08/18/2003 12:00AM

Foal crop seen rising for 2004


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Jockey Club projects that the 2004 registered Thoroughbred foal crop will reach 37,200, the organization announced Saturday.

That would be a slight increase from 2003's projected foal crop of 37,000 and suggests that the foal crop is stabilizing again after a decline in 2002 caused by mare reproductive loss syndrome. In 2002, the estimated national foal crop was 35,600, a number that reflected a drop of about 20 percent in Kentucky's annual foal population because of MRLS. The 2001 registered foal crop is estimated to be about 36,800.

Kentucky was hardest hit by MRLS, which caused thousands of early- and late-term fetal losses in the state's broodmares in 2001. The disease's cause has never been definitively determined, but suspicion centers around a major infestation of Eastern tent caterpillars during the 2001 breeding season. Recent research has shown that, if ingested, Eastern tent caterpillars can cause abortion in pregnant mares.

The Jockey Club bases its foal crop projections on the number of Reports of Mares Bred returned to it for the current year's breeding season. Those reports were due on Aug. 1.

The Jockey Club expects breeders to complete their foal registrations within a year of the foals' birth, but the organization does allow late registration for an additional fee. The long window of registration makes calculating a crop size an inexact science, as the numbers are imprecise until at least Dec. 31 of a given foal crop's 2-year-old season. At that time, as those foals are nearing their first starts as juveniles, the vast majority of the crop usually has been registered.

The Jockey Club traditionally releases its foal crop estimates in conjunction with its annual Round Table conference at Saratoga. The 51st Round Table was held Sunday.

The Jockey Club provides additional information about crop size, numbers of mares bred, and other breeding-related statistics in its annual Fact Book, which also is available on line at www.jockeyclub.com.