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For further historical reference, the size of the foal crop first topped 5,000 in 1935; 10,000 in 1956; and 20,000 in 1966.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.

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