The project aims to improve understanding of the impact of Thoroughbreds’ early-life health and management on later-life racing performance and the financial viability of Thoroughbred breeding enterprises.


Recently published UK figures from industry-level data suggest that proportions of Thoroughbreds attaining career milestones have remained largely unchanged over the last 20 years. The new strategic plan for the welfare of horses bred for racing,  prioritises efforts to improve lifetime traceability and further understanding of management and health, particularly of those individuals not entering training or appearing on a racetrack. Such premature losses raise important economic concerns. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, two thirds of UK Thoroughbred breeding operations were estimated to be unprofitable. In 2020, sales revenues of unraced Thoroughbreds fell by over £70 million and it was suggested that 50% of yearlings were unlikely to have covered their production costs.

Our work to date has highlighted musculoskeletal disease and injury as the greatest barrier to productivity and demonstrated that management practices, such as turn out regimes, affect rates of these conditions during early-life. Evidence suggests that activity levels during growth can modulate tissue development and alter future susceptibility to injury and disease, making it likely that these early-life exposures also confer important long-term effects on musculoskeletal health and racing performance, alongside impacting production costs and profitability.

It is therefore vital that work is undertaken to comprehensively evaluate the economics of production, improve understanding of premature losses from the industry and investigate the influence of early-life exposures on future performance and profitability. Such work would inform strategies both to reduce musculoskeletal disease and injury in Thoroughbreds and to improve the productivity and sustainability of breeding enterprises.


The project will further utilise and expand an ongoing Thoroughbred birth cohort study by collecting sales, training and racing data and evaluating financial information to answer the following research questions:

  • What are the reasons for and the fate of individuals not entering training and/or appearing on the racecourse?
  • Are early-life exposures such as exercise and episodes of disease and injury associated with future performance?
  • How does early-life disease and injury influence farms’ production costs, productivity and profitability?

A birth cohort was established of foals born on a cross-section of stud farms across the UK and Ireland in 2019 and 2020. Daily turn out and exercise data were recorded prospectively along with details of any management or veterinary interventions until individuals left the stud farms. Retrospective data were also collected on mare reproductive management, breeding and gestational exposures. Further data on training and racing performance along with reasons for any individuals leaving the industry or failing to meet career milestones will be collected from stud and veterinary records and periodic questionnaires to owners and trainers. Training, race performance data and records of sales and exports will also be collected and verified from stud book authorities’ databases.

Multivariable statistical methods will be utilised to investigate associations between early-life exposures, in particular exercise and turn out and episodes of disease and injury, and entering training and racing, and race performance outcomes. Farm and veterinary financial data supplied from the cohort will be utilised to estimate production costs and costs of episodes of disease. Enterprise budgets will be built utilising sales and race earning data, to describe profitability and evaluate the economic impact of disease and injury.


Findings from the project will align with key priorities from the Thoroughbred industry’s welfare strategy. Firstly, by increasing transparency around the fate and welfare of Thoroughbreds bred for racing during their early-life stages, and secondly by informing strategies to reduce musculoskeletal disease and injury and improve industry retention and economic viability.

This will be the first time, in a UK setting, that the effects of early-life exposures, in particular exercise and turn out, on later-life milestones and race performance in Thoroughbreds have been comprehensively evaluated in a field setting. The nature of the study design means that results will be directly applicable at the stud farm level to inform management and turn out strategies to help retain Thoroughbreds within the industry and facilitate attainment of maximum athletic potential.

In contrast to previous industry-level analyses, individual animal- and farm-level data will be utilised to inform accurate and applicable estimations of production costs and profitability. For the first time in UK Thoroughbreds the financial impact of early-life disease and injury will be evaluated. Results will provide novel understanding of the financial viability of current practices and inform farm-level economic decision making which can aid in ensuring the sustainability of Thoroughbred stud farms.


We thank the Horserace Betting Levy Board and Racing Foundation for generously funding this research (EPDF 2022-9).


Title Publication Year

Retrospective analysis of post-mortem findings in Thoroughbreds aged from birth to 18 months presented to a UK pathology laboratory

The Veterinary Journal


Date of birth and purchase price as foals or yearlings are associated with Thoroughbred flat race performance in the United Kingdom and Ireland

Veterinary Record Open


Descriptive Study of Medication Usage and Occurrence of Disease and Injury During Gestation in Thoroughbred Broodmares

Journal of Equine Veterinary Science


Epidemiology of disease and injury in Thoroughbred foals and yearlings on stud farms in the United Kingdom and Ireland



Retrospective analysis of the population dynamics and racing performance outcomes of the 2014 and 2015 UK and Ireland Thoroughbred foal crops.

Veterinary Record


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