04/25/2013 2:17PM

Golden State Series is growing and helping California breeders


Last spring, owner-breeder Terry Lovingier faced a pivotal decision with Willa B Awesome, the winner of the 2012 Santa Anita Oaks.

Lovingier and his partners debated whether to run Willa B Awesome in the prestigious Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs or take a slightly unconventional approach with a Grade 1 winner and stay in California for the $300,000 Melair Stakes for state-breds at Betfair Hollywood Park.

In a decision based on economics and competition, they opted to keep the filly at home and watched her record her fourth and final career stakes win.

”I think we made the right decision and picked up a nice paycheck,” Lovingier said recently.

Before 2012, the filly may well have been bound for Kentucky.

The Melair Stakes for 3-year-old fillies is part of the Golden State Series of stakes for California-breds, a program launched in 2012. The program gives California-breds an opportunity to race within the division throughout the year for six-figure purses.

The Melair has been a beneficiary. The race existed before 2012, but was never worth more than $200,000. It will be run on Saturday for $250,000.

Now in its second year, the Golden State Series program is growing. In its first full year, through January of this year, the program featured 27 races statewide worth $4.65 million. For the current year, from February of this year through February 2014, the series will have 33 races worth $5.175 million.

There are four Gold Rush series races on Saturday’s Hollywood Park program: Two races are for 3-year-olds, the $300,000 Snow Chief Stakes and the Melair Stakes for fillies, and two are races for 4-year-olds and up, the $125,000 Tiznow Stakes and the $125,000 B. Thoughtful Stakes for fillies and mares.

Aside from keeping Willa B Awesome in California last spring, the Golden State Series is providing a boost for California breeding. Farms in the state report several leading stallions have been well supported during the current breeding season, leading to hope that the state can reverse years of declines in the number of foals produced.

“It’s been a busy year,” said Jeanne Davis, the sales manager at Ballena Vista Farm in Ramona, Calif. “We’re up overall. We’ll breed around 250 to 260 total [mares].”

According to the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, the 2012 foal crop in the state was 1,725, down from 1,900 from 2010. In 2007, there were 3,085 foals in the state. Doug Burge, the CTBA’s executive vice president, said that the number of mares bred this year will be equal to 2012, “if not up from last year.”

While the foal crop has decreased, nominations for the Golden State Series have risen. There were 839 nominations from the 2010 foal crop for the first year of the series in 2012, and 913 nominations from the 2011 foal crop. Horses foaled in 2009 or earlier were grandfathered into the program, which stresses prize money for 2- and 3-year-olds.

Race programs such as the Golden State Series, and a bonus paid to California-breds who win maiden special weight races throughout the state, are tools to reverse the trend of smaller foal crops and boost the breeding of better quality stock.

Ballena Vista is expected to have a busy year. Through April 23, Tribal Rule was the leading California-based stallion by progeny earnings in 2013, with $1,294,613.

Davis expects Ballena Vista stallions Tribal Rule and Dixie Chatter to each cover approximately 90 mares this year. First-year stallion Calimonco will be bred to about 50 mares.

“When we see 75 or more, it’s a pretty good year,” Davis said.

Davis said the Golden State Series can be effective in keeping owners from shipping mares out of state.

“Owners that have horses of racing age see a benefit to it,” she said. “I know at the sales that we’ve attended it’s a selling point.”

Lovingier operates Lovacres Farm, near Warner Springs, Calif. His farm is most active with the stallion Awesome Gambler, who he estimates will cover 75 to 80 mares this breeding season.

“I think we’ll do better than expected [this year],” Lovingier said. “We’ll breed 10 to 20 percent [more] than I thought we would.”

Lovingier has horses with trainers Walther Solis and Gary Sherlock.

Last week, Sherlock said he has focused on acquiring California-bred 2-year-olds for this racing season because of the Golden State Series and maiden bonus. Sometimes, he said, the competition in those stakes is not fierce.

“There is so much good money in the California-bred races,” Sherlock said. “You can run for $150,000, $250,000, or $300,000, and they’re [like] one other-than [allowance races] except for one horse here and there.”

Dave McGlothlin, the farm manager at Harris Farms, said that Heatseeker will be bred to more than 60 mares and that Lucky Pulpit will have a book of approximately 70 mares this year.

Lucky Pulpit’s oldest foals are 4-year-olds this year. He was bred to 114 mares last year, McGlothlin said.

“We anticipated that there would be a reduction in number of mares to Lucky Pulpit,” McGlothlin said. “He’s got a large crop of yearlings and last year he covered 114 mares. He’s got a bright future.”

McGlothlin said that Harris Farm will have the same number of mares bred this year but that the mares are a higher quality.

“Our end product will be better,” he said. “The bonus program and the Golden State Series are instrumental in creating some interest and enthusiasm for California-breds.”