In speaking with stallion managers about the new sires for 2015 (see cover story, page 22), there is a level of enthusiasm not seen in some time. We realize these guys are salespeople and they are making their best pitch to fill the books for their new guns, but, getting past the subject matter of the first-year sires, the consensus is for brighter days ahead.
The foal crop has leveled, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see it rise when the final tally comes in on next year’s breeding season. A yearling market that has remained steady in 2014 after a healthy rise in 2013 and increased demand for weanlings and broodmares at the fall breeding stock auctions point toward a stronger year for the breeding sheds.
The market still has a stark, “feast or famine” nature, but the hits may have paid for more misses in 2014, giving breeders the motivation to move earlier on selecting mates.
“This year it’s more a make up of your pricing and what you are offering as to who is filling up fast and who isn’t, but it’s pretty consistent with last year in terms of the stallions that you would expect to be hot,” said Bill Farish on activity at Lane’s End Farm near Versailles, Ky. “There was a huge pullback and a lot of people reverted back to the old days when they would call (about a stallion) after their mare foaled. It definitely has swung back in the other direction. People are getting aggressive again. There is a no-guarantee market out there again, and it’s a much more buoyant market.”
Mark Toothaker, stallion sales manager at B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm, has been busy with its growing stallion roster near Lexington.
“We’ve already mailed out a ton of contracts,” he said. “As much as anything, people land on the same stallions—some horses are just slammed with mares. The mood is good, and we’ve had big showings. It just seems people have broodmares on their minds as opposed to four years ago. Some people who have been out of the business or pulled the reins in now are looking at broodmares and are back at it.
“Yearling prices have settled in. Weanlings are hard to buy. I think people are moving on down the line to the production end of it.”
Hughes’ “Share the Upside” program has reshaped the business model for stallions, and the Spendthrift team has taken an active approach to selling year ’round.
“We have people that are shocked that some of our stallions are already full,” Toothaker said. “Mr. Hughes has certainly changed some things. We were aggressively selling seasons in August.”
Things are perking up, too, in regional markets such as California. Several new stallions are coming into the state, which has seen the number of mares bred fall 16.1% (The Jockey Club’s Report of Mares Bred) and the number of stallions fall 28.8% from 2009 to 2014.
“Good mares are expensive now, but people are buying them and coming back to California,” said Mike Allen, farm manager of Tommy Town Thoroughbreds near Bonsall. “In the past I think there were a lot of mares that weren’t quality mares and because of the economy, a lot of those went away. The focus now is on quality. We’ve done that at the farm. We’ve cut back on the number of mares, but the quality we’ve tried to bring up every year. We’ve bought some mares in Kentucky and even some weanlings and yearlings, and other people are doing the same type of thing.”
In Maryland, where only 647 mares were covered in 2013, things are looking up after a revitalized incentive program was implemented. In 2014, 751 mares were bred in Maryland, for a 16.1% increase.
“It’s the result of the long-awaited impact of slots revenue finally reaching us after 10 years of watching our competitors in other states kick our butts,” said Josh Pons of Country Life Farm. “We finally have a competitive playing field. There are a lot of good horsemen in Maryland and savvy breeders. It’s such a traditionally strong horse state…we were like some football team that was going 2-8 for 10 years and then we got it turned around.”
Here’s predicting better won/loss records in 2015.