02/28/2013 3:26PM

New York breeders benefiting from incentives, clever marketing

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Barbara D. Livingston
Tracy Egan, executive director of the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund, with a friend.

While the North American Thoroughbred breeding sector showed welcome signs of stability in 2012, one of the most positive developments occurred in New York, where breeders benefited from sizable increases in the state’s incentive program.

The New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund, established in 1973, has long been a committed and forceful advocate for the state’s owners and breeders. In late 2011, the fund − which is responsible for registering New York stallions, distributing breeders’ awards and purse monies for statebred races, and promoting the state’s Thoroughbred breeding industry − devised a series of initiatives designed to revitalize New York’s breeding sector over the next year.

Following the implementation of video lottery terminals (VLTs) at Aqueduct in late 2011 and the opening of its Resorts World Casino, the fund was earmarked to receive 1 percent of VLT revenue for 2012. Executive director Tracy Egan, working with the fund’s board of directors and staff, started a campaign to attract breeders to New York to take advantage of substantially larger monies from the statebred program.

“After the board meeting in October 2011, the first thing we did here was to start advertising to people with pregnant mares or who were buying pregnant mares at the mixed sales in Kentucky and Florida, both in late 2011 and early 2012, to get them to put those pregnant mares on a van and bring them to New York state [to foal], making the foal eligible as a New York-bred,” Egan said. “We attracted over 1,000 mares. Over 600 came from Kentucky and over 300 from Florida, and those were in-foal mares.”

As a result, the state’s foal crop rebounded in 2012 from several years of decline (final Jockey Club statistics were not yet available). Egan said the most important objective from the fund’s perspective is to increase the quality of New York-bred foals, and she said she believes the state made progress in that regard.

“During the 2011 board meeting, the board of directors updated their mission statement and made direct reference to quality horses,” she said. “The mission is to promote, by monetary incentives, responsible breeding of quality Thoroughbred racehorses. ‘Responsible breeding’ means not overbreeding, of course, and ‘quality’ means, we’ve got to step it up.

“For many years, you would hear people say, ‘You know, he’s good . . . for a New York-bred.’ But that has really fallen by the wayside,” she said.

“As Barry Schwartz said originally about The Lumber Guy,” she said, referring to the owner-breeder and his Grade 1-winning horse, “when you think of New York-breds now, they’re bred to run anywhere. More and more people are breeding in New York with the expectation that they are going to breed an athlete that can go anywhere and compete mano a mano.”

Anticipating the additional VLT revenue, the fund restructured its awards to breeders of registered New York-breds beginning in 2012. The fund pays out 30 percent (up from 20 percent) of the winner’s purse and 15 percent of second- and third-place purse money to New York-sired horses bred in the state, and it pays 15 percent of first-place purse money and 7.5 percent of second- and third-place purse monies to New York-bred horses not sired by a stallion residing in the state. Those percentages will remain the same for 2013.

Stallion owners also benefited from increased awards in 2012. The fund paid 10 percent of first-, second-, and third-place purse monies to owners of registered New York-based covering stallions whose progeny finished in the money. That percentage will remain the same in 2013.

Egan said that New York’s stallion population, which had dropped by more than 50 percent in six years to 60 in 2011, has risen to approximately 70 for 2013, and that the quality of stallions standing in the Empire State also has improved. She noted in particular the growing presence of young stallions, such as Grade 1 winner Girolamo.

In addition to the rich awards program and the lucrative statebred purse structure, New York breeders benefited from a multifaceted marketing and promotional campaign in 2012. The fund advertised in traditional print outlets and also supervised a stallion co-op advertising program, in which the fund reimbursed eligible stallion managers and owners 25 percent of ad placement costs in trade publications in exchange for including the fund’s masthead and logo in the ad.

For electronic media, the fund advertised in several of New York’s popular television and radio sports networks, spreading a message about the richness of the state’s Thoroughbred industry and again emphasizing the correlation between New York-bred racing and quality. Much of the fund’s media advertising focused on the elite Saratoga meeting, which was showcased on NBC Sports Network last year, as well as the Belmont Stakes. Campaigns utilizing the New York Racing Association’s weekly television show on MSG+ and Mike Francesca’s televised radio show proved to be especially popular.

“Sometimes the industry gets criticized, and the fund as well, for preaching to the choir,” Egan said. “Well, the fact of the matter is, the bulk of your future owners are going to be people that come to the races, or watch racing on television, or who are wagering on it. I prefer to spend advertising dollars on the NYRA shows seen in New Jersey, New York City, the New York suburbs, and southern Connecticut. That’s an audience which has easy access to top-quality racing and wagering, and this is where you want your products to be seen.

“You’re adding a lot of excitement,” she said. “I mean, think of it: We’re the only state in the nation where your statebreds get to run at Saratoga.”

Another integral element of the fund’s promotional initiative concerns Thoroughbred aftercare. New York has a variety of programs devoted to finding homes and/or careers for racehorses after they retire, and Egan said she believes that spreading the word about aftercare lets new fans who are interested in becoming owners and/or breeders know the state’s racing and breeding organizations are committed to horse welfare.

“These [aftercare programs] touch on the issue of public perception of our sport, where we have to not only make the public think that we don’t dispose of our horses willy-nilly, we have to actually create an environment where they are wanted after their racing careers,” Egan said. “Either they are good enough to be bred, or they can become a show horse, an event horse, a dressage horse, a trail horse. A good-minded Thoroughbred is a fantastic ride.”

Overall, an enriched awards program coupled with a successful marketing campaign helped New York breeders enjoy a comeback year in 2012. The percentage of VLT revenue awarded the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund is slated to rise to 1.25 percent in 2013, and Egan said she is confident Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the reorganized NYRA board share the fund’s commitment as they continue to strengthen the state’s horse industry.