Stan Bergstein's Daily Racing Form columns
With permission of Daily Racing Form,
Stan Bergstein’s bi-weekly
columns for that publication will appear
here every other week.
March 12, 2002
We have the technology...
It is now 30 years since Steve Cady wrote in The
New York Times, "The economics of supply and demand dictate the tight
control over Thoroughbred breeding. If artificial insemination were
permitted, hundreds of sons and daughters of famous sires could be
foaled each year. Presumably, that would dilute the price."
It is 25 years since Whitney Tower wrote, in the
late, lamented Classic magazine, "Curiously, the very rule of The Jockey
Club that covers live breeding grants leeway for an approved form of AI
when it says, 'Natural cover includes, for the purpose of this
paragraph, the immediate reinforcement of the stallion's service by a
portion of the ejaculate produced by the stallion during such cover.' "
He was referring to an artificial insemination practice politely called
It is six years since a Blood-Horse chart on the
pros and cons of artificial insemination listed one of the cons as
"Creates over-expanded book," and it is also six years since Jonathon
Irwin, a member of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association, wrote,
"As none of the authorities are presently prepared to initiate a limit
on the number of mares covered by any one stallion, their attitude
toward AI can hardly be guided by a desire to, in some way, protect the
breed. . . . Why should the breed be restricted to old-fashioned and
expensive practices when the number of mares being covered manually is
really only in line with the worst fears of the anti-AI lobby?"
It is only three months since John Sparkman wrote
in Thoroughbred Times about "the glacial pace of change in the
tradition-bound Thoroughbred breeding industry." He concluded: "Sticking
our head in the sand is not an acceptable response."
And it is only two weeks since I read that Thunder
Gulch, the leading sire of Thoroughbred money winners in 2001 and sire
of the Horse of the Year, Point Given, had covered 371 mares in shuttle
service between the United States and Australia.
When I read about Thunder Gulch and eight other
Thoroughbred stallions that covered more than 200 mares last year, I
called John Gaines, who knows both sides of the artificial insemination
argument, having been a major breeder in both Thoroughbred and harness
racing, and asked him if Thunder Gulch and his busy counterparts could
cover that many mares with natural cover.
"Oh sure," he told me. "In fact, some people
believe that breeding a stallion every day helps his libido."
Thunder Gulch obviously is one virile stud. But he
is not alone.
David Schmitz, who wrote about Thunder Gulch in The
Blood-Horse, noted that Honour and Glory covered 292 mares last year;
Fusaichi Pegasus covered 273; High Yield, 271; King of Kings, 233;
Langfuhr, 218; Spinning World, 208; More Than Ready, 203; and Lion
Cavern, 201. And if you add stallions shuttling between Japan and
Australia, you will find that Fuji Kiseki covered 308 mares in 2001 and
nine other stallions covered 100 or more.
Mr. Gaines, discussing artificial insemination,
acknowledged its superiority in mare safety, protection against venereal
disease, cleanliness, and efficiency. But he pointed out the tremendous
swing it creates between highly successful and established stallions and
young stallions, including sons of successful stallions, who would be
denied opportunities to cover the best mares.
Aside from shuttling between hemispheres in
transoceanic jets, how can top Thoroughbred studs now cover hundreds of
mares when formerly their books were 40 or so?
Gaines said the answer is the same as it was when
he was breeding studs 60 times and being criticized for it: better
management of broodmares. "We palpated the mares morning, noon, and
night to determine the precise time of ovulation, and then bred them,"
he said, adding that scientific and management techniques have improved
vastly since that time. So have artificial insemination skills, which
allow for just the precise timing that Mr. Gaines speaks about.
Thoroughbred breeders must know of the health
benefits of artificial insemination. Any veterinarian can list them. So
the question lingers: If it makes sense to protect mares and stallions
from injury and disease, and top studs now are breeding 200, 300, and in
some cases nearly 400 mares a year, why not use artificial insemination?
The answer, it seems, is that logic does not spend
much time in the breeding shed, while hidebound, stubborn tradition
hangs out there round the clock.