Breeding numbers stabilise in 21/22 breeding season

On the back of an extremely successful NZB Standardbred national yearling sales where almost every key indicator reached record levels, the positivity has continued in the breeding sector with news of a slight increase in the number of mares bred.

For just the third time in the last 15 years the number of individual standardbred mares served has increased.

The ‘increase’ in mares bred is incremental and probably better described as a stabilisation of breeding numbers. 2005 individual mares were served in 2020/21 to 2037 individual mares served in 2021/22, an increase of 1.6% on last season.

This good result comes on the back of the recent changes made to the birthdates of standardbreds in this country along with a revamped racing calendar.

The move mirrored changes made in Australia a year earlier where interestingly they too realised an increase in breeding numbers on the back of the change, with an increased number of mares being served in late December through early February.

“Now the mare returns are in, Harness Racing New Zealand will be able to do some research using the ‘last date of service’ data to investigate whether there was an actual shift in attitudes to breeders serving their mares later in the season,” said HRNZ Breeding Manager Brad Reid.

“It will be interesting to see. Initial feedback from the major studs suggested they hadn’t noticed much of a difference whereas the boutique breeding farms had seen a change. Given the marginal increase in mares served I doubt it will be dramatic, but it is important we review the figures on the back of industry change like we have just made,” he said.

While Reid would undoubtedly like to see the numbers climb further, he felt the increase however small was an important signal of confidence for industry stakeholders as changes were bedded into the racing calendar and other areas of the business.

“We have obviously undertaken some pretty significant changes to the racing calendar with a view to maximising our current horse numbers and giving age group horses every chance to realise their potential.

“Harness Racing New Zealand realises that for any significant change to breeding numbers there needs to be an investment made in breeding if we are to sustain our horse numbers and field sizes in the future. The challenge remains where that money will come from without impacting on stake money which we know is the major driving force behind confidence in breeding and ultimately ownership,” he said.

Recent research into the New Zealand breeding sector has shown that 88% of breeders who bred a horse in the 2020/21 season have a horse registered in work with a New Zealand trainer at the start of the new racing season.

That figure has lifted significantly in the last decade and gives possible insight as to where future investment could be made.

“Our recent survey shows that stake money and racing opportunities are the two primary factors driving breeding decisions, ahead of breeding incentives such as breeder bonus’ etc.

"While they would be nice, I think with limited resources it would make sense to investigate what increased racing opportunities for various groups of horses could look like in incentivising some of our one and two mare breeders to possibly breed another horse. Right now, there isn’t a lot of incentive to breed to a horse by an affordable stallion with limited opportunities to get a return racing them.

“We have to have our aspirational races and series and we are never going to be able to stop breeders and owners selling good horses. However, if we can conceptualise some more opportunities for our horse population at the middle and lower end, I think that is going to encourage a lot of breeders to persevere as we know that is where the majority of our horse population sits,” he said.

Reid emphasised that nothing is off the table and every possible avenue needs to be investigated to arrest the drain on horse numbers over the last decade.

The continued success of the New Zealand standardbred on the international stage has put further pressure on the already reduced foal crops with export numbers indicating the demand for our local bloodstock as high as ever.

“Breeding is at the core of the strategic focus for Harness Racing New Zealand. We have recently put together a ‘breeding focus group’ to investigate areas of change and possible initiatives and incentives for the sector.

“The group will need to work closely with a kindred body like the NZ Standardbred Breeders, their affiliate branches as well as our commercial entities such as the studs, major breeders, NZB Standardbred, Sires Stakes and smaller breeders, who are the majority, to strengthen the work currently being done to improve the overall breeding environment,” he said.

Colin Hair, Chair of the NZ Standardbred Breeders welcomed the formation of the breeding focus group to investigate measures to sustain and stimulate the number of horses bred.

“It is well known that we are suffering from a lack of numbers and any measures to improve the position is welcomed by breeders,” he said.

The Chairman of Harness Racing New Zealand, John Coulam and his board of directors were happy to see that breeding numbers had stabilised this season.

“The HRNZ board is encouraged by the glimmer of hope reflected in these breeding figures and is committed to reviewing all aspects of its operation that will encourage more investment in breeding,” he said

One of the positives of this season's breeding numbers is the increase in number of mares served by stallions domiciled in New Zealand.

With the growing number of state-sponsored breeding initiatives across the ditch, a concerning trend over recent years has been the number of New Zealand mares being served by stallions domiciled in the various states as studs look to take advantage of the breeding programmes supported by both industry and local government.

Along with frozen semen, the impact on our horse numbers here is with travel time and decreased motility in semen, less mares are ultimately getting in foal, highlighted by our current 3YO crop where only 67% of the mares served resulted in branded/microchipped foals.

The number of mares served by ‘fresh semen’ NZ stallions increased in both gaits from 1163 to 1434. The percentage of frozen semen used for our pacing mares was at its lowest for nearly a decade sitting at just 8% of the total mares served and similarly with the trotters who at 22.5% represented the lowest use of frozen semen since 2013/14.

Boom sire Always B Miki was the leading pacing sire by total served having covered a book of 223 mares in New Zealand (up from 201 the year prior) with Downbytheseaside hot on his hooves having covered 192 mares, a remarkable effort given the stallion nearly succumbed to colic shortly after his arrival here.

Leading the trotting market with 105 mares covered was What The Hill who will see his first crop of two year olds step out this season on our shores, closely followed by Creatine who after not shuttling the year prior capitalised on his early success in both hemispheres to cover 92 mares.

For a full list of the mares served by each stallion, click here

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