Right Foot - By Evan Hammonds

With a pretty robust year behind us, we have to think there is plenty to look forward to for 2018.

Despite frigid temperatures here in the Bluegrass to kick off the new year, the upcoming mixed sales at Keeneland (Jan. 8-11), Ocala Breeders’ Sales (Jan. 24-25), and Fasig-Tipton Kentucky (Feb. 5-6) figure to continue to bring the heat generated last year during the mixed sales, when the average price for a broodmare rose 7.9% over 2016.

The demand for broodmares and broodmare prospects—still driven by a demand for quality—appears strong, and with a large group of incoming stallions to the marketplace, breeders figure to be determined to fill the books for 2018 with the right mates.

Racing, at the higher end of the sport, is showing continued strength. Santa Anita had its usual big crowd for opening day Dec. 26 with some 40,000 on hand and plenty of others playing from home or at  simulcast outlets. And Santa Anita had a banner New Year’s Day. On Jan. 1, 2017, handle at the “Great Race Place” was $6,197,446. This New Year’s holiday saw handle soar to $8,379,632.

While a good portion of the increase is likely due to the cancellation of race cards on the East Coast due to wintry conditions—Aqueduct closed after four races Dec. 30 and the New York Racing Association scuttled the Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 programs, a rise of 35.2% shows interest in playing the races in Arcadia, Calif., as opposed to sitting on the couch watching the never-ending tape loop of college football bowl games.

Top-shelf racing also includes the South Florida product at Gulfstream Park, and The Stronach Group seems to be getting some traction for the second running of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) Jan. 27. Giant Expectations, winner of Santa Anita’s San Antonio Stakes (G2), is potentially the latest to join the fray for the $16 million race, taking one of the three open slots (owned by The Stronach Group) in the 12-horse race. While it might not be the perfect set-up with The Stronach Group having ownership of that many of the slots, if they can fill the gate, the interest will be there on race day.

While we have no clue as to how the new tax reform rules will shake out for the industry, we enjoyed the good fortune of having attorney Chris Coffman of Louisville’s Frost Brown Todd reach out to us to provide some vital early intelligence on what the new regulations might mean. It appears the rules and regulations are positive for the overall economy, which should be positive for the Thoroughbred economy.

We do recall what happened to the industry after the Tax Reform Act of 1986—it wasn’t pretty. Expectations are running much higher this time ’round.

While 2017 was a vintage year, it ended with a pair of sucker punches with the deaths of Hall of Fame trainers LeRoy Jolley and Jack Van Berg.

Jolley’s deft hand with a horse took him to the winner’s circle after the Kentucky Derby (G1) twice—first with Foolish Pleasure in 1975, and then five years later with Genuine Risk. He also transcended the sport into popular culture, starring in television advertisements for the “less filling/tastes great” Miller Lite spots.

Van Berg was as old-school as his father, fellow Hall of Famer Marion Van Berg, and found the winner’s circle 6,523 times. Honing his craft on the dusty backstretch of Ak-Sar-Ben in Nebraska, Van Berg took his game national in the 1980s, growing his stable to some 170 head with strings from Kentucky to California. Only one of his stalls was filled with the likes of 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Alysheba, who the following year was dubbed “America’s Horse” after winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) in near darkness under the Twin Spires.

While Jolley and Van Berg both developed into curmudgeon-types later in their careers, it was a front. The fact they remained in the sport until their last breaths speaks not only of their craft, but their devotion to the horse.

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