The breeding and racing communities have been shocked by the news that Newmarket’s Equine Fertility Unit (EFU) will be closed at the end of the year due to a lack of funds.

Professor Twink Allen, who has led the pioneering unit since its establishment in 1989, told H&H he was “gutted” about the decision.

“I could understand it if the unit had been struggling,” he said, “but it’s absolutely booming. Everyone has reacted with incredulity.”

The EFU produced Europe’s first test-tube foal and has been the primary driver in increasing fertility rates in Thoroughbreds. It is currently carrying out three major research projects, including one on using equine embryonic stem cells for tendon repair.

Prof Allen said he wants to find a “white knight” to save the unit, but admitted: “I don’t think anyone will help — a lot of politics are involved.”

The decision to close the unit was made by the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association (TBA). Although the Levy Board funds the EFU, the TBA is a signatory on the lease for the unit’s land and responsible for its employees.

As a condition of future support, the Levy Board wanted the EFU to be linked closer to an academic institution. Nottingham University agreed to take over its running, but wanted £450,000 a year in funding as opposed to the current figure of £300,000.

When this increase became apparent earlier in the month, it was decided that the TBA would not apply to the Levy Board for more funding. The TBA’s 3,000 members were not consulted, but they received a letter explaining the decision.

In it, TBA chairman Philip Freedman wrote: “We did not believe the revised proposal [for the extra £150,000] had any realistic chance of being endorsed by the Levy Board.

“It could have damaged our relationship with [the Levy Board] to the detriment of other areas on which we are dependent for their support.”

But Prof Allen said the funding, in industry terms, is relatively low.

“Breeders pay that for a stallion nomination,” he argued. “By losing the EFU, we’ll lose our ability to adapt to changes in the breeding world, to tackle problems and explore new developments.”

He said: “The TBA doesn’t like us doing embryo transfer and artificial insemination (AI), but we need the funds from this to survive. The TBA doesn’t even want to understand our situation — to do this to the industry is wrong.”

Prof Allen was to retire from the EFU this year and had found a “world expert” from overseas to succeed him. If the closure goes ahead, 10 jobs will be lost.

Jonathon Dodd runs Louella Stud in Leicester and has clients who use the EFU.
He said: “The smaller studs are going to struggle if the unit does close. I do think TBA members should have been balloted.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (24 May, ’07)