AI, Stallion Book Size Among Topics at Conference

by Kathleen Adams

Artificial insemination and stallion book size were among the more controversial topics discussed as university professors from across the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and Israel gathered in Louisville, Ky., June 25-28 for the third International Equine Industry Program Academic Conference.

About 35 participants presented papers on a variety of topics ranging from pinhooking to betting exchanges.

Because frozen sperm could be used to breed the genetic material of stallions long dead with contemporary mares, artificial insemination may actually produce better-quality racehorses, said Dr. Phillip Coelho of Ball State University who co-wrote a paper on the topic along with fellow Ball State professor Dr. James McClure.

While modern technologies such as artificial insemination, embryo transfer, and "superovulation" are currently banned in the breeding of Thoroughbreds, Coelho and McClure argued such restrictive practices have spawned monopoly distortions within the Thoroughbred industry which in turn has created an unnatural barrier in the market for stud services.

The pair stopped short of calling for the easing of restrictions on AI, embryo transfer, and cloning.

"It may be the future of horse racing in the United States," Coelho said. "The U.S. government says you can patent a genetic line. Imagine you have a high-quality horse. You can patent it. You could sell copies of Secretariat or Affirmed."

Thoroughbred owners would suffer monetary losses if breeding restrictions were removed, Coelho said, but other potential entrants into the marketplace would gain.

Dr. Robert Losey of American University tackled the thorny question of how many mares a stallion should be bred to, and how that number effects stud fees.

"The traditionalist, or old-school approach, wants to limit the number of mares," Losey said. "It's the old six-gun theory--the stallion only has so many bullets."

During the course of his research, Losey discovered that in the early years of a stallion's career, breeding to more mares tends to result in a lower average quality of mares bred, but higher numbers of noteworthy runners.

"Stallion managers should try to produce a large number of foals in the early years," Losey said. "The goal is to hit the big time in your first two or three crops. The number of stakes winners determines stud fees."

When it comes to filling a stallion's book, Losey said the large European outfits are following the correct approach.

"Ashford Stud and Coolmore have it right," he said. "Breed your stallions to a high number of mares. If you breed to a lot of mares, you'll get a large number of stakes winners and can collect high stud fees."