By T. D. Thornton
For the fourth consecutive year, and for the 12th time in 13 years, the number of reported mares bred (RMB) in North America has declined, according to year-to-date statistics through Oct. 16 released on Monday by The Jockey Club.
The 30,274 covers reported thus far in 2018 represent a drop of 5% from the 31,863 reported in North America at this time last year. That reduction is similar in scope to the 5.6% RMB decline from 2016 to 2017.
The number of active stallions also continues to fall. The 2018 drop was 9.5%, from 1,342 in 2017 to 1,214 in 2018. The 2016 to 2017 decline was 5.7%.
The number of mares bred has now dipped to less than half of what the year-end report was for 1991 (the oldest date for which The Jockey Club publishes online statistics), when 63,479 mares were bred.
And the number of active stallions on the continent has now declined in every single year since at least 1991, when The Jockey Club reported 6,696 stallions–more than five times the current number.
The number of stallions covering 125 or more mares increased slightly, from 60 in 2017 to 62 in 2018.
For the second consecutive year, Into Mischief (Harlan's Holiday) retained the top ranking in terms of individual covers, with 245. Last year the Spendthrift Farm stallion led with 235 RMBs. In 2016 he had been fifth with 218.
“Into Mischief is a tremendously popular horse. I think the market is aware that we've bred large books to him, and they continue to respond well. It hasn't slowed the market down,” Ned Toffey, the general manager at Spendthrift Farm, told TDN.
“Into Mischief is a horse who has been able to handle the numbers, and he does this quite easily,” Toffey said. “This horse has probably got as remarkable fertility and libido as any I've been around. He's a very efficient breeder. In May, when you're getting towards the end of breeding season, he'll be standing around waiting for work, because he gets his mares pregnant very quickly and is very easy on himself.”
At the state/province level, it is no shock that Kentucky remains the North American bellwether in terms of breeding productivity, churning out 57.2% of all RMBs in North America.
Kentucky experienced only fractional changes from 2017 to 2018. The state reported a .3% uptick in RMBs (17,275 to 17,322) and a stallion reduction of only one (from 229 to 228).
Other states and provinces reported mixed RMB results.
Within the top 10 jurisdictions by breeding volume, aside from Kentucky, only Maryland (12.9%), Pennsylvania (8.3%) and California (5.3%) showed positive changes in RMBs from 2017 to 2018.
“In the Mid-Atlantic, it's all about the money, so we're really competing regionally for mares,” Cricket Goodall, the executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, told TDN. “Between all of us–Maryland, Pennsylvania and now Virginia–we're all working on it. Our Maryland stallions have really strong books, especially new stallions and second-year stallions. ”
Goodall continued: “I think the future is all about being competitive, because breeding horses is a significant investment. You can't really entice people simply because of the fun of racing. They have to have opportunities to make money with their horses, hopefully with racing or at least [breeding] commercially, and we have a pretty strong commercial market here in Maryland too.
“So we compete pretty significantly with Pennsylvania and Virginia, and we're all trying to come up with enough money so the purse and race schedules are competitive, and then the incentive programs. Slots have certainly helped, but we're all trying each year to come up with ways to not only get people in the business, but then find ways for them to make money or at least recover the investment,” Goodall said.
Pennsylvania's 2018 increase marks the second straight annual uptick in RMBs for the state, which posted a 15.1% RMB boost in 2017.
Brian Sanfratello, the executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association, pointed to several reasons for the positive trend.
“It's a combination of a couple of things,” Sanfratello told TDN. “The breeder award for Pennsylvania-sired horses is now 40%. You're not going to find that anywhere else. Between that and the 400-plus restricted races that we run each year, plus our 22 $100,000 stakes for Pennsylvania-breds, it's all moving up the interest greatly among breeders.
“And one of the most important things is we have an agreement with the legislature that the Race Horse Development Fund is now in a trust, so that money cannot be touched [by the state for other purposes],” Sanfratello continued. “I think that's what people have been waiting for–a signal that if they invest in Pennsylvania, two years from now there's not going to be money removed from the Race Horse Development Fund.”
Among the top 10 breeding jurisdictions, Ontario reported the largest RMB drop, declining 23.5% from 2017.
Two other significant breeding states continue to post RMB declines: New York was down 15.9% for 2018 (on the heels of a 12.1% decline in 2017) and Florida dipped 7.5% (after being down 24.8% in 2017).
With regard to stallion book size, The Jockey Club's analysis shows a 3% annual increase in the number of mares bred to stallions with a book size of 125 or more in 2018; a 1.4% decrease in mares bred to stallions with a book size between 100 and 124; a 7% increase in mares bred to stallions with a book size between 75 and 99; a 6.7% decrease in mares bred to stallions with a book size between 50 and 74; a 9.6% decrease in mares bred to stallions with a book size between 25 and 49; and a 16.7% decrease in mares bred to stallions with a book size fewer than 25.
Based on historical trends, The Jockey Club estimates an additional 3,000 to 4,000 mares will be reported as bred during the 2018 season.