The Equine Fertility Unit near Newmarket, England, is set to close later this year following the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association’s decision not apply for a continuation of core funding from the Horserace Betting Levy Board.
The center requires £450,000 (about $889,526) a year for the next decade to continue its work, £150,000 more annually than was previously requested.
Professor Twink Allen, who heads the unit, condemned the decision to not seek funding as shortsighted: "The Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association has declined to seek funding to keep us going and I am angry and bitter.
"We have very good staff here who will all lose their jobs. This is a nasty blow, and I think it is short-sighted and stupid."
The EFU has been in the vanguard of equine fertility research for the past 20 years, making ground-breaking discoveries that have dramatically increased the fertility rates in Thoroughbreds, as well as producing the first test tube foal in Europe.
According to the Racing Post, TBA chairman Philip Freedman acknowledged the unit’s "outstanding contribution" to the breeding industry but said, "The TBA council had discussed it at our last council meeting in April, and there was support at £300,000 a year."
He also told the Racing Post that the TBA would have been "irresponsible to recommend providing extra funding we wouldn’t have been willing to put in ourselves," and pointed out that, "the work of the unit was becoming increasingly far removed from the fertility issues which were relevant when the unit was set up." The Levy Board was unlikely to have provided the extra funding.
The EFU has prompted dissatisfaction among TBA members in recent times as its work has diversified into artificial insemination and embryo transplant in non-Thoroughbreds in a bid for a degree of commercial autonomy. Freedman said that dispite the unit's huge achievements in improving Thoroughbred conception and fertility rates, it had been moving away from this work and that this is one reason that breeders could not justify the additional cost.
The Levy Board took over the provision of central funding for the EFU from the TBA in 2005, on an initial two-year commitment with a view to extending that support for a further two years.
The TBA had been prepared to make £1.5 million available to the unit over the next five years in a package that included a partnership with the University of Nottingham’s veterinary school. However, the university maintains that a sum of £450,000 per year is required, with a 10-year guarantee on the funding, for the deal to be viable.
Freedman explained that with the total cost to the industry rising to £6 million, the TBA was not prepared to give the unequivocal backing sought by the Levy Board, which was necessary for the funds to be released.
"As a result of this, it was felt that the only option was to close the unit," said Freedman.
The TBA is the signatory on the lease for the EFU’s 114-acre site on the Stetchworth Estate and also bears legal responsibility for the unit’s 10 employees.
Allen, who is due to retire later this year and is the father-in-law of jockey Frankie Dettori, added: "We’ve spent 20 years building the unit’s worldwide reputation. To lose it for the want of £150,000 a year in an industry where a lot of stallions charge that in a fee for a mare is short-sighted."
The EFU has at times relied upon the financial support of wealthy owners and breeders, and there is speculation that a rescue package including private sponsors may yet be forthcoming to keep the EFU going.