In June, Harness Racing Australia announced new rules relating to the breeding sector of the industry, to be implemented for the upcoming season. You can read HBV's initial response to Harness Racing Australia HERE.
The committee received a response on July 21 from Andrew Kelly of HRA which simply reiterated that HBV's views had been represented but all changes as announced had been confirmed and would be implemented for 1 September 2020.
HBV have since responded on behalf of HBV members and the breeding industry more broadly on July 30 (below), further reiterating our concerns about the impact on the foal crop of this rule if the inclusion of free returns is imposed for the opening season:
To: Harness Racing Australia
30 July 2020
Harness Breeders Victoria notes receipt of the letter sent by Andrew Kelly on behalf of HRA on 21 July 2020. The correspondence was tabled at the committee meeting of HBV on 26 July 2020.
The Committee were very disappointed at the brevity of the response, and its failure to address, or provide detail on, any of the elements of the rule change that were requested in our earlier correspondence. Transparency is paramount in our industry and for breeders and wider participants to have confidence to invest, they need to see that decisions are being made with careful consideration, planning and modelling.
More urgently though is the belief of our broadly experienced committee that the impact of the application of the stallion limit rule inclusive of free returns to the 2020-21 season will be incredibly detrimental, and ultimately result in a significant negative impact on foal numbers from 2020 services.
The lack of notice for the implementation of the rule as described has created a difficult commercial position for studs and a challenging proposition for breeders.
Whether the limit is ‘generous’ (as has been described to HBV, though relative to what is hard to determine, given no data has been published around the aims of this rule change) or otherwise is irrelevant – for the upcoming season, the inclusion of free returns creates an administrative impossibility for studs trying to ensure the most number of foals will hit the ground in 2021.
The rule as it stands and applies to the impending breeding season will mean studs will be obliged to take an incredibly conservative approach with stallion bookings (lest they incur penalties attached to this rule as yet unpublished and/or viable foals are unable to be registered) in order to manage both current demand as well as account for outstanding free returns from multiple previous seasons.
This will inevitably lead to less mares bred than otherwise would be as studs set aside part of the quote to honour their free return obligations; particularly by the larger, commercial breeders who will simply rest a mare rather than send her to a stallion they feel is of a lesser quality. Our industry cannot afford to have any viable mare empty in this season, one which will already by impacted to an unknown degree by COVID-19 and related economic factors.
Without a concession of this type to the rule as introduced in June 2020, further smaller but still negative impacts will be likely seen in the area of broader industry support by studs, who will be unable to provide services to their popular stallions for tenders, raffles and other fundraiser run by Clubs and other bodies.
At least one season’s amnesty in regard to this element of the rule would enable studs to develop appropriate conditions and contracts, breeders to adjust expectations around free returns, and both parties to address outstanding free returns from several previous seasons in a way that won’t negatively impact the 2021 foal crop.
One of the biggest challenges our industry faces – along with every other racing code – is arresting the declining foal crop to ensure we have an appropriate population of racing horses for the owner and punter to engage with. We implore that HRA apply common sense to the introduction of the stallion limit rule in this regard and introduce a concession as suggested above for the 2020-21 breeding season. HBV strongly believes an amnesty of this type is vital and urgent to sustain foal numbers in 2021 but also for the viability of affected studs and the breeders who use them.