In broad strokes, things are not OK in the breeding world of Kentucky in 2009. One stallion manager had five mares booked to a fourth-year horse in early January, and only 20 more were added to his book as of yesterday. A sheriff’s sale recently saw a young $900,000 Red Ransom mare sell for a couple of thousand dollars. An aged and empty Graded stakes winner of more than $650,000, who’d produced a Graded stakes winner of more than $700,000, was given away recently to another breeder. This is the new reality of Kentucky in 2009 versus 2008.
“There’s blood on the streets of Kentucky,” one breeder said recently. He noted that collecting stud fees this year had been and still is extremely difficult, and he estimated that there’d be a number of 2009 foals that would not be registered.
A farm owner recently lamented that board bills were coming in on a two-month to three-month lag, and his wealthier clients were having as much difficulty as others in paying. “One guy I have is worth $50 million,” he said, “but he hasn’t paid his board bill for six months now.”
A well-known bloodstock agent with knowledge of the situation said recently that “one of the bigger stud farms” in Kentucky is in foreclosure, and he projected that the Keeneland November sale this year would be “a dumping ground for cheap mares.”
Another farm owner said: “Looks like we’re not going to get slots — and other states have them — so we’re losing mares to out of state. Hey, I’d do the same if I didn’t have a farm here. It’s almost twice as expensive to board a mare here as it is in Maryland or somewhere else. Of course, when you lose mares, what’s going to happen to the sires?”
For the stud farms, things will continue to get tougher, and it will be difficult to stand new horses, too. “There’s a well-known horse that was recently retired, a Grade 1 winner with a great family that a year or two ago would have been on everyone’s shortlist. He would have been placed on a farm by now, but I haven’t heard anything about him so far,” the bloodstock agent said.
The stallions that are at stud are being pressed into shuttle duty this year at a rate far greater, it seems, than in past years, and this group now includes many horses standing for less than $10,000. Squeezing ever dollar out of a horse now is imperative. The latest to get on the shuttle is Vinery’s Stormello, who stands for $7,500. He will head to Argentina to stand at La Leyenda, where Three Chimneys’ Exchange Rate also will stand the 2009 Southern Hemisphere season.
One bloodstock consultant put it this way yesterday: “I guess this is one reason why the ‘Old Guard’ is losing power in Kentucky. Take a look at the Breeders’ Cup elections; people aren’t happy with the people who have been leading this industry, and in bad times they gotta go. You saw it happen in the election for the President. No difference. Dinny Phipps and his buddies are losing their power base. And it’s the stud farms and breeders in Kentucky that’s voting them out.”