Archives for June 2021


A June 16, 2021 article on (titled “Is the American Jockey Club’s 140-Mare Limit Per Stallion Prudent?”) answered in the affirmative, calling it “precautionary and far-sighted.”  Beginning with stallions foaled in 2020, the Jockey Club will register no more than 140 foals per year for each stallion.

The United States Trotting Association, the breed registrar for Standardbreds in the United States, also has such a rule.  According to Alan Leavitt, writing for Harness Racing Update, “Every stallion standing in the United States is limited to a book of 140 mares by the USTA.  Standardbred Canada, however, has a book limited to 250, and the registration of every foal with Standardbred Canada is recognized by the USTA.” 

Therefore, the USTA rule can be circumvented without physically moving a stallion back and forth from the United States and Canada because artificial insemination and transported semen are permissible in the Standardbred breed.  A stallion could have 390 foals registered in a given year and even more if his semen is used by a breeder outside Canada and the United States.

The situation with Thoroughbreds is much different for two reasons.  First, a foal conceived by artificial insemination cannot be registered and transported semen is banned.  Second, the Jockey Club of Canada’s Toronto office “acts as a field office to The Jockey Club (USA), based in New York State.  All Canadian-bred Thoroughbreds are registered through The Jockey Club’s Registry Office in Kentucky.”  The only way that the American Jockey Club 140-foal limit can be avoided is for a stallion owner to shuttle him abroad, to a venue that has its own breed registry.

Looking at the USTA and Jockey Club policies on the number of permissible annual foal registrations per stallion, the Jockey Club’s policy is much more effective in achieving its objective.

(Note: the aforementioned article by Alan Leavitt provides research-based insights into the genetic risks of excessive inbreeding.)

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business


When Churchill Downs, Inc. announced that it would sell Arlington International Racecourse near Chicago, the property immediately became of interest to developers and others.  According to Churchill Downs, “strong proposals from numerous parties” were submitted before the bidding deadline on June 15, 2021. 

One of the known bidding groups is led by the onetime Arlington International president Roy Arnold, who wants to keep horse racing going after September 25, 2021, when racing is scheduled to end for good.  This purportedly “high-net-worth” group proposes also to build an arena for a minor league hockey team, a 300-unit housing development, an entertainment district, and allocate 60 acres to industrial development.  In May, the Arlington Village board instituted an ordinance that prohibits certain uses for the property, such as warehouses and gas stations.

One of the confirmed bidders is the Chicago Bears of the National Football League.  The Bears have  played at Soldiers Field in Chicago since 1972.  The stadium was built in 1924 and is in need of extensive renovations.  It also has a seating capacity that evidently cannot be expanded.  Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded to the Bears’ announcement with her own statement: “The Bears are locked into a lease at Soldier Field until 2033.  In addition, the announcement from the Bears comes in the midst of negotiations for improvements at Soldiers Field.  This is clearly a negotiating tactic that the Bears have used before.”

The Mayor may be mistaken that the Bears announcement is just “noise,” in her words.  Other NFL teams have broken long-term leases to relocate and, moreover, the Bears’ bid might be accepted by Churchill Downs, reflecting that the Bears are not just posturing for a better deal from Chicago to renovate aging Soldiers Field.

From the standpoint of those wanting for racing to continue at Arlington International, the best outcome ostensibly would be for the Arnold group to win the bidding.  However, an idea has been floated to have both a new Bears stadium on the site and keep the racetrack as well.  Reportedly, the Arlington International property is large enough to accommodate a stadium and a racetrack. The Bears might agree to such a sharing arrangement if it reaped sufficient benefits.

(For example, the Bears just signed the team’s first sports-betting partnership with and its first casino partnership with Rivers Casino.)

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business


Citing concerns about a growing lack of diversity in the gene pool of Thoroughbred racehorses, the Jockey Club, which is the registrar of the breed in the United States, in 2020 promulgated a new rule.  Stallions foaled in 2020 and thereafter are limited to breeding 140 mares per season.  In 2021, three prominent breeding farms—Ashford, Spendthrift, and Three Chimneys—sued to overturn the decision.

An article in the Wall Street Journal by Jo Craven McGinty (“Most U. S. Dairy Cows are Kissing Cousins,” May 29-30, 2021) pertained precisely to the sort of genetic diversity concern that prompted the Jockey Club rule.  She began the article by asking:

“Trick question: How many Holsteins…are in the U. S.?  (a) Nine million; (b) Fewer than 50; (c) Both a and b.”

The answer: “…selective breeding…has led to so much inbreeding that virtually all Holsteins in the U. S. and abroad descend from just two bulls [born in the 1960s].  So, while there are roughly nine million Holsteins in the U. S., the breed’s effective population—a measure of genetic diversity—is just 43, according to an estimate published last year in the peer-reviewed Journal of Dairy Science.”  To put this finding in perspective, wild animals with an effective population of less than 50 are considered to be in danger of extinction “because of higher risks of miscarriages, stillbirths, and genetic abnormalities.”

On the positive side, inbreeding optimizes milk production as well as “boosts longevity, mobility, leg and foot health.”  Yet inbreeding is also “responsible for the proliferation of some diseases.”  Specifically, “at least 15 genetic disorders …adversely affect Holsteins.”

Since genomic selection was introduced in the United States in 2008, inbreeding of Holsteins has accelerated and both bulls and cows have been bred at earlier and earlier ages.  The percentage of inbreeding of genotyped Holstein bulls (by birth year) rose from 2 percent in 1980 to 12% recently.

Geneticists said that the Holstein breed might be able to tolerate the inbreeding, but “the worry is that the dwindling diversity of Holsteins could permanently undermine the breed’s fitness.”

All Thoroughbred horses are descended from three foundation sites. Inbreeding has become increasingly prevalent, as more and more mares have been bred to fewer and fewer popular stallions, especially stallions from the Northern Dancer line. Jockey Club records show that in 2007, 9.5% of all mares bred were sent to stallions covering more than 140 mares. This percentage soared to 27% in 2019.

It is not possible–lacking a longitudinal experimental design—to say for certain why the number and frequency of starts for the modern Thoroughbred racehorse pale in comparison to the same statistics for racehorses of 50 years ago and longer.  But inbreeding is a leading suspect for declining durability, resulting in fatalities in training and races that threaten the viability of horse racing as a humane sport.

As with Holstein cattle, the end result of inbreeding in Thoroughbred racehorses is unknowable.  But the potentially negative outcomes of “dwindling diversity” are too great to risk the future of the breed.  Hence the Jockey Club’s 140-mare per stallion rule is precautionary and far-sighted.

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business