07/01/2005 12:00AM

Lewises not in market for yearlings

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Bob and Beverly Lewis, major buyers at public auction in the last decade, will not purchase yearlings this season.

"I'm going to stay away," Bob Lewis said.

According to Lewis, he and his wife currently have 27 2-year-olds in training and are not in immediate need of young stock for their racing program, which has produced such runners as Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners Silver Charm and Charismatic, and champion filly Serena's Song. The stable is ranked 10th nationwide with more than $1.3 million in earnings.

Lewis also said he plans to focus on buying 2-year-olds at auction.

"With yearlings, you have to round-pen them, break them, and do all those fundamentals," he explained. "With 2-year-olds, that's all done, and you have a chance to see the horse's movement on the track. You have the opportunity to make more of a judgment on an animal."

Lewis made a similar pledge before the 2004 select yearling sales got underway but reversed himself by bidding aggressively for a select group of yearlings. By the end of the year, the Lewises had bought eight yearlings for $4,090,000 at public auction.

"These sales can be infectious," Lewis said. "You see a magnificent animal, and the trainer is all excited about buying it, and you get caught up in it. I'm just as apt to change to change my mind next year as I did last year, but I think we will be concentrating on the 2-year-olds."

Kentucky breeding incentive plan still up in air

Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club president Ken Wilkins said late last week that his group and others charged with recommending a framework for Kentucky's breeding incentive program would need more time, pointing up the complexities of the issue.

Wilkins said the farm managers, Kentucky Equine Education Project, and Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders are still hammering out "minor differences" over the proposal's specifics. Those continuing discussions caused the groups to back off their original hope to present a unified proposal to the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority on July 1. The authority ultimately will decide the distribution plan for a projected $10 million to $12 million derived from Kentucky's 6 percent sales tax on stud fees.

While members of the groups involved are reluctant to divulge specific issues of contention, breeder and consignor Catherine Parke - a participant in some of the meetings - said there is broad agreement that the program should provide awards for Kentucky-bred winners outside the state, and even in some international competition. The results of a farm managers' survey last month showed 51 percent of respondents favored nationwide and international awards, rather than limiting them to statebred winners in Kentucky races only. But until a recommendation is put in writing, all such issues could be up for discussion.

"Nothing has been resolved," Parke said. "Nothing is in writing."

Even if there is a broad agreement on an overarching structure, the specifics could take time to hammer out. Parke said such questions as how much money should be awarded for various qualities of races, what residency requirements should be imposed for Kentucky-bred eligibility, and similar issues are complex.

Wilkins made the same point and could not offer a timeframe for when the groups' work might be complete.

"It's not easy, even when you agree on the larger ideas, to do all the arithmetic," Parke said.

Arrowfield Stud forced to back off pledge

Australia's Arrowfield Stud has given up its pledge to limit stallion books to 120 per season, owner John Messara said.

"I found all it did was give a free kick to my competition, because no one else took up the challenge," he said. "Fundamentally, I am against this, but I was slowly committing suicide, because my clients were going to other farms. We've all got to agree to do it at once or not do it at all."

Growing book sizes have long disturbed Messara, who announced the 120-mare cap two years ago in an effort to prevent market saturation at sales.

"I thought it was in the best interests of our clients, first of all, because when they went to market, they would have less competition from horses from the same stallions," he said. "And, organizationally, I thought it would put less pressure on the horses themselves, even though with advances in veterinary technology they can serve more mares now. And finally, fundamentally, I think limiting horses' books gives more horses a chance, because you'll get wider support for more stallions."

Asked why Australia's commercial breeders did not support his pledge, Messara said he was "stumped."

"I don't know why, but they don't seem offended by up to 200 mares going to a single horse," he said. "I suppose the thought is that if the horses are that popular, the market will support them. I would have thought that for the good of the game and the breed, you should offer more diversity.

"At the end of the day," he added, "I've been overwhelmed by commercial sentiments."