Next Step - By Evan Hammonds

The final hammer Feb. 5 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Winter mixed sale brought to a close the breeding stock segment of the marketplace and, according to Twitter, the breeding sheds are open in Central Kentucky.

The Thoroughbred cycle continues to turn…so what have we learned? There are so many smart people in this game one only has to throw a stick to find a good opinion.

“I had several mares shortlisted for what I thought was a significant amount of money at Fasig-Tipton and couldn’t get anything bought,” said Catherine Parke of Valkyre Stud near Georgetown, Ky. “Obviously you can’t steal anything anymore, but this year I was bidding with 50-cent dollars. One mare had a reserve of $49,000…I went to $100,000, and she sold for $200,000. I was tickled to death with what I bought at the Keeneland January sale…but I couldn’t buy at Fasig-Tipton.”

Mike McMahon of McMahon and Hill Bloodstock was pretty active this winter.

“It was very hard to buy a $150,000 mare in November, and that demand gets pushed back,” he said. “We could still buy mares now. There is more money for mares now, at least for our company, than in many years.

“In general, people are doing well, and people are more interested in participating. It’s a little healthier on the breeding side than it has been in years past. Back in 2008, 2010, the word ‘broodmare’ was almost a dirty word, but as the foal market has gotten stronger, the demand for broodmares has gotten stronger.”

As for the market mantra of feast or famine that we’ve all become accustomed to over the last few years, “Supply and demand was a little bit more in line,” according to Carrie Brogden, who was buying and selling for her Machmer Hall. “We saw some demand in our mares that weren’t deemed as ‘failures.’ The mare that was 9-, 10-, 11-years-old and had foals ahead of her that have some potential. There were still buyers for those mares.”

Moving toward the 2019 breeding season, Brogden asked her own question.

“There is a huge shortage of middle-market stallions…where are those middle-market, proven stallions?” she asked. “Exchange Rate died, Yes It’s True died…There are older guys that are very proven but they’re in their 20s—Malibu Moon, Medgalia d’Oro, Distorted Humor, More Than Ready. Who is going to replace them that’s not Quality Road at $150,000 and Curlin at $175,000? Where are the $20,000-$30,000 proven stallions going to come from? I don’t see them. There’s nothing in between anymore.”

Adding to the mix is the American Pharoah effect.

“American Pharoah is in the pipeline. Four years ago we didn’t have a brand-new stallion at that price level,” McMahon said. “There are higher (first-year) stud fees now with Pharoah and Justify. They join War Front and Tapit and Curlin as top, top horses without even having a crop to race.”

And should breeders find the perfect mate for their mares, they’re behind the eight ball.

“The popular stallions are booked. There are not any breedings left to horses that are popular,” Parke lamented. “It’s very late now. It would be very difficult to get a nice mare to a nice stallion now.”

These days Parke’s ship sails early.

“We’re talking quite seriously with our people as soon as the September sale is over, sometime during the sale. But the farms won’t commit; they like to wait until the Breeders’ Cup and the November sale to commit to a fee. We’re in order by then.”

A lot of opinions continue to depend on price—or the cost of producing, raising, marketing, and selling Thoroughbreds.

“The farms have been very fair not to raise stud fees (overall), with the market being good and healthy and stable,” Parke said. “Every time the RNA rate went down, and the median was up, the fees would go up, and it would cause a domino effect. That is so refreshing from years past.

“Expense: that’s one thing that hasn’t changed: vet fees; hay and straw; having good, quality people. It’s very difficult to take care of horses. If you run them in sheds and keep them out that’s one thing, but if you bring them in and have them under straw, it’s really expensive. Stud fees have gone down, but some of the fixed expenses have gone up, so that doesn’t help.”

However, every phase of the industry has a rosy horizon.

“There seems to be a market for the $30,000-$50,000 horse again,” Parke concluded. “We can afford to breed nice horses. Everything feels really healthy to me.”

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