Posts Tagged ‘Breeders Forum’

I came away from the North Island Standardbred Breeders Forum a bit disappointed, as once again a great opportunity to discuss ideas and move solutions forward took a back seat to presentations on the current state of the industry and a description of the funding model.

The workshops and panel discussion was squeezed in at the end, merged into table-based brainstorming on a list of high level industry-wide topics with an over-moderated panel discussion. Maybe that was so we could finish on time, but the result was much less of a “forum” than was advertised.

I looked around the room at the 50 to 60 guests and saw the range of breeding was well represented, from the big and high end, to those who may have just one or two mares.

So there was a fantastic opportunity to focus in on some specific breeders issues and get some insights and some potential solutions. And perhaps to kick off some specific working groups. To bring people together, rather than just put them in one room.

But that didn’t happen. As each table reported back, there was a real lack of nitty gritty ideas to debate, and a lot more reiteration of what we already know. A table stacked with breeding leaders came up with the fact that “every part of the industry depends on the other parts”. It wasn’t their fault. It was just that the format of the forum didn’t allow them to come up with much else.

I noticed that three tables included specific reference to breeders incentives in their feedback to the wider group, but these were noted and put to one side by chair John Mooney, and instead we had protracted discussion between the panel and John on conditions as a way to deal with the falling number of race horses.

Maybe I had gone in the wrong door, and this was the Owners and Trainers Forum…

On the brighter side, Kiely Buttell kicked off the forum with a report on the profile of breeders and the survey NZSBA did on why those who left are doing so – interesting. Around 60% of breeders are breeding from just one mare, and this is where the industry is declining in terms of breeders stopping participating in breeding. Some of the exiting is through age and death, and many because of rising costs.

“Exit interviews” are well worth doing and can deliver very useful information. However our table later discussed whether those at the 1-mare end of the industry who have left are really those we might be trying to attract back – maybe they come from an era which is no longer applicable, an era of cheaper land, where every farmer had a mare in the back paddock. Do we want those people back? Instead, what has attracted some new breeders to start? And what would help those breeders in the middle range (2-5 mares) stay involved and add to their involvement? Someone from another table mentioned “trying to attract new customers vs rewarding and looking after current customers”. In any business, it is not an “either/or” You need to do both, but you have to get the balance right.

That middle group of breeders (2-5 mares) makes up about 33% of NZ standardbred breeders (19% with 2 mares; 14% with 3-5 mares). It is where hobby enthusiasm and business/financial reality meet, and perhaps where more effort could go into mentoring and finding out what would keep that group alive and well. The breeders of 6+ mares makes up the remaining 7% of NZ breeders. Figures were not available at the forum to show what percentage of mares or foals born each year (and perhaps registered foals) come from each of these groups of breeders, but have been promised.

Dominique Dowding

Dominique Dowding – CEO Alexandra Park and a provocative, interesting speaker at the forum

My attention was grabbed by the presentation by Dominique Dowding, CEO at Alexandra Park. It was well reasoned and provocative, just what we needed more of. She outlined some of the approaches that are taking the Auckland set up into the future. Among her statements I noted: Are higher stakes really the panacea? Stakes at Alexandra Park have increased but still many races are not attracting good numbers of entries. The perception seems to be that Alexandra Park is harder to win at so trainers and owners look for easier options with lower stakes further afield.

You could sense the frustration in her voice!

Dominique also challenged the structure of the industry – “The infrastructure is not correct, and the funding model is not correct.” Therefore any solutions we try may be addressing only the superficial issues rather than the fundamental ones. At Alexandra Park they stopped relying heavily on external funding streams and started focusing on generating their own sustainable income. She summed it up by saying that in many ways harness racing was a professional sport still acting like an amateur.

Her passion for a sound business model to base our industry on is music to my ears. It doesn’t mean we become some sort of soul-less Golden Arches “have-a-nice-day” industry. There are many successful industry models that we could learn from that incorporate both big and small players as producers and consumers – I can think of the New Zealand wine industry as one.


A forum with more focus and more time for sharing ideas and developing possible solutions would be great next time.

I don’t want to knock the organisers. The forum is a neat concept and I would love it to continue, but perhaps in a way that produces some “meatier” exchanges of ideas and has more focus on breeder issues and a plan for moving them forward. Come up with a tighter theme, produce some information in advance, and give more time over to the “forum” side of things, with presentations angled to feed into the discussion in one way or another.

So after all that, did I get any opportunity to raise the ideas about breeders bonuses that I covered in my last 4 or 5 blogs?

No. Only within my table discussion, which was about 30 minutes to cover off about 6 high level topics and try to come up with something we had done no homework on.

However I did say to both John Mooney and Kiely Buttell afterwards that I would be keen to follow up on that breeders bonus issue if it was approached in a consultative and planned way – and that I would like to see others involved to.

So here’s hoping.




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