will be limiting yourself on where you can sell the progeny. If money allows, the aim must be to have a pedigree that will get any of her yearlings into the Premier sales of Magic Millions or Inglis.
Broodmare Sire
The older I get, the more obvious it becomes that the majority of successful broodmares are sired by good broodmare sires. At this juncture, I believe that it is important to note that a good broodmare sire has not necessarily been a successful stallion. He is normally very well bred and probably had been given a very good chance at stud with well bred mares. The likes of WOODMAN would never have been considered as a successful stallion but is proving a very good broodmare sire. ANABAA could be a similar story. Obviously the likes of Sadlers Wells, Nureyev and Mr Prospector have proved remarkably successful as both …and Danehill may yet reach this category.
In an ideal world, it is desirable to see good broodmare sires in each generation on the page.
Female Line
I am a great believer in winner producing families, where every generation throws stakes winning horses. In 'Breeding for the Market' it is particularly important to avoid buying into a pedigree with a 'Gap' …a generation that will never fill in with black-type, even with time. The pedigree page will also give a big insight into the fertility of a family … I find it encouraging to see every generation having bred a large number of winners for I believe this to be a highly heritable trait.
In the case of Broodmare sires and Female lines, I cannot stress enough how research can give you a few percentage points advantage. If you cannot work a computer, then hire someone like a Pedigree Consultant or Bloodstock Agent to do the work for you. It will be money well spent for as they say in the Army, "time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted!" More often than not, this research will provide reasons NOT to buy …and this can be just as valuable a contribution in the long run.

If you have the good fortune to be starting a breeding operation from scratch, then I would suggest that "Conformation" is probably as important an issue as any. Having a beautiful filly/mare of medium size with very good conformation makes all future mating decisions so much easier. So given that there are very few 'perfect' specimens likely to go through the ring in each year, what would be high on my priority list?
Not too big and not too small.
Good front legs, especially through the knees and trying to avoid long pasterns.
Good feet.
Quality, especially of her head
Roominess…she has to have plenty of room to carry a foal and to let it develop inside her.
A reasonably athletic walk.
So do you recognise the above description? Well, it is pretty much what we all look for in a yearling! Doesn’t it make sense to PLAY THE PERCENTAGE GAME and buy a mare with all/most of the qualities that people look for in yearlings?

Obviously there are several reasons to buy older mares, but I always prefer to look at individuals that are carrying their first or second foal… or fillies off the track. I am influenced by one of the greatest breeders of recent times in EP Taylor of Windfields Stud (breeder of Northern Dancer, Nijinsky, The Minstrel, Nearctic… etc…) . He tried to keep the average age of his broodmare band at 8 years old. When I applied this test to arguably the best run British operation in Cheveley Park Stud, it was interesting to see the results! Perhaps we should consider why two such breeders should have adopted this policy and why we should be taking notice in these recessionary times. Two immediate answers spring to mind:
1.The Fertility of your broodmare band is essential. Late foals have less value in the market place…( EP TAYLOR decided to race NORTHERN DANCER who was born on May 27th and failed to sell at auction!) . A BARREN year really compromises the return on your capital invested in mares. Put simply, young mares are more fertile!
2.Statistics suggest that good broodmares will throw a decent runner in their first three foals. Certainly a study of the Stud Books of The Aga Khan and Juddmonte makes this is a very compelling argument.

I am inclined to favour either winners or fillies that never ran at all. One of the reasons is purely commercial… this is the way that yearling buyers and trainers think! And it is not a mindset without its merits. We can forgive a filly that had a training accident that could never race to show her full potential. But if she raced and was unable to win (or even be placed) then she was obviously devoid of ability. PLAY THE PERCENTAGE GAME. By the way, I am not of the school that decries buying high-class race mares because they do not have a good record at stud. This is normally promoted by purchasers without the depth of pocket to buy such mares! My experience is that such great race fillies can have a profound influence on a broodmare band…but it may take a few years and / or generations to prove this! If this were not the case, then why would the Aga be so unlikely to sell Darjina and Zarkava!

My observations on the selection of a stallion have application both to future mating plans AND the purchasing of in-foal mares at auction or privately. Either situation requires an informed guess as to what the resulting progeny MAY look like. Although I respect their proponents, I am not obsessed with such breeding theories as dosage systems, nicks, astrological charts and phases of the moon! In fact I am totally indebted to one man for a mantra that deserves serious consideration by you all. Prince Khalid Abdullah must be considered amongst the very great breeders in the world. His only theory and instruction to his advisers is: "AVOID A BAD MATING"

So what is a bad mating? I can suggest many such examples and they would all involve the word "duplication." Words such as temperament, unsoundness, size (big or small), excessive or limited stamina, plain and ugly… there are probably many more and you will understand where I am coming from! Conversely, several of you out there will now be thinking that many of the most successful matings also involve exactly the same word "duplication" but this time in all of the good aspects of quality, soundness, speed etc..

SO a breeder MUST be acutely aware of both the good and bad points of each of his mares (or prospective purchase). A firm view must be held as to which of these points need to be replicated and which are to be avoided in any future generation. Having done this, then the search for a suitable mating can begin.To be able to avoid a bad mating, then it is essential that the breeder has a very good knowledge or database of the faults that he needs to avoid in stallions that he may consider using in the future. This will need RESEARCH.

