The continuing drop in the number of standardbred mares bred in New Zealand is a major impediment to the longterm survival of our industry.
Every breeding season the problem continues to worsen with little or no attempt to address the major causes.
From a high of 8798 mares served in the 1987/88 breeding season, the number of mares served has gradually declined to the point that last season just 2861 mares were covered in New Zealand.
The fact that you have to go back to the 1968/69 season when 2755 mares were covered to find a season with a lower number than last year should have everyone in the industry very concerned.
In an effort to combat this long term trend the focus to date has been on increasing stake levels returned to stake holders and on this front solid progress has been made.
But as must be patently obvious to Harness Racing New Zealand, this strategy has not arrested the slide in numbers of mares bred.
Some commentators have even been as brave to suggest we are only discarding the poorer mares at the bottom of the breeding chain and not to worry about the drop off.
In our view that is a very short shighted position and could have dire consequences for the New Zealand industry long term.
We desperately need to stop the breeding slide in the first instance and then have a long term plan as to how to grow our breeding industry.
The focus has to be on the breeding componet of the industry as a seperate entity.
The focus needs to be around what help/ reward can we implement that will incentivise those breeders who have withdrawn from the industry to start breeding again and to intice new breeders to begin breeding.
In our view there are two options that overseas experience tells us are worthy of consideration in this matter.
A breeding bonus paid directly to the breeder of a horse every time it wins a race in New Zealand. A good starting point in our view would be $500 per race.
A percentage of the stakemoney of each winner on raceday is directed to the breeder of winner Settling on that percentage would be difficult but in France for instance it is 12.5%. We think that is way to high for New Zealand but the concept has merit.
On the issue of how to fund these payments,it is the obvious that other stake holders will protest loudly if they percieve they are losing out to the breeders.
That will be the view expressed but it is a terribly short shighted one in our opinion.
In our view it is up to the larger clubs to set the ball rolling and so when the next round of stake increases are announced by the likes of the Auckland Trotting Club and the NZ Metro, they should set aside up to $500 per race of that proposed increase to be paid to the breeder of the winner of every race they stage.
One thing is certain. If we continue to think that lifting race stakes on its own will arrest the slide in breeding numbers then we are sadly mistaken.
Unless we introduce specific measures to help breeders, then all the future will hold will just be a further slide in the breeding numbers.
If that happens, then our ability to maintain our current 32% share of the New Zealand gaming market will be severely compromised and our longterm viability would then seriously come into question.