Racing's Backbone - By Dan Liebman

(Originally published in the March 27, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)     

The results of a study done by the Thoroughbred Breeders Australia received little publicity in the United States when released last week, but its findings are noteworthy.

Data showed breeders own part or all of 63% of horses in training in Australia and had contributed more than $500 million in training fees over the past two years. No other costs, such as the purchase price of horses, breaking and preparing them for racing, and veterinary care, were included.

“The study demonstrates conclusively that breeders largely underwrite racing and make a massive contribution to the income and well-being of industry participants,” Trevor Lobb, president of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, said.

The organization also noted in the study that breeders contributed another $10 million annually through sponsorships and incentive programs.

To my knowledge, no such study has been conducted in the U.S., but it seems safe to say its conclusions would be similar. As a matter of course, The Blood-Horse refers to most breeders as “owner/breeder” because few persons who breed Thoroughbreds do not also have their owner’s license.

Not that many years ago many of the leading stables in North America were homebred operations that bred for their own racing stables. Today that number has dwindled to just a few pure homebred operations. There are many breeders that have a considerable number of horses at the racetrack, a few examples being Adena Springs, WinStar, and Darley.

There also are breeders that follow a simple philosophy that helps them develop their broodmare bands: Sell colts and race fillies.

And, of course, there are those breeders who do not necessarily intend to have a horse in training but buy one back at a sale or buy out a partner, and thus find themselves needing a trainer and a set of racing silks.

The study in Australia reports that 7,177 of 8,500 breeders (84%) share in the ownership of more than 35,000 horses in training.

In North America, The Jockey Club estimates there are 18,000 breeders, but no one knows how many horses those breeders own or how much they pay in training fees. In fact, no one even knows how many owners there are in North America.

Licensing in the United States is done by each state; there is no database able to identify the number of owners throughout the country.

Regulations also vary from state to state. One state, for instance, may allow a three-year license while others require annual renewals. One state may require all members of a partnership to be licensed while another may insist only the managing partner obtain a license.

If there is a group of 50 individuals who own a horse, do you count that as one owner or 50 owners?

What is clear is that as in Australia, breeders in North America also help underwrite racing. Besides the day rates paid to trainers, breeders shell out millions in other ways. For one thing, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships would not exist without breeders, who fund the event through the annual payment of an amount equal to a stallion’s stud fee as well as the nomination of foals.

In addition, state-bred programs are funded by breeders who nominate horses to make them eligible to compete for purses restricted to those progeny.

At every track in North America, horses are racing for breeders. The men and women who breed Thoroughbreds are involved in an agricultural industry, but they also enjoy the thrill and excitement of the racetrack.

Similarly, there are countless stories of a person who became a Thoroughbred owner, only to become a Thoroughbred breeder eventually. Becoming a breeder must surely give that person a better idea of what it is like to be part of the backbone of the industry.

As Australia found out, the support breeders give to racing is enormous.

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