My most heartfelt piece of advice is that all breeders MUST go racing and see all likely stallion prospects before they retire to stud. They should take careful notes of all conformational defects AND good points. Most importantly, they should keep a mental picture of the race fit individual in mind …for this is the image to consider when planning a mating as he is most likely to produce progeny with the same overall shape. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly a stallion will change shape and persona when he retires to stud. Not unsurprisingly, stud masters will do their best to disguise any weaknesses of conformation in either brochure photographs or physical inspections. Life at the stud will be arranged to show the best side of the stallion’s temperament and the feed bowl will have ensured that the horse carries just the right amount of weight that breeders would LIKE to see in their future stallions. The same approach goes for horses already at stud, but here we have the advantage of seeing his stock on the ground. Even if you knew a colt well during his racing career and had knowledge of his good and bad points of conformation, it is essential to see as many of his stock both as foals and yearlings to see if there are any emerging patterns that are relevant to your mating decisions. If you haven’t got the time or inclination, then there are certain Bloodstock Agents and Pedigree Consultants that diligently do exactly this and keep detailed records. Tap into this information, even if it costs money. It could be some of the best money that you will ever spend.

We all need to treat each name on a pedigree page as a mental picture that shows conformation, ability, temperament, speed and precocity. Then we should remind ourselves over and over again of GALTON's LAW. In brief, this states that 50% of the genes are provided by the father and 50% by the mother. So then we should apply this to the mantra of AVOID A BAD MATING. If sire and dam have both bad temperament and crooked legs, then Galton's Law suggests that we will be lucky to avoid reproducing at least one of these traits in any resulting progeny. So PLAY THE PERCENTAGE GAME! Before even considering any commercial factors, my advice on all mating plans is to draw up a short-list of favoured matings that are most likely to breed you the best winners…. for the racecourse test is the sole driver of the ‘real’ industry… so we should all strive to breed winners!

'Breeding for the Sale Ring' requires knowledge of a far broader spectrum of information. In my opinion, there is far too much concentration on the commercial side of the business, which clouds the picture of trying to breed winners. Sales information is far less exact and reliable… the interpretation of sales results is so much more subjective with a need to take into account such factors as the spin of the auction companies, the veracity of yearling and foal averages, along with the vagaries of markets with rallies and slumps.
I often remind myself of the saying that "FORTUNE FAVOURS THE PREPARED MIND" There are some very successful breeders and pin-hookers who have an uncanny knack of bringing stock to the market that are by the 'hot' stallion or related to the latest racecourse sensation. This is not always just pure luck and is probably the just reward for weeks, days and hours of work on STATISTICS and RESEARCH. However, with the breeding cycle being nearly three years from deciding a mating to a yearling sale of the resulting progeny …then luck has to be a major element! When planning a mating that may result in the resulting progeny being taken to the market, then a useful guide is that you must envisage that 'on paper' the foal/yearling has a good chance of being in the top 10% of any stallions progeny for that year.

This brings up the question of over-breeding your mares. In a word…DON'T! Try to keep the value of any nomination as no more than ONE THIRD of your considered value of your mare.
There are no short cuts to research, but if you have just a few mares, then concentrate your research on the immediate families of your mares and the stallions with bloodlines and conformation that will suit future matings. Take note of relevant general ‘nicks’ with your broodmares bloodlines and try to work out why the apparent success is really happening! Research to see if such crosses are really relevant to your mares! Before settling on a final mating, there are two final checks: "ALWAYS REMEMBER THE KITCHEN SCALES" To my mind, there has to be a 'balance' about everything in life….and good matings are no exception. Try to balance as many deficiencies in your own mare with the good points of a prospective stallion. However, every balancing act must be done in moderation and avoiding extremes…specifically with size and stamina!

"PAY THE RIGHT PRICE" We are all in 'Survival Mode'. So it is essential to pay the right price, either buying in the ring or negotiating on stallion nominations. Don't be afraid to bargain hard with the stallion farms on everything from the price of nominations and live foal guarantees etc.., payment dates, keep fees and vet fees. Every little helps. Consider using an agent, for he may have other clients with similar requirements and will get a bulk discount which can be passed on to you all. (It won't cost you as the farms will pay the agent's commission). More importantly, that agent may be able to give you valuable information or his own research on a particular mating… or other unconsidered ones that may also be suitable.

In these recessionary times, you must really concentrate hard on cutting out the dead wood in your breeding enterprise. Every penny must be saved, so some hard decisions have to be made. Mares that have not produced a decent winner in her first three runners should be considered for sale. Older mares whose record is now looking a bit tired should either be seriously down-graded in stallion matings, sold or retired to a quiet corner of the farm. Fillies that have not fully lived up to expectation on the racetrack should be sold, unless there is a very serious reason for keeping them. Don’t let your heart rule your head. This is a tough business and it may well get tougher along the road.

One final plea is on behalf of any aged mare on your farm. Please don’t consider letting her suffer the indignity of being sold through the ring. If you can’t find the funds to look after her properly, then give her away to someone who has the means and energy to give her a dignified retirement. Aged mares can be very useful as nannies to younger stock. More importantly, if they have served you well, given you pleasure and even made you money…then they have deserved the rewards of care and attention in old age.

Grant Pritchard-Gordon of Badger's Bloodstock has over 25 years of experience within the racing industry and would be happy to help those with a question or query.

badgerpg@btinternet.com or +44 77 852 77438

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