MIDWEST/CANADA Breeding is on the upswing in Ohio
Reprinted with permission By Tom LaMarra Blood-Horse Magazine
KIM AND LORI WILLIAMS’ Fair Winds Farm has a long history of standing some of the top stallions in Ohio, including Honey Jay and, more recently, Mercer Mill, a 10-time leading sire in the state.In 2013 thefarmannouncedit would standmultiplegraded stakes winner Kettle Corn (by Candy Ride) under a deal negotiated by Oracle Bloodstock. His initial fee of $3,000 in 2014 was rather strong for Ohio, where the Thoroughbred breeding program had slumped for years as evidenced by the major indicators: foals, mares bred, stallions, and purse supplements. Kim Williams, a member of the Ohio Thoroughbred Advisory Committee, marketed Kettle Corn, who in his final season of racing at age 6 finished second in two grade I stakes— the Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap and TVG Pacific Classic Stakes—behind Game On Dude. The results have been good, but Williams tempers it with reality.
“I think he is as well received as he can be in Ohio right now,” he said. “It’s getting better, but not getting better very fast.”
Though it’s doubtful the Ohio Thoroughbred foal crop will ever approach the record numbers of the late 1980s, the increases over the past four years have been substantive for a state that suffered through decades of declines.
Money drives the Ohio Thoroughbred Race Fund, which this year is projected to total $5.79 million in stakes and overnight purses, supplements, and broodmare and stallion awards. The figure is up more than $200,000 from 2015 and higher than the $5.78 million in 1990.
The program’s proceeds bottomed out at $1.82 million in 2010, the year before the Ohio legislature and Gov. John Kasich approved racetrack video lottery terminals. It took a few years for purse money to accrue from VLTs, but its impact, at least in terms of the breeding program, is evident.
The Ohio Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders reports there are about 60 stallions registered in the state this year, up from a lowof 29 in 2011. The Ohio-registeredfoal cropin 2014 totaledal- most 370, the largest since 420 in 2005, according to The Jockey Club.
Williams, who still stands Mercer Mill at his facility near Waynesville on a private basis, said Kettle Corn, who this year stands for $2,500, got 29 mares his first year and 27 last year, “pretty big numbers for an Ohio stallion.” He noted Sovereign Award winner Mobil, who stands for the same fee at Dr. George Sikora’s Mapleton Thoroughbred Farm near Polk, Ohio, was bred to about 45 mares last year.
So the turnaround has begun.
“It has picked up quite a bit,” Williams said. “We’re kind of a boutique farm with high-end clients, and we’ve seen an increase. The biggest problem has been the mare pool because it had abso- lutely gotten down to almost nothing. Right now, we’re all fight- ing for the same mares.”
The Ohio State Racing Commission estimates more than 600 registered mares are “eligible to foal” in 2016. Williams and others believe the number needs to double for the foal crop to sustain growth.
“Trying to get mares to the stallions has been the most difficult thing for me,” said Robin Murphy, who owns Poplar Creek Horse Center near Bethel, east of Cincinnati.
Poplar Creek is up to 12 stallions this year including Tidal Vol- ume, the only son of national leading sire Tapit to stand in Ohio. He bred the most mares of any other Ohio stallion last year with 49; the average book in 2015 was eight from a pool of about 50 stallions.
“The number of mares and the quality of mares have increased (this year),” Murphy said. “I’ve had a lot of calls from people in Kentucky, Michigan, and West Virginia. Owners from nine dif- ferent states have mares here at Poplar Creek. Some of my stal- lions aren’t getting as many mares, but I’m figuring out what the public is interested in is whoever is fashionable.”
Hand Ride Stables, located northwest of Columbus near Dublin, jumped into the stallion business this year. The farm has four including Maimonides, a Vindication horse who sold for $4.6 million at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2006.
Daniel Leader, who co-owns Hand Ride Stables with William Francis, said growth in the Ohio breeding program led the farm to add stallions.
“We could see the Ohio program was going to expand, and we thought we could deepen the pedigree pool here a little bit,” Leader said. “We’ve had plenty of people out looking at the stallions and might have a few more (open houses). We feel the amount of money they’re putting into the program will attract a lot more breeders in general, and some serious breeders.” Leader and Francis have purchased mares to breed to their stallions, with a plan to keep severa lto race in the state and sell some of the mares in foal in the hope they’re bred back to Ohio stallions.
The Ohio breeding program is closely tied to the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the orga- nization that contracts with racetracks on purses. Both the Thoroughbred and Standardbred breeding programs earn a quarterly percentage of revenue from four non-racetrack casinos in Ohio’s largest cities, but the VLT purse percentage goes directly to the horsemen’s group.
All Ohio-bred stakes are funded 35% from the OTRF and 65% from the horse- men’s purse account; the OTRF will con- tribute about $1.2 million, the same as in 2015.
