02/16/2012 3:28PM

Illinois: Number of stallions, mares on the decline

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Last August, after years of legal battle, more than $140 million in impact fees collected from four northern Illinois casinos was distributed to the Illinois racing industry. Purses went up at the end of the Arlington season and during Hawthorne’s fall-winter meet, and they will stay at elevated levels for a couple of more years. But what does the future hold for Illinois racing?

Horse breeders are all about the future. When a mare is mated to a stallion, it will be three years before the resulting offspring can earn a check on the racetrack. With the longer-term future of the state’s racing industry still in limbo, even millions of dollars aren’t going to change the recent trajectory of the Illinois breeding landscape.

And that trajectory has been downward. There are a handful of new stallions in the state for the 2012 breeding season, but it’s likely that just as many studs who bred mares in 2011 won’t be doing so this season. In 2011, there were 115 licensed Thoroughbred stallions in the state, according to information compiled by the Illinois State Department of Agriculture, the lowest total since 1975, the year before the state’s racing rules were overhauled by Horse Racing Act of 1975. In 2006, there were 150 licensed stallions in the state. The stallion population peaked in 1986 at 369.

Accompanying the decline in stallion numbers, unsurprisingly, has been a fall in the Illinois broodmare ranks. There were 1,547 mares registered in the state as recently as 2007, but that number fell to 920 in 2011. In 1990, the broodmare population stood at 2,836. The Illinois Conceived and Foaled section of the statebred program – that is, mares bred to an Illinois stallion and foaling in the state – has declined even more dramatically: The 547 mares who qualified under the ICF terms in 2011 were roughly half the number who did so in 2007.

Only five Illinois studs bred more than 10 mares who produced an Illinois foal during the 2011 breeding season, and two of them – Shore Breeze and Cherokee Rap – were bred almost exclusively to their owners’ mares.

The one bright spot was Fort Prado, the excellent Illinois-bred racehorse who bred a state-best 39 Illinois mares in 2011. Fort Prado went to stud in 2010, meaning his first crop won’t make the races until 2013.

Still, a core group of breeders and stallion farms are holding firm in the game, and it’s not like the well has dried up. In 2010, more than $14 million in Illinois-bred funds were distributed in purses and breeders’ awards.

“I think the Illinois program still is strong,” said Jackie King, whose Indian Hills Thoroughbred Farm in Edwardsville actually added two stallions, Leelanau and Storm Account, to its stallion roster this year. “We’re looking for things to get better.”

A lot of Illinois horse people are looking for that. But what they will actually get is difficult to foretell.

New to state for 2012

STALLIONS PEDIGREE FARM/LOCATION 2012 STUD FEE
Leelanau Carson City-Kris's Intention, Kris S. Indian Hills Thoroughbred Farm, Edwardsville Private
Storm Account Storm Cat-Private Line, by Private Account Indian Hills Thoroughbred Farm, Edwardsville $1,500
Buckle Down Ben Devil His Due-Flying Hill, by Flying Paster T.H.A.N.K.S. Lot Farm, Carlock $1,000
Duckhorn Not For Love-Ten's Testamony, by Deputed Testamony T.H.A.N.K.S. Lot Farm, Carlock $1,000

New stallions for 2012

STALLION PEDIGREE FARM/LOCATION 2012 STUD FEE
Newport More Than Ready-Secretly, by Secretariat Eagle Valley Farm North, Peotone $1,000
Spider Power Royal Applause-America Calling, by Quiet American Lakewood Stables, Belleville $3,000