Crop Chop - By Dan Liebman

The question was not whether fewer mares were bred this year, but exactly how many? With a struggling economy, stallion owners were talking about a reduction in mares for all but the hottest stallions. Now, The Jockey Club has answered the question: roughly 12% fewer.

Though the complete Report of Mares Bred will not be released for a few months, officials of The Jockey Club announced Aug. 14 that it is projecting the 2010 North American foal crop at 30,000, the lowest level in more than 30 years. It also dropped the earlier estimate of the 2009 crop from 35,400 to 34,000.

Ever since the rapid growth in the commercial market caused the foal crop to top 50,000 in 1985-87—the top being 51,296 in 1986—it has been steadily declining, dropping
under 40,000 in 1992 and now down to 30,000, a number not seen since the 30,036 of 1977.

For further historical reference, the size of the foal crop first topped 5,000 in 1935; 10,000 in 1956; and 20,000 in 1966. But a rise or drop from one year to the next of 12% has never happened before.
There are many ramifications from a smaller foal crop, some positive and some negative.

  • What happens to the nearly 3,500 mares that were not bred this year? Will their owners return them to the breeding shed in a year or two, or do we now have more “unwanted” horses, a problem becoming more visible after years of overbreeding?
  • When the full report is issued, we will see which stallions had trouble attracting mares this year. Some will surely be sold, while others will be pensioned from active duty.
  • The need for fewer stallions may cause some horses not to be even tried at stud, a possible negative. Some of those same horses may remain in training longer, a possible positive.
  • A reduction in stud fees lightens the load on breeders but means less income for breeding farms. Those that paid hefty prices for stallion prospects in recent years will have a longer period
    to “get out” on their investment.
  • Fewer foals means fewer sale horses and fewer racehorses. Less supply could translate to more demand in auction rings, but fewer racehorses could bring hard times on some trainers.

It is not farfetched that a drop of this magnitude could ripple down to mean fewer farms, stallions, mares, owners, breeders, trainers, and racetracks. Whether that is a positive or negative depends on your point of view.


Even in a down market, a blip of positive news is possible, as evidenced by the upswing in business at the Aug. 10-11 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale. The auction was up in gross, average,
and median.

However, though any good news right now is sorely needed—psychologically as much as anything—to make too big a deal of the Saratoga sale results, with just 160 horses sold, would be foolish.

After Fasig-Tipton was purchased last year by an associate of Sheikh Mohammed, sale company officials said one of the goals was to make the Saratoga auction the elite place to sell summer yearlings, much as it was in the first half of the 20th century and the Keeneland July sale was thereafter. They worked hard to increase the catalog and presented quality individuals that impressed prospective buyers.

For the first time in 20 years, sale company officials persuaded Sheikh Mohammed to attend the sale personally, and though his agents have purchased horses there every year, his sheer presence
made an important statement.

The Maktoum family and associates spent $18,345,000, nearly 35% of the gross. That certainly is not unprecedented; the Maktoums spent more than $76 million at the 2006 Keeneland September
sale, more than $63 million at that venue in 2005, and as far back as 1984, bought horses for $51 million at Keeneland July (more than 50% of the gross).

We will get a truer read on the overall market next month at Keeneland.


Leave a Comment:


Not to be a cynic, which I often seem to be, but fewer foals means the "cream will rise to the top" will be hard on the middle/lower levels, so the Rescues will need to pick up the slack of the "unwanted" while the industry adjusts (shouldn't be that way, but it is what it is, not caring for the animals the industry created)...

The top echelon will feel nary a ripple in the quality of horses produced, and as is always the case in the breeding of animals, there will be plenty of "not good enough" to fill the lower ranks of the hard knockin' blue collar runner, God Bless 'em..

18 Aug 2009 5:05 PM

I am hoping that means we will have more competitive and higher quality fields for upcoming triple crowns races!

19 Aug 2009 3:12 PM

I think this is going to make a big impact on racing and racetracks.  The 'bread and butter' horses, the basis of racing will start to diminish.  Which I think would mean the claiming trainers would lose owners and they will also diminish.  It will be impossible to fill a racing card with allowance and stakes horses only but no breeder or owner will want his high priced animal running in the cheaper races to fill them and without a full racing card on their allotted racing days, then racetracks will too diminish. Obviously a lot of well bred horses will have little ability and need to run cheaper but I doubt it will be enough. Then the domino effect takes place.  This is my worst case scenario, someone come up with something more positive    

20 Aug 2009 7:55 AM


20 Aug 2009 9:19 AM

Another part of the good news about a a smaller crop is that it increases the chence we may finally get a Triple Crown winner!

With only the better stallions and mares being bred this year, the foal crop of 2010 may be smaller but it will likely have more talented horses.  Oh, we can only hope!

20 Aug 2009 12:50 PM

I have already seen first hand the ramifications of a stallion not attracting enough mares.  The sire of my colt was bred to only 17 mares last year, and has been returned to the racing wars.  His first start back, not surprisingly, was a last-place finish at Monmouth Park on July 19.  

21 Aug 2009 7:07 PM
John T.

No one could call Ole Bob Bowers one of those so called ''Hot Stallions'' Yet he went on to produce one of the most remarkable

racehorses in recent times when he sired John Henry.I shudder to think

of the many John Henry,s the racing

world will be missing out on if breeders are not willing to take chances with stallions like that.

21 Aug 2009 11:08 PM

Good piece. Shows the nuance of a multi-variable analysis. We don't know where this will lead, all the what-ifs, but we can take some educated guesses.

Where I hope it leads - to a reduction in speculative over-breeding. Less backyard breeding. Fewer horses dropping into the low-level claiming ranks, needing pain meds to run. With fewer foals, can we expect the #s coming off the tracks will put less pressure on not for profit rescues, that responsible retirement and rehoming can be assured by  breeders and owners, registry fees, or is that still an unrelated pipe dream? I hope not.  

Let's hope too - with less of a land rush to the breeding shed - we find our way back to sturdier bloodlines and longer careers. I'm all for change that brings more great geldings like Commentator, Better Talk Now, Evening Attire, John Call, Mine That Bird and the late, great John Henry.

John T - word. Where would we be without John Henry and the other passed over, heart-as-big-as-Kansas horses that little guys dream of walking into the winners circle with? These warriors are the heart and soul of racing, the "Hey, you never know."

22 Aug 2009 2:19 PM

I hope and pray smaller foal crops becomes the trend.

22 Aug 2009 6:18 PM

A 40% drop since the mid 80's is quite a statement.  Perhaps now the people that raise horses for a living might have a chance of staying in business and their horses given a fair shake at auction. The breeders of the winners of 3 of the 4 Graded stakes races yesterday lost money.  It costs a breeder roughly $20-30,000 from last cover to drop of the hammer to bring a yearling to auction.  That does not include the cost of the mare nor the stud fee.  The winner of the Alabama G1 sold for $40,000, The Iselin G3, RNA $5,500, Canadian Derby under $10,000 US dollars.

I don't see it having much of an impact at the race tracks.  But I do think it will have a significant impact on the large commercial farms along with their suppliers and loss of jobs.  Water seeks its own level.

23 Aug 2009 10:16 AM

If the owners of throughbreds would all take care of their horses after they are done racing then I would say breed how many you want BUT this is not the case and to many throughbreds are thrown away like they were nothing simply because they dont like to race.  They all cant be champions so I say they should breed less , they do not need to keep pumping them out every year in search of a great one The great ones will come along, but lets not forget the claimers still deserve a great home . the rescues just cant keep up  BREED LESS   thanks Darlene.

25 Nov 2009 9:42 AM

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