Far From Over - By Evan Hammonds

Major announcements during the final week of February 2021 figure to have monumental implications for Thoroughbred breeding and racing…but we don’t expect the ramifications will be felt for awhile.

Last May, The Jockey Club announced a new rule to limit the number of mares a future stallion could cover in a calendar year to 140. We figured it wouldn’t take long for a lawsuit to be filed to challenge it. It took eight months. On Feb. 23 three Kentucky farms filed a complaint in U.S. District Court Eastern District of Kentucky, Central Division.

On the same day, Churchill Downs Inc. announced it had launched a process to sell the Arlington International Racecourse property outside of Chicago.

The lawsuit regarding the stallion cap figures to be a drawn out and expensive affair, but the plaintiffs appear to have plenty of reserves. They are B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm, Ashford Stud (under Bemak N.V.), and Three Chimneys Farm, which is chaired by Goncalo Borges Torrealba.

The first two have the most at stake. According to The Jockey Club’s 2020 Report of Mares Bred, 12 stallions covered more than 200 mares. Five of them stand at Spendthrift, four at Ashford, and one at Three Chimneys.

The complaints are worth consideration. Federal and state antitrust laws come into play, as well as restriction on access to certain stallions and restrictions on fair trade.

However, there is such a thing as common sense. Based on a far-from-scientific poll, social media, most local commercial breeders who posted their opinions were in favor of capping a stallion’s book to 140, agreeing in principal that the gene pool needs to remain diverse, especially with a shrinking foal crop.

How will it shake out? We’re not sure, but we know the ruling won’t come down soon. If there is any pressing timetable, it’s when the foals of 2020 (the first year the rule sets in) make their way to the breeding shed, which most likely will be when the best of the lot are retired to stud at 3 for the breeding season of 2024.

We remember a time when the top sire’s book was full at 40 mares and Arlington Park reigned as the Midwest’s top racing circuit. Those days are long gone.

Secretariat earned a big payday for winning the Arlington Invitational Stakes in 1973 and went to stud at Claiborne Farm and had a first crop of 28 named foals.

The latest Triple Crown winners, American Pharoah and Justify, bypassed Arlington. American Pharoah had 157 named foals in his first crop while Justify covered 252 mares in 2019.

Churchill’s announcement regarding the future of Arlington was a surprise, but certainly not a shock. Corporate officials had previously publicly discussed such a move, and the shot across the bow came when the state authorized tracks to offer casino gaming and sports wagering and CDI balked.

Adding to the disappointment were the comments from CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen, who last July said, “Long-term for Arlington Park, as we’ve explained to the state, it doesn’t work. That land will have a higher and better purpose for something else at some point.”

The anger is real for Illinois horsemen—as it is for anyone who has ever visited Arlington International. The facility is among the most aesthetically pleasing racing plants in the world and is one of the few tracks that—pre COVID—actually drew solid attendance supported by the Chicago metropolitan fan base.

Churchill’s track record as the owner of other U.S. tracks isn’t very good since it started buying racing venues at the turn of the century. It purchased and then sold Hollywood Park, which has since been developed into SoFi Stadium for the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Chargers. Calder Race Course ran its last meet at the end of 2020, a mere shell of what it once had been before casino gaming came to South Florida.

Ownership of tracks might not make sense to Wall Street, but there has always been more to racing than the bottom line.

CDI is committed to running the 2021 dates for Arlington, but we assume, like the stallion cap, there will be more to the story.

A little more than two months ago we couldn’t wait for 2021. Well, hang on…it’s only the first week of March.

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