Avoiding the Edge - by Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the August 10, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Eric Mitchell - @BH_EMitchell on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell At first blush one might expect some concern over at The Jockey Club regarding last week’s ruling in Texas that the American Quarter Horse Association violated federal antitrust laws by banning the registration of cloned horses.

The North American Thoroughbred registry has steadily held the line on requiring all registered horses to be the result of natural cover. In 2002 TJC went the extra step by amending its rules to specifically prohibit cloning.

Proponents of artificial insemination, embryo transfer, and cloning technology, however, have challenged breed registry rules several times in the U.S. and abroad since 2001, alleging violations of antitrust and free-trade laws. They have had some success.

A case in 2002, also against the AQHA, forced the organization to begin registering all foals born by embryo transfer. Previously the AQHA allowed the registration of foals conceived by embryo transfer but only one foal per mare per year. A court found the one-foal rule was an unreasonable restraint of trade, so the AQHA settled with the plaintiff and changed its rule.

In the clone lawsuit the attorneys for rancher Jason Abraham and Amarillo veterinarian Gregg Veneklasen successfully argued that clones should not be excluded from the registry, particularly since the AQHA has already recognized “non-natural breeding techniques” such as artificial insemination.

This point about opening the door to non-natural breeding techniques is where TJC should find solace. It has kept the lid on Pandora’s Box.

Other than to restate its position,  TJC didn’t have much to say officially about the AQHA case:

“The facts involved in the AQHA case are very different from those applicable to the registration of Thoroughbreds and the decision in that case has no bearing on the rules for registering Thoroughbreds. TJC, as an organization dedicated to the improvement of Thoroughbred racing and breeding, believes that the short- and long-term welfare of the sport of Thoroughbred racing and the Thoroughbred breed are best served by the current rules.”

A Jockey Club official did add that antitrust issues are an important element of every decision the organization makes as a matter of course.

Another, more thoroughly tried case in Australia also reinforced the stance against AI.

Down Under, commercial breeder Bruce McHugh, who is former chairman of the Sydney Turf Club, sued the Australian Jockey Club in 2011 on the grounds that prohibiting AI creates a restraint of trade. After a year of intense discovery by both sides, Justice Alan Robertson dismissed the case for lack of evidence.

“The effect on competition and the international consequences, that is…in a world where prohibition was overturned in Australia, the status of Thoroughbred races held in Australia would be downgraded,” Robertson said in his ruling.

And by extension, the value of the Australian Thoroughbred on the international market would be severely damaged by allowing AI, according to an analysis on the equine industry and antitrust written by Brad Keeton, Sam Hinkle, and William Jay Hunter Jr. with the Stoll Keenon Ogden law firm.

Australia is one of 72 member countries in the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities. If AI were allowed, then Australia would have to withdraw from the federation and that would damage the ability of Australian horses to compete internationally, noted the Stoll Keenon Ogden paper. AI would not enhance trade; it would actually have the opposite effect.

“The small breeders are very much aware of how precarious their livelihoods would be in a post-AI world,” Chauncey Morris, CEO of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, told Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder in 2012 after the case was dismissed. “When AI was introduced to the Standardbred industry, it pushed out a lot of smaller operations.”

By holding the line on natural cover, TJC seems well-positioned to defend itself from challenges for breeding techniques not even imagined when artificial insemination was allowed by the AQHA in 1963. If a registry recognizes clones, after all, what prevents the registration of genetically modified horses? Cloning requires manipulation, which may be considered not that different from gene splicing.

Regardless of what American breeders may think of AI, it appears now to be that first step down a steep and slippery slope; a slope on which the AQHA is gaining speed.

4 Comments

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John from Baltimore

With stallions going to stud now with four, five and six starts and having foal crops of 75 to 150 foals the big breeders are destroying the durabilty of the bred fast enough.  Just think what they could do with artificial insemination and foal crops of 200 to 300.

On the positve side if the breeders can get the average starts down to six from around twelve you would need twice as many horses to run the same number of races if anyone was around to buy them.

In conclusion it looks like the Jockey Club by not allowing A.I. is protecting the breed from the big breeders who sit on the board.

If anyone doesn't think the breed is getting worst, look at Arlinton's Saturday, August 10, program.  Six out of ten races are for maidens.

07 Aug 2013 5:26 PM
Bethany Loftis

As a Quarter Horse owner and competitor, the effects of allowing AI has had an over all negative impact on the breed. The registry boasts over 4 million registered worldwide. If thoroughbred owners are worried about the size of stallion books at 100-175 per season, they'd be appalled at the 250-400+ that a Quarter Horse stallion is allowed to cover in a single season with the help of shipped cooled and frozen semen. Embryo transfer also allows several mare owners to breed the same mare over and multiple times to different stallions getting any where from 3-12 foals from one mare. This flooding has had a negative impact on the Quarter Horse market. The horses hold no value, and there are so many, not all can properly be taken care of. I volunteer at my local equine clinic, we see far more neglected Quarter Horses than thoroughbreds. The Jockey Club has done the right thing by only allowing live cover breeding. They have not shot themselves in the foot by opening the door for cloned registration as the AQHA have done. I do hope the AQHA continues to fight this, but the argument to allow clones seems well thought out. My question is, can a breed registry that size readily change the rules involving natural breeding and AI? Or will the risk of general outcry be too great?

07 Aug 2013 7:33 PM
AngelaInAbilene

As an AQHA owner, who married into a founding AQHA family, since the allowing of AI by the AQHA, I have been beyond disgusted with them.  I am no longer a member and I no longer run, show or breed QH's.  

Once upon a time, the AQHA was about preserving the qualities breed.  For the last 20-25 years, they have been about generating money through registration.  Pure GREED!  It took YEARS for them to even acknowledge HYPP as a problem and court battles plus more YEARS before they done something about it.  If you look at a recent Winter Sale catalogue, you'll see a mare with 23 ET foals!  [Nevermind that the mare should have never even produced 1.]

I sincerely hope the proponents of AI and other breeding technologies NEVER prevail with the JC.  It would most definately be a sad day to watch the JC slide to the depths the AQHA.

10 Aug 2013 10:19 AM
mokee

Since AI began in the Arabian industry we have seen both the positive side of this (being able to breed to great stallions that stand outside the USA as well as all over our country (good for the small breeder) BUT and this is the big BUT... the downside is such that it hasn't been worth it, in my estimation.  We can't limit the number of ET's in any one year and I've seen same year siblings running against each other in the same race.  Worse than that we've  opened the door to "cloning", I stated this would happen many years back.  I'm disgusted that our US court system treats this in an anti-trust manner the same as if we were selling 'widgets'.  These are animals and messing with mother nature who knows where this will end.  I hope the JC never changes it's stand on AI as it is a very slippery slope.  

16 Aug 2013 8:47 AM

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