The thoroughbred horse breeding sector in Italy

Corsa cavalli da galoppo in notturna

How is the thoroughbred horse breeding sector faring in Italy? We discussed this topic with Antonio Viani, president of the Union of Thoroughbred Owners UPG (Unione Proprietari Galoppo) and owner of Zenzalino Breeding, where the famous trotter Varenne was born and raised.

“In the thoroughbred sector, the number of foals born each year has significantly decreased, dropping from 1500-1800 units, recorded up to a decade ago, to about 600 in recent years. There has also been a reduction in production in the trotting sector, although it is more contained. The reasons are varied, primarily the crisis in Italian horse racing, which has prompted many breeders to significantly reduce their broodmare herds.”

Numbers abroad, Viani explains, are quite different: “In England, there are almost 5,000 foals born each year; in 2022, there were about 4,500. In Ireland, over 8,000 foals are born. In Italy, the most important thoroughbred breeding, the Velino dei Botti Breeding, where about 15 percent of Italian foals are born, counts about 80 new foals each year.”

Thoroughbred breeding pays the price for a misguided mentality

“The market suffers from a shortage of owners willing to invest in Italian horse racing, turning instead to foreign markets where buyers come from all over the world,” says Viani. “On one hand, it is obvious that lower numbers are associated with a lower likelihood of quality; on the other hand, a mentality has developed that encourages buying outside Italy, and not always for good reason. Abroad, we often buy the second, third, and fourth choice, and often the foals we bring to Italy do not achieve the expected results. When owners buy in Italy, they also spend much lower amounts. An example is the Top Price sold at the recent auctions organized by SGA (Auction Management Society) at the Snai San Siro Racecourse in Milan, awarded for 160,000 euros when the stud fee of the sire, Sea The Stars, is set at 180,000 euros. Something is not right…”

The auctions organized by SGA, held this year on September 9, are the only thoroughbred horse auctions in Italy. “In the only Italian auction, 100-120 foals are presented. Among all the births, some foals are sold by the most important breeders as foals, i.e., in the year of birth. Others are offered at yearling auctions outside Italy, thus reducing the numbers and quality of our auctions. Smaller breeders often sell privately to cut costs.”

A roundtable to find new solutions

How could the thoroughbred horse breeding sector in Italy recover? “The first thing to do is to talk, questioning the decisions made so far,” concludes Antonio Viani. “Cultural work is needed because the Italian product is still competitive, and we must make that known. Together with ANAC (National Association of Horse Breeders) President Stefano Luciani, we are considering a roundtable among industry operators, with representatives from various roles, to discuss and open a debate that brings out new solutions.”

Valentina Schenone | Translation by HSJ

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