France Galop has announced a change in its rules of racing which forbids fillies and mares from racing after they have been covered by a stallion.
The amendment brings the rules for Thoroughbred racing in France into line with those for Arabians and for Standardbreds used for trotting However, it is a move which puts France at odds with its fellow European Thoroughbred racing jurisdictions. In Britain and Ireland, fillies and mares can continue to compete for up to 120 days after being covered. If not found to be pregnant after covering, they can continue racing.
There has been some disquiet among breeders in France and beyond at the sparse communication on this issue, with the changes having been implemented in the middle of the covering season without breeders and owners being notified.
Julian Ince of Haras du Logis, a member of the Federation des Eleveurs du Galop (French TBA), committee member of the owners’ federation and head of the French stallion commission, said, “France Galop dealt with this in a democratic way within their system. It was proposed by a commission, it went to the administrative council, and it went to the France Galop committee and was voted through. However, while there may have been a few members of the TBA who were on those committees who were perhaps informed, the committee of the TBA was not informed of this rule change, and neither was the owners’ federation.”
He added, “It would have been preferable for France Galop to have communicated and to have had a debate with the professionals. There are 2,300 members of the [French] TBA and 1,500 of us are owners, but we weren’t involved. We’re all trying to promote the French system and the prize-money but it is a little bit of shame that [French racing] has gone this way by itself, rather than on a European level. That’s my only regret. Maybe there is a case for this, and times have moved on, but it is a shame we have done this without communicating.”
According to the amendment made to Article 123 of the Code des Courses au Galop, from March 1, 2023, no filly or mare that has been covered or confirmed to be pregnant may take part in a race. If a mare who has been covered does not get in foal she will be eligible to race again after 120 days have elapsed from the last service date. No female that has produced a foal will be able to race within 240 days from the date of foaling.
The owner of any female horse in training who has been covered since January 1 of this year must inform the stewards of France Galop and the horse’s trainer in writing, giving details of the covering date and name of the stallion. The stewards must also be given written notification if it later transpires that the mare is not in foal.
Des Leadon, chair of the veterinary advisory committee of the European Federation of Thoroughbred Breeders Associations (EFTBA), has sounded a note of caution as to the wording used in such an announcement.
He said, “The announcement relates to the racing of pregnant mares and I think we have to be very careful in this era as to how we apply our terminology. In the Thoroughbred industry we don’t race pregnant mares because mares are mature females and, not to be semantic, there are stages of pregnancy.
“In the first 60 days after conception we are talking about an embryo, and an embryo is a very small entity, non-viable outside the uterus, and occupying minimal space. Its ability to have much influence over a 500kg animal is minimal.
“Between 60 days and 120 days, the post-conceptus entity is called a foetus. It’s not called a pregnancy. Even if we take the foetus up to 120 days, it probably weighs no more than two or three pounds and is no bigger than six or seven inches in length.”
Leadon continued, “Once a mare has conceived–and I prefer that to pregnant–of course there will be endocrine changes, but there are endocrine changes anyway in the reproductive cycle when mares are in estrous and when they are not. So my concern is that the use of a term that says ‘racing pregnant mares’ is misleading, and I think it’s emotive language that we should not be using in these circumstances. The term I would use is ‘after conceiving’.”
He added, “What seems to have happened is that this has come along from pressure rising within Arabian and Standardbred racing and although there are similarities with the Thoroughbred industry, there are also very significant differences. We don’t have artificial insemination, and we don’t have a situation in which we would have widespread racing of pregnant mares.”
Pierric Rouxel of Haras de Maulepaire, who serves on the jumps council of the Federation des Eleveurs du Galop (French TBA), echoed the sentiments expressed by Ince. He said, “The French should have advised the Irish and the English breeders. There has been a lack of communication from our side. I’m not against this change but the communication should have been better, particularly at this time of year when people are making plans for their horses.”
Leadon, too, called into question the timing of the rule change. He added, “One of the things that strikes a chord immediately is that the timing of this announcement is after the commencement of the breeding season.
“Our initial response [at EFTBA] is of course to have sympathy with racing administrations facing more and more difficult environments, but at the same time we issue a plea for a real focus on the extent of problems, on careful use of language, and a clear definition and understanding of what we are talking about. But, as ever, the biggest plea of all is for inclusive dialogue between racing and breeding from the very outset of these debates, and not just after a decision has been made.”