Doing the Right Thing - by Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the January 12, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @BH_EMitchell on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell Charity stallion season auctions don’t reveal much about the commercial market, but the Thoroughbred Charities of America’s annual event held this month did offer insights about the breeding community’s spirit heading into the 2013 season.

TCA is the charitable arm of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. Its mission is to raise money for horse industry non-profits that work to provide a better life for Thoroughbreds, both during and after their racing careers, by supporting retirement, rescue, and research and by helping the people who work with them. Ninety-five percent of the money raised is distributed to other charities as grants.

No one would have been surprised had this year’s auction offered fewer donated stallion seasons or if fewer bidders had participated during the TCA telephone and live season auctions conducted Jan. 3-5. Afterall, the number of North American stallions and the number of mares bred in 2012 were down slightly from the previous year.

Donations, however, continued to be strong, equaling the donations made last year. The telephone auction offered more than 170 seasons coast-to-coast. The bidding was spirited, too, with the number of active bidders down by only a person or two. A rough estimate of $360,000 in gross bids were handled over the phone by volunteers Jan. 3-4. One particularly engaged bidder, according to TCA president Dan Rosenberg, called in from the bush on an African safari, checking in several times for updates on his bids.

“It has been tough over the past four years as stud fees dropped due to the recession,” Rosenberg said. “But this year the business is healthier, and the activity was good in all regions of the country.”

The energy was equally good during the TCA’s live auction Jan. 5 at the Keeneland Entertainment Center, where 22 seasons brought gross bids of more than $750,000. A late entry to the offerings was a season to Spendthrift Farm’s hot sire Into Mischief, who had runners pick up two additional graded stakes earlier in the day—the Sham Stakes (gr. III) won by Goldencents (out of Golden Works, by Banker’s Gold) and the Jerome Stakes (gr. II) won by Vyjack (out of Life Happened, by Stravinsky). The Into Mischief season sold for $19,500, a solid price considering the son of Harlan’s Holiday began the year priced at $10,000 (his fee has since been increased to $20,000 and his 2013 book is full). The evening’s top bid of $105,000 went for a season to Darley’s Medaglia d’Oro.

Even during the recent lean years, TCA’s auction has managed to raise more than $1.5 million annually. A key reason, said Rosenberg, is a more widespread awareness and appreciation for the TCA’s original mission of supporting Thoroughbred aftercare and adoption programs.

“The recession dramatically increased the number of abandoned and unwanted horses,” Rosenberg said. “There were more stories in the general press about these forgotten horses—Thoroughbreds and others—and the public rightfully called us on it. Now I think there is a greater understanding that ethically, and from a business standpoint, this is the right thing to do.”

Since its foundation in 1990, the TCA has expanded its support to include equine medical research and child care and educational programs for backstretch workers.

“For the first 15-20 years, (TCA) was just sounding the alarm,” Rosenberg said. “Now people have heard us, and they’re doing the right thing, for the horses and the people.”

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