Kevin Blake

Leading racing writer Kevin Blake dissects some global racing numbers to see which nations punch above, or below, their weight in world thoroughbred breeding.

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What horse racing nations punch above and below their weight in thoroughbred breeding?

It wasn’t surprising that last week’s article prompted quite a bit of comment from all over the racing world and it was certainly very interesting to hear lots of opinions from different international perspectives.

The subject that dominated the discussion was the question posed at the end of the article of, “Why doesn’t Australia produce more world-class horses?” One point that was made by multiple contributors both from America and Australia was that there is a great gulf in class between the strongest and weakest racing areas of their vast nations. These weaker areas host mostly low-class racing and as well as that, stronger prize money at low levels of their racing make it more viable for owners to keep low-class horses in training than in other racing nations.

A combination of these factors is likely to be behind why the percentage proportion of 115+ and 120+ horses is much lower in both America and Australia than in smaller nations that have more compact racing industries.

However, those realities do not explain why the bottom-line numbers of 115+ and 120+ horses trained in Australia are as low as they are. Given the sheer size of their breeding and racing industries coupled with their very healthy prize money and the willingness of owners to buy proven high-class horses from Europe to race in Australia, it is a question that isn’t easily answered.

One of the most interesting suggestions was that Australia suffers from a talent drain with many of their promising young horses being sold to race in Hong Kong. Considering that Hong Kong impose famously strict standards on the quality of horse they allow to be imported and that almost exactly half of the 1,200 horses currently in training in Hong Kong were bred in Australia, it is certainly a potential explanation that was worth exploring.

Analysis of the 2017 World’s Best Racehorse Rankings revealed that seven Australian-bred Hong Kong-trained horses ran to 115+ and one of those, Mr Stunning, reached 120+. Interestingly, if one was to add those Hong Kong-based Australian-bred runners and remove any non-Australian-bred runners from Australia’s 115+ and 120+ tallies in 2017, thus confining the Australian numbers solely to horses bred in Australia, those totals actually reduce. The conclusion being that if Australia retained every horse bred there and didn’t import any horses, they would have less high-class performers rather than more.

Extending the analysis in that direction made me wonder how all the leading racing nations would compare when every horse bred there is tracked and attributed to their country of birth regardless of where they are trained. With that in mind, I conducted that analysis covering much the same countries as last week. Given that Hong Kong has no breeding industry, I added New Zealand instead, a nation with small but world-renowned bloodstock industry.

With foal crops always likely to vary from year-to-year, I used an average of all the foal crops from each country from 2012 to 2016 inclusive to come up with one foal crop number on which to judge each country’s’ results in each year. To give context as to the depth of each countries stallion population, I have included a listing of how many stallions stand for €50,000 or more in each country, using today’s exchange rates. Finally, I calculated the percentages of 115+ and 120+ horses bred in each country per foal during 2015, 2016 and 2017 and then averaged each of those values for each country so I could express all that data in one table here:

Country bred in

Average Foal Crop from 2012-16

Stallions Standing for €50k or more

Average % of 115+ Per Foal from 2015-17

Average % of 120+ Per Foal from 2015-17































Great Britain





New Zealand










 Again, these numbers make for intriguing reading and raise any number of questions.

In Europe, Great Britain and Ireland very much lead the way of the bigger breeding nations. It should be noted that the live-foal stats from those countries also include foals that are declared as being intended for National Hunt racing. In Great Britain, this is approximately 13% of all foals and in Ireland it is approximately 30%. Thus, if the National Hunt foals were deducted from their foal crop numbers, their 115+ per foal percentages would both be close to 1% and their 120+ per foal percentages would both be close to 0.22%, making them the clear leaders based on this analysis.

The numbers also confirm the commonly-held view that the pocket-sized breeding industry in Germany very much punches above its weight in the breeding world.

On the other side of the European coin, the figures registered by France can only be considered below expectation. It should be acknowledged that the French foal crop numbers also include National Hunt breds, but what percentage of the total foal crop they account for is unclear. With the same conclusion likely to have been drawn by those that paid particular attention to France’s statistics in last week’s article, it does raise some tough questions for French racing.

While the French very much have it right in terms of the financial structure of their industry and their participants benefit from excellent prize money as a result, these numbers would raise questions as to why their breeders and trainers aren’t producing more high-class horses. Perhaps some of the explanation may lie with how relatively few world-class stallions stand there, but it is certainly concerning.

Outside of Europe, Japan is the shining light in terms of breeding operations. If Hong Kong has performed wonders to develop their racing industry into the world power that it has in a little over 20 years, then Japan has performed an equal and possibly even greater task in growing into a world power in thoroughbred breeding in a similar timeframe.

Less than 30 years have passed since Sunday Silence was imported to Japan and he, along with an array of top-class broodmares imported from around the world by the Yoshida family, have proven to be the foundations upon which the Japanese thoroughbred breeding industry has been built. This has culminated in Sunday Silence’s son Deep Impact now being widely considering to be one of the very best sires in the world.

As was the case last week, Australia’s numbers come in at lower-than-expected levels. They may not have quite the same stallion power as their main rivals amongst the world’s leading breeders, but one would have expected them to produce more high-class performers than they have. The debate as to why this is the case is likely to continue.

While much of these statistics can be interpreted in different ways, they certainly raise a lot of interesting and sometimes questions for various racing and breeding industries around the world.

Kevin Blake
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