Saturday, August 15, 2009

It was, and will be, a very good year

In the thoroughbred business, it's a good time to be breeding to race.

Might not be a bad time for breeding to sell, either.

The Jockey Club on Friday projected that the 2010 North American foal crop will be the smallest since 1977. And that might be good news for those breeders who will have foals on the ground.

From the annual Reports of Mares Bred received in 2009 thus far (the deadline for submission was Aug. 1) the JC estimates that the 2010 registered thoroughbred foal crop will consist of just 30,000 colts and fillies. That would make the crop the smallest in 33 years, since the 30,036 registered foals of 1977.

And the JC dropped its estimated crop of 2009 to 34,000 foals, down from an original projection of 35,400.

"After remaining stable for more than a decade, the number of mares bred has declined annually beginning in 2006 and the rate of that decline has accelerated in each of the last two breeding seasons," said Matt Iuliano, the JC's vice president of registration services. "These declines will have an obvious impact on the business in the years ahead, most notably at the racetrack, where, on average, 70 percent of registered foals make at least one career start."

What was a small downward correction in North American production after a period in which the foal crop grew by 2.2 percent or more in five of the previous eight seasons indeed escalated dramatically in 2009 (down an estimated 7.1 percent) and the Jockey Club's numbers are suggestign a plummet of more than 11 percent from 2009 to 2010.

Prior to 2006's -0.8 percent decline, the only drop in the North American foal crop since 1998 had come in 2002, the foaling season after Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome struck -- and stumped -- the Kentucky breeding industry, as hundreds of mares covered in 2001 lost foals around 60 days into their pregnancies. The total North American foal crop of 2002 was 35,975, down 5.1 percent vs. 2001. Speculation began early about how that decline would affect the industry, from the sales ring to the starting gate.

"Even the Triple Crown races could be affected," wrote ESPN's Bill Finley at the time. "A sport already struggling to develop starts capable of capturing the public's imagination will have a watered down talent pool available for the Triple Crown in 2005 ..."

Being a small-timer, with two on the ground this year and hopefully one to be foaled in 2010, maybe I'm looking at this in an overly simplistic and optimistic way. But it seems to me that less should equal more for those who did choose to breed in this current climate.

Luck and time willing -- because stimulus plans aren't helping -- the recession will be in remission a year from now; almost certainly within two years. As credit and wallets loosen again, buyers will be back at the sales with a greater willingness to spend. And there will be fewer weanlings, yearlings and 2-year-olds in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The law of supply and demand would suggest that those breeders and pinhookers with foals to sell from crops of 34,000 and 30,000 should do at least a little better than if they might have expected from the very same foal (conformationally and on pedigree) if it were one of 36,000 or 38,000 foals.

And at the track, as Finley noted in 2001, the talent pool will simply be shallower. A lesser horse should be able to stick around and win a few. And we can expect that the 2013 Kentucky Derby will still have post positions for 20 starters, regardless whether they're the 20 highest-ranked in graded earnings from 44,133 (1990's crop) or 20 from an estimated 30,000.

Was Finley right about the crop of 2002? Could be.

Among the KY crop's surviving foals was Wilko. "Only" a $75,000 yearling, he was shipped off to England -- where he placed but didn't win in stakes races -- then returned to stun at 28-1 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile ... and to never again win another stakes race. The 2-year-old champ of 2004 was a Cal-based Maryland-bred, Declan's Moon, who won the Santa Catalina-G2 early in his 3-year-old season, but then his career dissolved.

The following year's Derby winner was another shocker from the Bluegrass, Giacomo at 50-1. The 3-year-old champion was Florida-bred Afleet Alex, who won plenty through June of his sophomore season but never ran after the Belmont Stakes.

Closing Argument hung on for second in the Derby, Scrappy T nabbed second in the Preakness, Andromeda's Hero placed and Nolan's Cat showed in the Belmont and none ever won a Grade 1 race.

Flower Alley was a Grade 1 winner at 3, but just 1-for-4 with only a G3 win at 4. Sun King earned more than $1 million during his 3-year-old season and hard-knocked his way in fine company to $2.2 million lifetime, but was 1-for-14 in such company at ages 3 and 4.

Perhaps fate had just presented them all to the racing world at an opportune time.

I have a hunch that for a number of these diminished-crop foals of 2009 and 2010, it will have been a very good year to be born.


  1. When I was was a very good year...

    Sorry, I'm on a Frank Sinatra kick!

  2. No prob, my slender, female, Monday-wardrobe doppelganger. That's where the inspiration for the headline came from, of course.


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