Harness Racing New Zealand last week released a bold plan designed to help reverse the decline in the number of foals born which it hopes will strengthen future racing stock.
1367 foals were registered in 2022. That’s a 59% drop over the last twenty years, and it’s the lowest number since the mid-1960s. The number of racehorses has fallen to just 2 457.
With HRNZ running 2,400 races per calendar year, alarm bells are ringing clearly and have been for some time.
“If the rate of decline continued, by 2026 we would be down to 727 colts. Scary,” said HRNZ Racing Director Catherine McDonald.
HRNZ set up a breeding focus group which was tasked with generating ideas that would result in more pregnant mares in the next breeding season.
“We had a variety of ideas and the board was eager to shake things up this season. When I went to the board, I recommended that they set up a sub-committee to evaluate all the projects and consider other ideas. »
“The Board Sub-Committee listened to all ideas and wanted something to kick start and at least stabilize the first year breeding numbers. The board decided to add funds from its reserves, so the final incentive funding is $1.4 million.
So during the next breeding season, all breeders will receive a $1,000 credit for each mare that produces a microchipped foal. Breeders must then breed with the same mare or another mare and obtain a positive pregnancy test at 42 days to receive the credit.
Credit can only be used for stallion fee service. It cannot be cumulated. The credit must be used during the breeding season in which it was earned and only one stallion service fee credit can be used per mare.
Breeders will also be incentivized to breed from an additional mare with a $3,000 credit available for this purpose.
McDonald says the response has been positive.
“For some breeders, it’s great. For others, it’s working on the mechanics of things like prepayment. Some say it’s not perfect, but it’s something.
All breeders are eligible for the incentive scheme, including the largest stud farms.
“If they bred, say, twenty mares last year and put those mares back in foal this year, they get $1,000 per stud fee. There is always a service charge to the stud for their mares as they always have the cost of the stallion out and the associated daily costs for the stallion and the number of mares they breed with are important to the sport. Doing nothing about breeding is not an option and all breeders will contribute to the success of increasing our horse population.
Some small breeders have contacted McDonald.
“I got a phone call from someone in the central districts who hadn’t done breeding because he was worried there weren’t any races in the area. They have three dry mares and are going to put two in foal. It’s about keeping everyone in the game at every level.
McDonald says HRNZ is also aware that a better pathway is needed to enable fillies and mares to earn a lot of money before they are bred.
“The NZ Standardbred Breeders Association has charted an ambitious course for fillies and mares to 2026.” Some of this has already been put in place with the new Group 2 race for fillies and trotting mares at NZMTC on November 25.e This year. We hope to make this a Group 1 race over time.
McDonald added that programming routes need to be better for all horses. Not just fillies and mares.
She believes a measure of the program’s success will be the number of mares that foal and are then bred the following season. She added that HRNZ is still working with Studs on how the program will be administered.
“There are certain things like prepaid service fees. I’ve told people they’ll still get the incentive, but we’re just working out how that will be.
The increased horse population will ensure larger fields and more competitive races. This would in turn lead to higher turnovers and improve gross betting revenue.
McDonald reported that HRNZ lost five race dates in the 2022-23 financial year. And some meetings had fewer runs carded.
“We don’t want to let too many others down. Running fewer races means HRNZ won’t have the earning power the organization needs to keep raising the stakes in the future.
Another concern is the number of foals that are born but never race. This figure is currently 47%.
“If we can get our non-use numbers down to 30% instead of 47% and we can also increase the number of spawners, that would impact how we move forward.” We are looking for ways to increase the use of any foal crop in the future.
McDonald says the success of the incentive scheme will ultimately be measured by the number of mares to breed with over the next three seasons and she would like to see that number grow to 1,600.
“In Australia they need around 2,200.”
The proof will be in the statistics at the end of the breeding season.
by Bruce Stewart, for Harnesslink