03/01/2012 11:02AM

New York stallions: Taylor Made latest out-of-state farm to look at state

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Barbara D. Livingston
Kentucky-based Vinery expanded its operation to New York in 2010, when it struck deals with Empire Stud and Sugar Maple Farm.

LEXINGTON, Ky. − Duncan Taylor owns Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky, but these days he’s keeping a close eye on New York. Taylor Made − one of the world’s leading Thoroughbred breeding and sales operations − is considering expanding into the Empire State, Taylor said, now that Aqueduct’s casino dramatically has ramped up horses’ and breeders’ earning power.

After a decade-long wait, the promised Aqueduct gaming machines opened Oct. 28 and finally are paying off for New York owners and breeders. So far, the Resorts World Casino New York has dished out more than $1.6 million to the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund, which announced even before the casino’s opening that it would hike breeders’ awards by 50 percent across the board. It also said it would raise the earnings cap for award earnings by 300 percent (from $10,000 to $40,000 per award) for New York-breds sired in the state and by 100 percent (from $10,000 to $20,000 per award) for New York-breds with out-of-state sires. Those numbers made compelling advertising, and the New York Thoroughbred Breeders was quick to remind breeders and owners that the state had slated more than 600 restricted statebred races and more than $35 million in New York-bred purses, along with a breeding fund worth an estimated $17 million in 2012.

It’s the best news to come out of New York breeding in almost a decade. Understandably, it’s turned some heads.

“As long as that money is available, if you’re in it [breeding and racing] and you’re economics sensitive, you’ve got to consider it,” Taylor said. “There’s going to be a whole lot more money to race for in New York and if you breed the horse and the horse does well, you could end up getting a completely new income stream that you never had before from a breeders’ award.

“If it wasn’t for the economic incentive,” Taylor said, “we wouldn’t even give it a second thought.”

Now, Taylor said, his operation is looking seriously at its options in New York, from leasing a farm to partnering with an existing operation or even investing someday in its own property. Taylor said the farm, which has sent mares to New York and to slots-rich Pennsylvania for the last several years, also is contemplating increasing its mare population and possibly standing stallions in New York, too.

Taylor isn’t alone. Last year, the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund’s stallion registry included 71 horses; this year, the figure has risen to 81, and many of those new stallions come from operations that are recent investors in New York.

Darley makes its first foray into the New York stallion market this year with Girolamo, who enters stud at Sequel Stallions New York, and Spendthrift also will try the market with Dublin standing at Keane Stud. New York’s 2012 stallion roster also will include WinStar Farm’s Bluegrass Cat, standing in a joint venture with Vinery. Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs stood five stallions at McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds starting in 2010, the same year that Kentucky-based Vinery struck deals with Empire Stud and Sugar Maple Farm two years ago. Vinery now stands six stallions in New York.

It’s not just out-of-state farms that are expanding their New York programs. Questroyal Stud, a longtime breeding program in the Empire State, recently announced it would buy the 265-acre farm previously operated by Sez Who Thoroughbreds, now bankrupt.

“It’s a 265-acre farm with 120 stalls and a stallion barn,” said Questroyal principal Barry Ostrager, also president of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders. “The Genting racino has revivified New York’s racing and breeding program. I think this is the time to anticipate significant expansion in New York breeding after a decade in which literally 100 farms went out of business in New York. So I’m excited about this opportunity.”

Mares bred for the New York program − whether to in-state or out-of-state sires − had been on a general downward trend since 2004, when the number of mares in the statebred program was 3,302, according to the Breeding and Development Fund. By 2010, the figure had dwindled to 2,121. But last year, with Aqueduct’s slots revenue on the horizon, mare participation rose to 2,132, the first upward tick since 2007. As gaming revenue pumps up New York purses and breeding awards, there also are fewer New York-breds competing for those fatter pots: the state’s breeding fund estimates the 2011 crop of eligible foals at 1,225, the lowest number in at least a dozen years.

Not surprisingly, Taylor and other breeders say their clients are expressing more interest in acquiring or breeding New York-breds. And some Empire State breeding and boarding farms are beginning to see rewards from what they see as a new, profitable era.

