02/15/2008 12:00AM

Fewer stallions, more broodmares, study shows

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The number of active stallions in Kentucky declined in 2007, but the average stallion's book size in the commonwealth increased markedly as the mare population increased.

That's just one of the more interesting findings in the Jockey Club's Online Fact Book, available under "Publications and Resources" at www.jockeyclub.com, and it bears out a trend many breeders here had predicted. According to Jockey Club statistics, the number of active Kentucky stallions dropped from 378 in 2006 to 345 - a sharper decrease than in the previous season, when the active stallion population fell from 381 to 378. But the Bluegrass State's active broodmare population rose from 20,688 in 2005 to 21,131 in 2006 and, finally, to 21,491 last season.

The result: average book size, which edged up from 54.3 mares to 55.9 between 2005 and 2006, jumped up to 62.3 last year.

Just 10 years ago, Kentucky's average book size was 40, with a total of 17,604 mares bred to 440 stallions.

Kentucky's registered foal crop stood at 9,997 in 2005 and that increased to 10,346 in 2006, the most recent year for which registration numbers are available. That figure, a record for the state, also gave Kentucky the lion's share of the nationwide foal crop: 30.8 percent of the nation's estimated 34,200 registered foals of 2006 are Kentucky-breds, according to Jockey Club statistics.

Coming off a record year in 2006, last year's Thoroughbred sales dropped 2.5 percent in gross.

Weanling, yearling, and 2-year-old aggregates as well as average prices all declined, but the gross and average for broodmares rose sharply, by 11.1 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively, indicating that breeders are still optimistic about the business despite the declines for young stock.

Why steroid testing is so difficult

Buyers made 21 requests for anabolic steroid tests at the Feb. 12 Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's select juvenile sale, and all returned negative for anabolic steroids, according to OBS sales director Tom Ventura.

The University of Florida's Racing Laboratory conducted the tests, which were the first for exogenous anabolic steroids at a 2-year-old auction.

Meanwhile, researchers continue working toward a new, more thorough blood test, which they expect to unveil later this year. Major sale companies Barretts, Fasig-Tipton, and Keeneland already offer tests for younger stock but are planning to implement their 2-year-old testing in 2009, after the new test should be out.

The first step, researchers say, is to set normal threshold levels for the steroids testosterone, nandrolone, and boldenone. Those are endogenous steroids, meaning they occur naturally in horses, but they can also be given exogenously - from outside the horse - for therapeutic reasons or to help increase muscle mass and development.

"Until we get the normal levels in blood, it's going to be very difficult to regulate those specific products," said Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board. "And there's a big variation. These are horses that are in their development stage. These are essentially horses going through puberty, if you will. The 2-year-olds are starting to get more mature, and yearlings will be real problematic."

"The production of testosterone in colts is not constant throughout the year," said Dr. Rick Sams, director of the University of Florida's Racing Laboratory, which tests samples for OBS. "Production increases with the increase in the daylight period. Typically, production picks up in April and continues through August in the Northern Hemisphere.

"What we don't have is a good handle on even what an average concentration of testosterone is throughout the year or what the range of concentrations is."

The issue is compounded by the fact that natural steroid levels can vary considerably from horse to horse.

Said Sams: "I don't know whether we'll end up with a threshold that changes throughout the season or one threshold that will have to take into account the variability, not only due to changing daylight periods, but also horse-to-horse variability."

Testing for purely exogenous steroids such as stanozolol and trenbolone is "relatively straightforward," Sams said, because they never occur naturally in a horse.

Both Arthur and Sams say they expect new blood tests to be available by the end of the year.

"One of the primary issues that we have to address is philosophically, as a sport, is accepting the fact that anabolic steroids are now no longer appropriate," Arthur said. "Every step in that direction gets people more attuned to the fact that anabolic steroids are no longer acceptable.

"The only reason we've gotten away with it for so long is that the public doesn't understand that we don't test for anabolic steroids. They prohibit anabolic steroids in major jurisdictions all around the world, and we can do it, too."

Horse anti-slaughter group to lobby

The anti-slaughter group Americans Against Horse Slaughter will host two days of lobbying legislators in Washington, D.C., from March 4-5 to lobby for passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.

The event also will include a reception and press conference on Marcho4 for legislators and staff, horse owners, media, and slaughter opponents. That will take place from 7- 9 p.m. at the Four Points Sheraton on K Street in Washington, D.C. More information is available at www.alexbrownracing.com.