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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While your article is primarily about breeders, I thought I would share our experiences last year about the costs of racing.  My wife and I own two horses which raced last year (one gelding and one filly).  We did not breed them originally but purchased them at auction.  They each raced 9 times last year.  Both of them collected purse money but not enough to cover their costs.  Costs for each of them to race came in, on average, at just over $34,000 (we race in the Mid-Atlantic area) with a day rate of $65 per day when in training.  In addition, we had about $1000 in general expenses such as licenses, liability insurance.  (Note that in some states, only one spouse needs an owner's license; in other states, both spouses need a license and you also must also get a partnership license.)  Their day rates represented about 66% of their total racing costs.  Other costs were vet bills (about 11%), trainer bonuses & race fees (each between 8% and 9%), blacksmith (about 3%) and transport (about 3%).  We have been racing these horses for several years now, and these amounts are roughly normal although trainer bonuses are very dependent on how much money the horses win.

One other note; we are planning on breeding the filly in Kentucky.  In that state, Kentucky levies a 6% tax of the stud fee for breeding.

23 Mar 2010 2:08 PM

" seems safe to say that its conclusions would be similar". Come on, Mr. Liebman, as an editor of The BloodHorse you must surely have occasion to pick up a Racing Form. It would show that the vast majority of US runners today are not owned by their breeders. Yes, a higher percentage in the past were raced by their breeders, but those are days long gone by. If you're trying to find a vehicle for buttering-up breeders (of which I am one)I'd suggest you look elsewhere, and not try to liken them with those in Austailia.  

23 Mar 2010 9:21 PM

You'd never know that breeders had anything to do with the Breeders Cup races, since there's no honor given and no mention of them at all.

24 Mar 2010 7:30 AM
Hillbilly Hardboot

More interesting article if papered with facts. A little data mining would reveal much. A quick glance at TWP for Friday shows 1/4 of card identifiably owned by breeders, mostly maidens and two-life horses.The MSPW fillies - 6/9.

24 Mar 2010 10:23 AM

Most thoroughbred owners in Kentucky are now trying to reduce mares and fillies, even exceptional mares can barely be given good homes. And of all states to race the license fees Kentucky has the least reason.

28 Mar 2010 8:27 AM

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