“Demand has increased for our product, which is New York-bred weanlings and yearlings,” said Dan Barraclough, owner of Saratoga Glen Farm in Schuylerville, N.Y. “Demand has been outstanding locally and nationally. Prices are much higher. I would say we’re getting a 30- to 40-percent premium now for our yearlings than we were three years ago.”

Fasig-Tipton’s New York-bred preferred sale at Saratoga last August saw a sharp upturn. The two-day auction sold 32 percent more horses last year and saw gross receipts leap by 83 percent. Average ($54,238) and median ($35,000) prices jumped  39 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

“Demand has gotten stronger since then,” Barraclough said. “We had a lot of interest in people wanting to buy yearlings and weanlings privately off the farm after the November sales. It’s just been gaining momentum. We wish we had more horses to sell. We can’t fill all our orders.”

The practical effect on New York farms like Saratoga Glen is relief and reinvestment.

“We’re still catching up from the previous three years of bad economic times that everybody experienced,” said Barraclough. “But we’re current on all our accounts payable now, we’re doing some construction and some growth on the farm, and we’re breeding to better stallions. I wouldn’t say it’s had a huge effect on our lifestyle or our business, but I think the seeds are sown where it will next year and in future years. By breeding to better stallions, buying better mares, and building more barns and putting up new fences, we’re putting out more money than we’re bringing in. But I think the scale’s about to tip the other way and we’ll start to reap rewards from all that.”

Another longtime New York owner and breeder, Tom Gallo, also has seen increased interest, both among his clients at Blue Stone Farm and for racing syndicates through his Parting Glass Racing, both based in Saratoga. He’s also planning to bring back his consignment at Thoroughbred sales.

“I’m finding that I’m getting some people interested in breeding, more now than before,” Gallo said. “We actually have people that are looking to explore breeding because of what’s going on. It’s a little bit of renaissance for the New York racing and breeding industry. We’ve got the bump in purses, and so it’s a good opportunity to run horses, but at the same time the market value for horses bred in New York also will have a premium, because you can get even so much quicker. If you have a consistent horse, they don’t have to be world-beaters. You can garner $100,000 to $150,000 in gross earnings without having to go up through your conditions.”

The picture is rosy now, but breeders and investors also are keeping a wary eye on political developments in other areas, most notably Maryland and Pennsylvania. In both jurisdictions, legislators have contemplated diverting or cutting revenue Thoroughbred industry receives from gaming.

“The thing that worries you about these programs is that they’re controlled by the politicians,” Taylor Made’s Duncan Taylor said. “Usually what happens is that the politicians and other people start looking at it and wondering, ‘Why is this money going to the horse business?’ Then the horse business starts getting cut back.

“If I thought it was going to remain like this forever and it’s locked in, I would be moving quickly,” Taylor added. “Instead, I’m moving slowly. I don’t know if it will ever be locked in, but that’s what makes it a tougher decision.”

Gallo, the New York Thoroughbred Breeders vice-president, said the racing and breeding industry must remain vigilant. “We’re very wary of that,” Gallo said. “Now is the time for people to give to the NYTB political action committee to help our lobbyist in Albany to solidify the gains we garnered and not let them slip away. We have to be careful and very protective of what we’ve waited for all these years.”

For now, the New York program looks more competitive than ever. Saratoga Glen owner Barraclough says his boarding population has risen by about five so far, with six or seven more mares expected to arrive during the season. He currently has about 50 mares on his farm, including 14 he owns alone or in partnership.

“We went through a period where Thoroughbred breeders had to modify what they were paying out, and we lost about 25 boarding customers,” said Barraclough. “We tried to convince them that with everybody leaving the state now is the time you want to double down and have a group of foals not only racing when the slots money comes in, but also to sell when slots start churning. We weren’t real effective making that case, so we filled the stalls we have empty with our own horses. We bought eight or nine mares to fill space left when boarding clients left for Pennsylvania or Ontario. We believed in the New York program, we believed it was going to be lucrative long-term.”