Industry Thriving, But Complacency Kills

Thoroughbred industry administrators can’t afford complacency, despite record prizemoney and unprecedented buoyancy in bloodstock markets, several prominent figures have claimed.

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID pandemic, almost all of Australia’s major weanling, yearling and broodmare sales have experienced record growth in the past 18 months.

At the Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale on the Gold Coast earlier this week, 18 mares sold for $1 million or more, with the average price above $228,000 – almost identical numbers to the corresponding sale in 2021 but well up on pre-pandemic levels.

The average price of yearlings at the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale, Inglis Easter Yearling Sale and Inglis Premier Yearling Sale in Melbourne all reached record highs in 2022.

There was more than $590 million spent across the Book 1 catalogues of the five major yearling sales in Australia and New Zealand in 2022 – an increase of almost 18% across the same sales in 2021.

Godolphin Australia’s Managing Director Vin Cox, who was formerly the Managing Director of Magic Millions, said it is hard to recall a time when the market was in such a position and he believes it’s largely being driven by record prizemoney levels in most states.

“It’s (bloodstock market) probably as strong as I’ve ever seen it,” Cox said.

“The depth of market is quite astounding and it obviously starts with the yearling market and the yearling market right across the board has been very strong.

“When the yearlings are selling well, the breeding stock follows behind it and the stallion fees come behind that.

“We’re in a good spot.

“Prizemoney is a huge factor in driving the prices and horses are an easy sell in that regard.”

Cox believes that the growth is sustainable in the short term, although he doesn’t think an inevitable plateau is any cause for immediate concern.

“Is it sustainable? Yes. Is it going to keep jumping up with the huge steps that it’s been taking in the last 10 years? I don’t think.

“There will be a day where it does plateau off, but I don’t think that will be a bad thing, it’ll just consolidate that market and give it a huge foundation that people can rely on and invest in.”

Coolmore’s Tom Magnier, who has bought and sold bloodstock at every major sale in 2022, said the Australian industry is the envy of its international counterparts.

Magnier said Australia’s greatest strength is its mainstream relevance, which he believes continues to drive interest in participation via wagering and ownership.

“What is going on in Australia is not happening anywhere else in the world,” Magnier said.

“We’ve seen what Yulong are doing here this week but if it’s not Yulong, it’s somebody else.

“The whole world is watching what is happening in Australia – the prizemoney is great and so many people want to be a part of it.

“The passion that Australia has for racing is a huge thing – everybody wants to be involved and you can own a horse with 10 of your friends and you can be running in races worth millions.

“You can actually run it as a business and you can’t really do that anywhere else in the world.”

Like Magnier, Aushorse and Thoroughbred Breeders Australia CEO Tom Reilly said the level of participation in the sport is the envy of many other racing jurisdictions.

“There are lots of reasons to be positive,” Reilly said.

“We had a really strong yearling sale season and it was quite unexpected that prices would be up the strength right across the market, from the most expensive (horses) through to the middle of the market.

“What we’re seeing here at Magic Millions this week is that breeders who’ve had success in the sales ring are reinvesting and putting back into their business by making significant outlay in terms of capital expenditure on mares and weanlings.

“We’re incredibly lucky in Australia in a few different respects.

“For one, we’ve got a good funding model, which allows people to have some success on the track and pay their way or, if they get a good horse, to make a great return in prizemoney.

“Secondly, in Australia there are over 100,000 individual people who have a share in a racehorse, so it’s the most egalitarian ownership base and the biggest ownership base in the world – it’s more owners than they have in the whole of Europe and North America combined.

“That broad base supports so much in the industry.”

But Reilly said there remains several immediate threats to participation in racing that the industry must continue to address.

Reilly pointed to last Saturday’s federal election, which saw Australia’s Greens party achieve its best result at an election, as a timely reminder that racing will continue to be scrutinised by those outside the industry.

He said community education about equine welfare and other important aspects of racing is needed to ensure the industry maintains its social licence to operate.

Reilly believes that if punters feel comfortable wagering on an ethical and responsible sport, the industry can maintain its record prizemoney levels and participation via ownership and bloodstock investment can remain strong.

“We’ve really got to guard against complacency,” he said.

“We’ve got an industry that has been under real scrutiny, especially for welfare issues.

“We had the ABC program a few years ago and on the back of that, Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, along with some other groups, commissioned a really good report which was led by Denis Napthine.

“Some of those recommendations have been adopted but we need more of them to be.

“We just had a general election and we saw 12 Greens senators elected and potentially three or four Greens MPs and this is a party that advocates for the abolishment of horse racing.

“Are we explaining the industry well enough, not just in a welfare perspective but are we engaging the audiences well enough?

“How are we promoting the sport nationally? Are we all working in silos or is there a willingness for people, not just racing authorities, but stakeholders within the industry to come together and work collaboratively to really be the leading thoroughbred jurisdiction in the world?”

– (James Tzaferis @Jtzaf)

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