Part 2: The Racehorse as a Commodity - Overbreeding Revisited
WITH THE ECONOMIC GLOBALIZATION of the horse racing industry that has occurred over the last 40 to 50 years the once splendid and prestigious nature of the sport has been eclipsed by the lucrative value of Thoroughbreds driven by world economic markets. In fact the current mass production of the Thoroughbred as a performance animal can be likened to a practice analogous to the factory farming of domestic livestock for slaughter.
NUMBERS DON'T LIE
On an annual basis over 100,000 Thoroughbreds are produced each year
wherein the US is the most prolific country in terms of foal crops
holding almost 30% of the world’s foal population. Together with 10
other countries, this makes up about 83% of the global crop which over
the last few decades has progressively increased approximately 6-fold to
massive proportions. The foal crop for 2009 (108, 572) was somewhat
lower than figures for 2008 (114,804) representing an overall decline of
about 5%. Significant reductions were observed in Australia, Uruguay,
Ireland and Canada with decreases of 10%, 14%, 18% and 29% respectively.
Table 1. Top Thoroughbred Breeding Countries (2009)
Total number of foals worldwide (2009) = 108,572
Data taken from The Jockey Club for North America are predictive of the overall global situation in terms of foal crops albeit proportionately larger in number as a function of the percentage of global breeding. As shown in shown in Table 2 and Figure 1, NA statistics lend insight into the nightmare that breeding has become.
Table 2. Number of 2 YO Starters Compared to Number of Foals in Crop Year
*Difference in number of foals = number of foals in crop year – number of 2YO starters
Figure 1. N.A. Foals and Starters per Year and
Cumulative No. of Foals Produced (2004-2009)
Over a period of 6 racing years from 2004 to 2009, of the 224,823 foals that were born during the crop years (2002 to 2007) only 68,102 as 2 YOs were actually entered into a race (or 30%). What happened to the other 70%?
While it is true that some owners wait to race their horses at an older age, it is certainly not the norm. In fact, most Thoroughbreds today are only raced between the ages of 2 and 6 after which, for the most part, become a nuisance to their owners – burdensome beasts who no longer turn a profit. Even if some of these foals didn’t start their careers until the age of 3, it is unlikely that this number would be equivalent to the number unaccounted for.
For reasonable statistical validity Table 3 shows several of the top 150 stallions on the General Sires list taken from The Blood-Horse source publications. Although only a sampling of the 150 sires are on the list for 2010, the percentages of starters and winners is representative of the whole for the Northern Hemisphere, and include foal counts from the Southern Hemisphere as well as some additional foreign foals and stakes winners from all countries.
Table 3. Sample of Leading Sires Foal Crop, Starters and Winners, 2010
The numbers deliver a culpable portrayal of the waste and callousness that exist in the industry. Over 40% of the foals produced as registered Thoroughbreds never engage in a career on the track and only 38% of those who race actually win. What caliber of races do these horses win and what then happens to those that never see the track on race day or are unsuccessful in their endeavors?
“The Jockey Club, the national registry of thoroughbreds headquartered in Lexington, Ky., reports that approximately 35,000 thoroughbreds are foaled in North America each year, 68 percent of which are destined for a career on the racetrack. Of those horses, nearly 70 percent will win at least one race, but only 5 percent will win a bigger-pursed stakes race, and only two-tenths of a percent will win a Grade I stakes race, which awards the biggest purse and creates the biggest superstars." 
“For every Big Brown or Rachel Alexandra winning millions in front of sold-out crowds, there are unheralded thoroughbreds -- such as State Deputy -- that also race their hearts out each day, but for small purses on cheaper tracks to nearly empty stands. Eventually, lackluster performance or an injury ends these horses' careers. At least 3,000 such racehorses are retired each year, usually by age 6 if not younger, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation estimates. Given that most horses live well into their 20s, the question of what to do with them for the next 15 or more years looms.”