The Ohio HBPA by contract contributes 10% of its VLT purse share to fund Ohio- bred races. This year horsemen will pro vide $2.14 million, down from $3.3 mil lion last year when carryover funds from 2014 were added to the total.
This year there also will be $427,000 available in purse supplements for Ohio- registered horses, including those for state-bred runners that finish first, sec- ond, or third in open company.
“We’ve been putting a lot of money into purses, but we’ve also been cautious,” Williams said. “We took a little different approach than we had in the past. We went back to the Ohio HBPA and the OTBO and said, ‘Tell us what you want and put it in writing.’ Everybody likes the supplements. They have been huge.”
The Ohio-bred stakes schedule will be valued at $3.45 million, which includes $750,000 for five Best of Ohio championship races. The divisional championships will be held for the first time at Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course Nov. 29.
Mahoning Valley, which opened in late 2014 and is owned by Penn National Gaming, replaced Beulah Park near Co- lumbus. The track, located just west of Youngstown, races from late November through April, and by the numbers has been an important part of Ohio’s gradual comeback.
In 2011 Beulah Park paid $4.61 million in purses over 119 programs, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems. Mahoning Valley in 2015 paid $9.89 mil- lion over 100 racing days.
“I think we’ve found a nice niche on the simulcast calendar; wagering is up year- over-year, and our on-track business is exceeding expectations,” PNGI vice president of racing Chris McErlean said.“It was painful getting to the final outcome (by transferring the Beulah Park license and building a new facility with VLTs), but everybody who has gone there would say it’s the right size for that market.
“We’ve been happy with the operation. We’ll have the Best of Ohio there for the first time this year, and that will be a nice way to show off the facilities.”
Thoroughbred purses in Ohio earn 9% to 10.5% of net VLT revenue, depending on the contract horsemen have with the track. The Ohio HBPA has 10-year deals with Mahoning Valley and ThistleDown Racino near Cleveland; thus far, it has been unable to reach an agreement with Belterra Park Gaming near Cincinnati, so bylawtheminimumof 9% of VLTrevenue is paid to the purse account.
Overall purse growth in a five-year period has been substantial, according to TJCIS statistics.
In 2011 for 321 racing programs, the three Ohio tracks paid $14,358,417 in total purses. Last year for 293 days of rac- ing, purses totaled $32,024,413; the in- crease was 123%. Combined average daily purses were up 114.3% from $44,730 to $109,298.
On the breeding side, the Ohio State Racing Commission, on the recommendation of the advisory committee, adjusted the rules for broodmare and stallion awards, which this year are estimated at $1.56 million and $230,000, respectively.
Broodmare and stallion awards will be paid to the breeders of horses that finish first, second, or third in any eligible race, with 15% of purse earnings for brood- mares and 10% for stallions.
“This has been part of my thought process,” Williams said. “We like to see the broodmare awards increase. We’ve had a lot of discussions about it. I wasn’t too keen on tweaking the percentage for stallions just yet, but Ohio is a really good place to put a sire with some pedigree.”
Ohio has a dual Thoroughbred breeding program. An accredited horse is one from a mare that is domiciled in the state at the time of conception and remains in Ohio continuously through foaling; it also must be sired by an Ohio stallion. A registered horse is one that is either from a mare that enters the state before foaling and remains in the state continuously through foaling, or one that is produced in Ohio by a mare shipped into the state to foal and be bred back to an Ohio stallion.
Under the Ohio-registered rules, a mare can be bred to a Kentucky stallion, for instance, and foal in Ohio to qualify.
Murphy and others believe the deadline of Aug. 15 for a mare to be in the state to qualify for the Ohio program is too early and that an October or early November deadline would facilitate growth in the mare population.
“I do understand it’s also about protecting the accredited program, but people don’t like the deadline because the average foal is born in March or April and a lot of them aren’t weaned by Aug. 15,” Murphy said. “A lot of the mares would have to come up here with babies. And there are pros and cons with bringing mares here after the (fall sales in Kentucky).”
Unlike the Standardbred breeding business, which allows for artificial insemination and puts most of its Ohio-bred funds into sire stakes held over an about-six-month period each year, the Thoroughbred program is geared more toward mares and the economic development benefits of having them in the state for long periods of time.
“We probably could have 100 horses here if we allowed the mares to foal and then leave,” Williams said,“but we want to cater to year-round boarders.”
Some of the Ohio program’s provisions are works in progress, which is to be expected as it evolves to accommodate changes in the industry. But one thing is certain: There is a lot more interest in breeding in Ohio than there was only five years ago.
“The program is catching on,” Murphy said. “I keep getting more calls from people who have been in the business a lot longer with better mares in neighboring states. I expect more calls next year. There are people who always breed in Kentucky who are now breeding to stallions here.”