The shower of comments about artificial insemination, which is not allowed for Thoroughbreds registered through the Jockey Club, has tended to emphasize two negatives expected from a change in the live-cover regulation: overproduction to the extreme detriment of the breed and damage, perhaps equally extreme, to the business operations based around breeding horses in the Bluegrass.
With regard to overproduction, we are currently seeing the effects of overproduction coupled with a severe collapse in the national economy. Would access to AI lead to catastrophic overproduction or domination of a handful of sire lines? As one breeder mentioned to me, “Frank, nearly all of us are just $%&*#$ lemmings. We latch onto one gimmick and run it to death, till the next one comes by.” If he’s right, then a large portion of breeders might overbreed to Stallion X and his sons to the degree that we could have a serious problem.
My tendency is to think that horse breeders are a lot brighter than the above suggests, that too many like to travel their own path right or wrong, and that enough are economically savvy to stay out of the trap of breeding all their mares to the same stallion.
But the possibility gives one pause.
Other concerns about health of the horse, potential for epidemics, and the risk of an inherited disease becoming prominent have been voiced.
And then there is the economic side to the proposal. The discussion has to boil down to economics because that is what runs every business, including football, baseball, and even soccer.
Horse racing is considerably more international than at least two of these sports, and the business that surrounds racing and breeding has layers and layers of economic connections, from banks’ lending, or not lending, to the price of gas for shipping companies; from the cost of workers’ comp for trainers to the production of silks for owners; from the annual gross for yearling sales to the investment of farm owners in new fencing.
Every drop in the bucket of this wonderful and fascinating sport sends out ripples to every one of those layers of connection. If the backstretch worker at a minor track in Colorado doesn’t realize he is connected to the farm owner in Florida, it doesn’t mean they aren’t.
And AI, as a revolution in the way we breed and manage our horses, would inevitably cause a lot of change, and it doesn’t seem likely it will go away … especially since AI is so widely used with other horse breeds. So the only responsible path is for the business to consider this issue very carefully.
As one prominent and highly intelligent veterinarian said, “There ought to be at least three independent studies of how this could affect the horse business. Each would have to take into account a slew of different possibilities because AI is going to touch so many different aspects of breeding and racing. This would be a proper role for the Jockey Club to play and to make it clear to all parties that this is serious and well-documented. And even then, with the most careful examination of the pros and cons, there would be surprises and unforeseen circumstances.”
For instance, most of the commentary has been about how AI would negatively affect the horse businesses in the Bluegrass. But what would happen to state-bred programs?
Are you going to knock all those stallions on the head and say, “Sorry, Charlie, your million-dollar investments are now worth 10 cents?” Imagine the uproar over that! Then imagine the lawsuits.
There is no doubt that AI is a multi-faceted question, with some unmistakable benefits. There are some very thorny issues that surround it also. If the breeders of America want to talk about them, and from the responses that I’ve seen so far, I would say that is a certainty, then we need a framework for examining the issue, openly discussing its many aspects, and evaluating whether it is too dangerous to the breed or whether it has too many benefits to dismiss out of hand.
The most obvious organization to undertake a veterinary and economic assessment of AI and its implications would be the Grayson Foundation. The Keeneland Association, by lending its facility for the mini-symposium on AI last week, has lent its authority and substantial presence to further our greater understanding of this issue.
However the matter is developed, I believe that AI must be looked at calmly and very carefully, then discussed openly and inclusively so that all reasonable parties see the value of the final decision.