Updated on 09/17/2011 11:49AM

BC purse raises to boost sales?


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Breeders' Cup's recent decision to boost purses for the Juvenile and the Mile to $1.5 million each wasn't based solely on marketing the Breeders' Cup. It was also based on marketing horses.

At a June 23 press conference announcing the increases, Breeders' Cup president D. G. Van Clief, Jr., said, "You have a dual rationale in both cases. One is an event or market rationale, and the other is a breeding rationale.

"In the case of the Juvenile, we look at the Juvenile as an indicator of classic potential, so we feel it's an important race from a breeding industry standpoint, in that it provides a strong incentive for those engaged in the business of breeding or selling young horses," Van Clief said. "In other words, it provides a stronger return on investment potential for the top-class yearlings or 2-year-olds.

"From a breeding standpoint," he added, "the Mile is acknowledged to be a strong indicator of stallion potential, so the addition makes sense from that viewpoint as well."

As Van Clief suggested, that logic both reflects and reinforces today's commercial breeding reality that buyers want horses that mature early and can show enough stamina (or potential stamina) to compete in the classic races. If the purses are higher for juvenile and classic-distance races, then buyers will become even more interested in acquiring horses that can win them.

But will boosting top juvenile race purses simply promote sprint breeding? Some who believe Thoroughbred breeding already overemphasizes speed and precocity point to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile-Kentucky Derby jinx as evidence that it might. No horse has yet to win both races, a fact that would seem to contradict Van Clief's statement that the Juvenile has become a classic indicator. But in an interview Thursday, Van Clief countered that Juvenile participants have gone on to win 14 classic races.

"I'm not going to hazard a guess as to why in 19 runnings we haven't had a Juvenile winner win the Kentucky Derby," Van Clief said. "My point is that even though that one fact stands out, and we continue to await a Juvenile-Derby winner, there still have been a goodly number of Juvenile participants who have gone on to win classic races or distinguish themselves as older horses."

In elevating the Mile's purse, Van Clief said, the Breeders' Cup was focusing more on the event's strength as an international branding tool for the Breeders' Cup than on its role as an indicator of stallion potential. But emphasizing the Mile as a premier race also plays into the larger economic picture at the racetrack and the breeding shed. In general, North America's richest purses, including the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at 1 1/4 miles, are for races at a mile or beyond. Ideally, that should encourage commercial breeders to produce classic horses, just as sellers of 2-year-olds might get a boost from the $1.5 million Juvenile.

Ultimately, the auction ramifications of the recent Breeders' Cup increases will be difficult to gauge.

"It's probably impossible to quantify how any one race might affect the marketplace, but it's accepted by everyone I know that the Breeders' Cup event itself is a stimulus," Van Clief said. "This is a game of hope, and people buy horses hoping to develop them into the best. That being the case, adding luster to what's already is a jewel is a beneficial step."

MRLS investigation gains insight

The University of Kentucky is continuing its investigations of how the Eastern tent caterpillar might cause mare reproductive loss syndrome, the mysterious disease that caused thousands of central Kentucky mares to abort their early- and late-term fetuses in 2001 and 2002. The cause of the disease still hasn't been precisely identified, but UK researchers last year announced study results associating the caterpillars with equine abortions. On June 26, the university announced findings that suggest the caterpillars' exoskeleton, or outside cuticle, may play a role. In a trial in which researchers fed various parts of caterpillars to pregnant mares, only those mares fed outside cuticles aborted. The numbers from the trial are small. But Nancy Cox, UK's associate dean for research in the College of Agriculture, hailed the result as "evidence that we're moving in a forward direction to narrow our search for the exact cause."

Another experiment jointly conducted by Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital and UK showed that irradiated caterpillars - those treated to kill any infectious agents they might be carrying - also can cause late-term abortions. That suggests that the caterpillars themselves, rather than any disease they might be carrying, could be the cause of MRLS.

So far this year, the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Lab in Lexington has received 424 aborted fetuses for investigation, compared with 821 for the same timeframe last year.