In a stark indicator of racing’s status in the state, early reports indicate the number of Thoroughbred mares bred in Michigan dropped 40.5 percent from 2008 to 2009.
The information is based on the recently released Jockey Club 2009 Report of Mares Bred.
The report encompasses mares bred reports received through Oct. 13, 2009. The Jockey Club notes: “The annual statistics include the number of mares bred to each stallion and represent approximately 92 percent of the mares that eventually will be reported as bred in 2009. According to historical trends, The Jockey Club expects to receive RMBs representing an additional 4,000 to 5,000 mares bred from the 2009 breeding season.”
According to the Jockey Club, 50 Thoroughbred stallions bred 404 mares in 2008. In 2009, those numbers fell to 34 stallions covering 240 mares. The average book per sire also dropped from about eight mares to slightly over seven.
Of the 29 sires who covered mares in both of the last two years, only six saw an increase in their books. The biggest gainer was Diamond Strike, who covered four more mares in 2009 for a total of 13.
Only two sires covered more than 20 mares this breeding season; Meadow Prayer (27) and Equality (21) – down from five in 2008.
One obvious cause for the decrease in mares bred is the success and lure of nearby states with casino gaming and other alternative wagering. While the breeding industry faced a downward national trend, Pennsylvania’s program surged to a 29.6 percent gain in 2009. Indiana is another racino states within a close proximity to Michigan that has seen its mare population spike in recent years.
With slots-enriched purses and lucrative breeding programs, many Michigan horsemen who have stalls at tracks in racino states also take their mares to capitalize on state-bred incentives.
Another less tangible reason for the steep decline could be a lack in confidence following the release of Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s 2010 Executive Budget in February. In the budget, Granholm proposed major cuts to the Ag Equine Development Fund, most notably slashing all owner’s and breeder’s incentives.
An announcement of that caliber, made in the heart of breeding season, could justifiably make breeders think about looking elsewhere or simply letting their mares go empty for a season until things shake out. The funding was partially restored later (though it still remains in limbo), but by then breeding season had already come and gone
The effects of what will likely be a historically small foal crop in Michigan will first be felt at the yearling sales. Two years from now, when today’s statistics are tomorrow’s yearlings, the pool to fill the catalog will be smaller than ever. This year’s sale was half the size of last year’s. One can only imagine what the catalog might look like with a fraction of the yearlings to draw from.
In the long term, the small crop could have implications on future field sizes at Pinnacle Race Course. Restricted two and three-year-old races, especially the Sire Stakes, will likely be harder to fill. This may, however work to the advantage of those who decided to breed and buy Michigan-breds, as the competition for purse money will be thinner than ever. If, by some divine stroke of luck, the racino issue passes, these people will be in on the ground floor to immediately benefit. The demand may also drive up the sale value of foals in this crop as well.
Clearly, it would be hard to consider the staggering drop in mares bred to be anything but a negative sign. When business is good, people get their mares bred. When business is bad, they don’t. It will be interesting to see how this crop will affect the racing industry in the coming years and how the breeding industry will respond next year.
For more information on the decline in mares bred, I have compiled a spreadsheet focusing on Michigan sires over the last two years. The Jockey Club doesn’t have a “sort by state” function, so I have done all the hunting for you.
For more facts and figures regarding Michigan’s breeding program in recent years, I have compiled another spreadsheet with data from the previous two breeding seasons. I was saving it for another post that was in the works, but it fits here just as well.