10/27/2011 1:09PM

New Golden State Series provides boost to California breeders

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ARCADIA, Calif. – The proof is in the numbers, the ones that are rising and falling.

In 2012, the newly formed Golden State Series will offer 27 races for statebreds worth $4.65 million. An emphasis has been placed on races for 2- and 3-year-olds, increasing opportunities for those age groups from 12 races worth $1.275 million in 2011 to 18 races worth $3.6 million in 2012.

The timing is vital. The 2011 foal crop for California-breds was 1,762 foals, according to Jockey Club statistics released last month. The foal crop declined 6.8 percent from the 1,891 registered foals in 2010. As recently as 2005, there were 3,707 live foals registered in the state.

Blame the economy, competition from breeding programs in other states, or the cost of keeping breeding stock in California. It does not matter. To racing officials, it was obvious that something needed to be done, and fast, in an attempt to reverse the trend.

“We tend to address things in critical stages,” Hollywood Park racing secretary Martin Panza said earlier this week. “This was something we couldn’t let get to a crisis situation.”

Meetings with racetrack officials, the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, and Thoroughbred Owners of California led to the development of the Golden State Series, which they hope will spur interest in breeding in the state.

“It’s the first time in a long time we’ve been proactive instead of reactive,” Panza said.

The details were finalized over the summer by CTBA executive director Doug Burge and Panza, who went on a two-man roadshow presenting the concept to the state’s breeders.

For breeders, the plan could offer a boost in interest for their stallions, attract additional mares to the state, and provide much needed capital to the bottom lines of the farms, which have dwindled in numbers at an alarming rate in recent years.

“The goal is to stimulate the breeding and owning of Cal-breds,” said Burge, who has worked for the CTBA since 1995. “When you can expand the purse dollars, and the number of opportunities, and put this out there in front of people, it has to continue to help.

“Long-term, our goal, with proper participation and support, is to expand this to the older horses as well. Right now, it’s geared toward 2- and 3-year-olds. Hopefully in three to five years, we’ll have similar increases from older horses.”

Burge said there are signs of some stability in the California bloodstock market when the foal crop fell by 6 percent, compared to steeper drops such as 14 percent in national leader Kentucky and an alarming 25 percent in registered Florida-breds. As a result, California’s 1,762 ranked second on the Jockey Club list of 2011 foals, behind Kentucky with 11,065.

The Golden State Series is the second financial incentive developed in recent years. Beginning in the fall 2009, a $20,000 bonus was enacted for California-breds who win maiden special weight races on the Southern California circuit. A win in a similar race on the Northern California circuit is worth $10,000.

The Golden State Series will be financed by several sources – drawing some purse revenue from horsemen’s stakes account, the CTBA’s funding, the California Marketing Committee (a fund to promote racing in the state), and through a subscription program.

For 2-year-old California-bred or California-sired runners of 2012 to be eligible, owners must pay a $300 nomination by Feb. 12. A 2-year-old not nominated to the Golden State Series at that time can later be supplemented to a stakes, and made eligible to the program for life, with a $25,000 payment. Horses aged 3 years old or older in 2012 are grandfathered into the program with no nomination costs, but will largely have lower prize money available for at least the first year of the program.

The four richest races in the series in 2012 are existing stakes that will be worth $300,000, with enhanced purses from 2011. The Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-olds and Melair Stakes for 3-year-old fillies were worth $150,000 and $125,000 at Hollywood Park last April. Their 2012 purses will reach record levels. Both races will be run at 1 1/8 miles, an increase by a sixteenth-mile for the Melair.

In December 2012, divisions of the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes for 2-year-olds and 2-year-old fillies at Santa Anita will be worth $300,000, a massive $200,000 increase from 2010. The distances have been extended from seven furlongs to a mile. (The purses for the 2011 runnings this December have not been announced).

Four of the six new races are preps for those stakes. At Santa Anita on March 31, two $200,000 races over 6 1/2 furlongs for 3-year-olds will be run – the Echo Eddie and the Evening Jewel for fillies. In December 2012, two $200,000 races over seven furlongs for 2-year-olds will be inaugurated at Hollywood Park – the King Glorious and Soviet Problem Stakes for fillies. The other two new stakes – the Campanile for fillies and Silky Sullivan – are $100,000 races for 3-year-olds over a mile on turf at Golden Gate Fields in early June.

In addition, the purses of two seven-furlong sprints at Del Mar – the Real Good Deal Stakes and Fleet Treat Stakes for fillies – have been hiked to $200,000, from $100,000 in 2011. The California Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies have been boosted to $250,000 from 2011 levels of $100,000 each.

Purses for older horses have not been increased for 2012, though discussions have taken place about higher prize money in coming years.

Burge and Panza say there are early indications the new series has boosted the prominence of California-breds. They cited an increase in average prices for yearlings at the Barretts October yearling sale earlier this month to $16,811, a 19.4 percent increase over 2010. Earlier this month, there was a flurry of new stallions added to the state. Harris Farms announced that Grade 1 winner Heatseeker would stand in California in 2012. Magali Farms announced that 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and the multiple stakes winner Noble Court will stand at the Santa Ynez farm in 2012.

The real proof that the program is helping, Burge and Panza say, will come next spring if phones begin to ring at farms with mare owners looking to book stallions, if the new series of races can draw attractive fields, and if future sales of California-breds, both public and private, have a stronger market.

“It seemed like the right thing to do to prod along the marketplace,” Panza said. “Certainly, it helps the breeders. You got to these farms, and these people have tremendous commitments financially and emotionally. It’s their way of life.”