Running into a stiffening headwind of opposition, The Jockey Club rescinded its controversial rule limiting the number of mares bred per stallion Thursday.

Ashford Stud-TJC Breeding Rule
Ashford Stud, the home of Triple Crown-winning stallions American Pharoah and Justify, was one of three breeding farms challenging The Jockey Club’s breeding limits. The Jockey Club rescinded the rule. (Image: Ashford Stud)

The rule limiting stallions born in 2020 or later to a maximum of 140 mares in a calendar year was adopted in May 2020. The Jockey Club instituted the rule to reduce overbreeding among Thoroughbred horses.

At the time, The Jockey Club said it instituted the rule “to preserve the health of the Thoroughbred breed for the long term. …” It cited overbreeding as a major threat to the sport’s long-term future.

Breeding farms, however, saw the rule as a long-term threat to their existence. Breeding is a multi-billion dollar industry, more lucrative than racing, which explains why not long after The Jockey Club announced the rule, several of those giant breeders began marshaling legal opposition.

Three powerhouse farms weren’t abiding this

Three of them: Spendthrift Farm, Ashford Stud and Three Chimneys Farm, filed a lawsuit in February 2021 challenging the rule. In 2020, those three farms accounted for 16 of the 42 stallions who covered (mated with) more than 140 mares. Those 16 stallions bred 1,088 mares over the 140-mare limit.

Last year, Spendthrift’s stallions comprised six of the top 10 stallions in terms of mares covered. Between red-hot sire Into Mischief and his sons Goldencents, Authentic, Practical Joke, Instagrand and Audible, those six stallions bred a combined 1,275 mares. Goldencents led all North American stallions with 230 mares covered. Authentic (229) and Practical Joke (228) were right on his heels.

You get the idea. Breeding and sales may not bring rabid, mint julep-drinking, wild hat-wearing crowds to the track. But it brings money — lots and lots of it — to the sport.

Kentucky Legislature taking on The Jockey Club

And, in case the breeders ran into problems on the judicial front, the Kentucky House of Representatives had their collective backs. On Tuesday, David Osborne, the speaker of the Kentucky House, introduced a bill that would bar “a registrar of Thoroughbreds” limiting “the number of mares that can be bred to a stallion or otherwise refuse to register any foal based upon the number of mares bred to the stallion. …”

This was a direct broadside at The Jockey Club, because only Thoroughbreds registered by The Jockey Club may run pari-mutuel races in most states, including Kentucky. The Jockey Club’s Rule 14C would have prohibited any foals beyond the 140 limit from racing.

This would have carried over past the US borders because The Jockey Club is North American’s representative in the International Stud Book Committee. Because the ISBC recognizes 69 stud books worldwide, it has an agreement only horses registered as Thoroughbreds can be listed in stud books.

No resistance to the bill

Osborne’s bill, which faced little resistance in the Kentucky House or Senate, would have given the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission power to select a registrar that would “submit to the jurisdiction of Kentucky.” Translated, that means the state could do an end-around any rules by The Jockey Club and allow the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund to certify a Thoroughbred.

”It is clear this legislation had overwhelming support from State legislators, who recognized that the cap risked impacting the livelihoods of many working in the industry and would have hurt an activity for which Kentucky is internationally renowned and respected,” Ashford Stud said in a statement. “We commend Speaker Osborne and Representative (Matthew) Koch for taking the lead on this issue, which will help to keep Kentucky relevant in the international bloodstock market. From our experience in Ireland, we know how important it is to nurture a critical mass of breeding excellence, which is a position Kentucky has long held, and can now maintain into the future.”

Ashford said in that statement it plans to send 10 mares to Into Mischief at Spendthrift this breeding season.

The Jockey Club cut its losses

“Something that would not be possible with stallions of his stature in future if the cap had been maintained, and it would restrict similar access for many other breeders also,” Ashford said.

Seeing the path this was traveling, The Jockey Club decided to punt, putting the best face on a losing battle.

“The Jockey Club board of stewards is rescinding this rule as it is concerned that the reaction to the rule may divide the industry at a time when there are many important issues that need to be addressed with unity,” The Jockey Club Chairman Stuart S. Janney III said in a statement. “We are taking this action for the greater good of the entire industry. The Jockey Club remains committed to the sustainability and welfare of the breed and will continue to invest in programs and research that will bolster and support the industry in the years to come.”