The Thoroughbred bloodstock market has tanked, investors and even fans are leaving the industry in droves, and the world economy shows no signs of a quick turn-around. Can there be a silver lining to these dark days of horse racing?
Well, yes. The dim prospects for Thoroughbred sales across the board will serve to cut down on overbreeding. Mares that really shouldn't be bred will get at least a couple of years off, and might possibly be retired outright. We've known for years -- decades, perhaps -- that the average quality of mares bred each year has decreased, because the total number of broodmares has increased.
While the industry as a whole will be hurt by the loss of overall revenue, it's probably best for the long-term interest of horse racing that we're about to shed an entire segment of horse owners -- investors who are in it merely as an easy-money venture. Short-term, it's bad news. Think fewer stallion seasons, less equine transportation, and a cut in the need for veterinary services, amongst myriad other drop-offs in farm spending. Lesser stallions will see a series of stud fee reductions until there's no fee left to cut. The bigger stud farms will survive with their more popular stallions kept busy, but even then the farms will have to make do with decreased revenue from lower fees. Many smaller farms won't have the luxury of riding out the downturn, and several will likely fold.
Not a pretty picture.
But 10 years from now, the market -- and the Thoroughbred industry along with it -- will have gone through a full correction. We'll have fewer (but better) mares producing fewer (but better) foals each year. And that will yield a few positives for horse racing:
We'll have a Triple Crown winner sometime between 2013 and 2015. Think about it -- the average North American Thoroughbred foal crop in the 11 years that produced a Triple Crown winner was 10,923 foals. Today, it's over 37,000. A smaller crop yields better opportunity due to less competition. (That's not a knock, by the way. Citation is one of the greatest racehorses ever, and was born in a crop of only 5,819 foals.)
We're going to have a golden year for commercial breeders -- I'm guessing 2011 or 2012. When the economy does improve, we'll see renewed interest in yearlings and 2-year-olds -- and the decreased production will mean the supply will (finally) be smaller than the demand. If you breed with great timing, you'll have a sale horse when the market is hot.
This could mark a shift from commercial breeding to "race breeding." While there's no fundamental problem with breeding foals to sell, it has led to the production of foals for good looks and an impressive pedigree on paper, to the detriment of crosses that produce sound and durable runners.
Race horse owners are more likely to keep their runners on the track. For too long, good runners (and, frankly, poor ones as well) were simply more valuable in the breeding shed than they were on the racetrack. If the breeding industry goes through a correction, it's likely that owners will keep their horses in training to bring home purse money and to prove themselves worthy before they're entered into a stud career. That applies as much to potential stallions as to would-be broodmares.
All of the above factors should help to rebuild the fan base of horse racing. A Triple Crown winner ... horses that have long enough careers to establish devotees ... and new investment opportunities in a stronger economy -- these all equate to a revitalized atmosphere for racing to prosper in.
Alan Keyes once remarked that "before we can triumph, we must survive." If you're part of the Thoroughbred industry, keep that in mind for the next few years.