Breeders recognised the value in Sweet Lou this season and he served 225 mares.

The number of mares served in the latest breeding season remained steady compared to the previous year and with perhaps some light at the end of the tunnel, the figures may well have bottomed out.

With some pretty dramatic industry changes afoot following last year’s Messara Report with the ultimate aim of boosting stakes significantly and the much better returns observed at the latest round of yearling sales, breeders will hopefully be more encouraged and perhaps the turnaround has begun.

The total number of individual mares served this season of 2332 as of last week was down just 23 on the previous year, but not all service returns would have been received at that point and there will probably be a dozen or two to filter in over the next year or so.

The final figure is still a cause of great concern however when one considers the decline over the past decade and one compares it to the foal crops which have produced the current racing population.

Clearly further declines can be expected in this respect and this is going to impact on harness racing’s ability to maintain the number of race meetings and races being conducted and therefore industry income and returns.

We are now seeing one effect of the declining foal crops with the decrease in prizemoney for series such as the Sires Stakes and Nevele R Fillies series.

Obviously, such series are futurities and if less money is being put into the pot due to less foals on the ground, then less money is going to be paid out.

But more importantly, less foals ultimately means smaller fields and turnover and therefore smaller returns for industry participants.

As Tom Cruise famously shouted in the movie Jerry Maguire – ‘Show Me The Money!’

Or it is only stakemoney and the resulting returns that are going to turn everything including the breeding industry around and thankfully there is now an acceptance of this fact at a ministerial level and something meaningful is actually being done.

“We need more fillies and mares racing – last season we ran the lowest proportion of these races since 1994.”

“At the onset of this breeding season there was a little bit of uncertainty about the breeding numbers with a poor yearling sale in February, 2018, and a big drop in mares bred in 2017/18,” said Brad Reid of the NZ Standardbred Breeders Assn.

“The small decline this year, while not ideal, is a promising sign however.

“Trotting mares bred has increased now for three years in a row.

“The positive sales results this year has created an enthusiasm that will bring back breeders.

“While the average and median service fees are about the same as a decade ago, pacing stakes are down $3 million and they need to rise.

“We need more fillies and mares racing – last season we ran the lowest proportion of these races since 1994.

“The mares bred will go up and be sustained when the breeders have the confidence that all parts of the industry are working together to make progress.”

 

Bettor’s Delight was dethroned as the most popular stallion for the number of mares served for the first time in a decade in the season just gone, but perhaps the more interesting fact to emerge was the overall decline in the number of pacing sires in service.

There were 40 pacing stallions used this season compared to 35 trotting stallions for a total of 75 when not so long ago this figure was consistently over 100.

That decline has been entirely amongst the pacing sires and is a reflection of a combination of factors.

The main one is simply the decline in the number of mares being bred, but unlimited stallion books and the dominance of 2-3 studs due to transported semen have also contributed.

The biggest losses on the stallion front in recent times have been the deaths of Mach Three and his son Somebeachsomewhere, but perhaps just as significantly, there was no sign of sires such as Heston Blue Chip, Pet Rock and Racing Hill again due to the lack of numbers they could attract the previous year.

Muscle Hill was also sorely missed last year due to the demand for his semen in Europe, where a service is reportedly worth at least US$40,000.

The figure for the number of mares served by Bettor’s Delight has dropped from around 300 to 193 and 142 in the past two seasons, which is obviously due to an increase in his stud fee from $16,000 to $25,000 and a desire to reduce the numbers for the now 22-year-old.

Fellow Woodlands stallion and rising siring star Sweet Lou served the most mares this season at 225, breeders recognising his potential value at $6000, while Alabar’s Art Major (156) and his son and new sire Vincent (148) also covered more mares than Bettor’s Delight.

Frozen semen from Captaintreacherous was also very much in demand with 72 mares served at $10,000, while Downbytheseaside made a satisfactory start with 89 mares at Woodlands.

Always B Miki (94), A Rocknroll Dance (89), He’s Watching (85) and Rock N Roll Heaven (110) remained steady, the latter’s fortunes up a bit after covering around 80 mares in his previous two seasons.

Showing significant declines in support however were American Ideal, Auckland Reactor, Sir Lincoln and Sportswriter, although the latter still got 50 mares and he is far from all done with his biggest crops coming on stream.

Majestic Son was the most popular trotting sire with 89 mares served, although he was pushed hard by Father Patrick’s frozen semen in his third season and Woodlands’ new son of Muscle Hill in What The Hill, who both covered 82 mares.

Love You’s figure of 41 was a significant drop from 90 and 88 in the two prior seasons and was perhaps a reflection of his poor fertility rates in those years.

No other real surprises though.