09/24/2010 1:40PM

Number of foals in California drops nearly 50 percent in five years


The number of live Thoroughbred foals produced in California has dropped by nearly 50 percent in the last five years, according to statistics released earlier this month by the Jockey Club.

According to a statement released on Sept. 16, with data compiled through Sept. 8, a total of 1,891 live foals have been registered in California this year, a decline of 25 percent from the 2,528 live foals registered from the 2009 foal crop.

As recently as 2005, there were 3,707 live foals registered in the state, marking a decline of 49 percent from that year until 2010. The number of live foals declined to 3,380 in 2006, 3,131 in 2007, and 3,004 in 2008. The state has not had a year-to-year gain in Thoroughbred foals since 2004, when 3,757 foals were registered, a gain of five foals from 2003.

This is not just a problem for California. Other states, including industry leader Kentucky, suffered declines from 2009 to 2010. Florida breeders, for example, registered 2,097 foals through Sept. 8, a drop of 27.5 percent from 2009, according to Jockey Club statistics.

The severe drop in live foals in California over the last two years comes at a time when state breeders have been severely impacted by a poor economy in the state; a decline in overnight purses at major tracks; a relocation of lesser mares to state such as New Mexico, which has a racing industry supported by slot machine revenue; and increased costs of boarding breeding stock in California.

Officials with the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association hope to make breeding in the state more attractive. In September 2009, the CTBA launched a program that pays $20,000 to the owner of a statebred that wins a maiden special weight race in Southern California and $10,000 to the owner of a statebred that wins a maiden special weight race in Northern California. At the recently concluded Del Mar meeting, 21 statebreds won maiden special weight races, compared to 10 in 2009 when the bonus system was not in effect.

Thursday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that will raise the takeout on exotic wagers on California races by 2 percent. The increase is expected to generate $25 million to $30 million in revenue annually, which is earmarked for overnight purses.

Even with those measures it may be impossible for the state’s breeding industry to restore the foal crop to previous levels. This fall, for example, Marty and Pam Wygod, who own one of the state’s leading farms, River Edge Farms in Buellton, Calif., are conducting a dispersal of their California-based bloodstock at Barretts in October.

Cal Fischer, who owns Madera Thoroughbreds in Madera, Calif., said breeders may emphasize producing better horses in the future.

“Will we come back?” he said of the foal crop. “The answer is I doubt it. I’d rather see the quality grow.”

David McGlothlin, the manager of Harris Farms in Coalinga, Calif., said the farm has seen a decline in participation from breeders in various forms in recent years.

“I think over the last two years we’ve seen a reduction in a lot of clients that had maybe one or two mares,” he said. “They’ve decided to forgo breeding. They truly have a love for racing and they’ve opted to buy yearlings. They’re staying engaged in the sport.

“There are others that have left their mares open. They won’t have a foal next year, kind of waiting to see what the economy will do. Others have left [the mares] open, and when the foal is weaned they want us to find a home for the mare.”

McGlothlin said the maiden special weight bonus and higher purses could lead to more activity for the 2011 breeding season, but expects the 2011 foal crop to be smaller than 2010. He declined to make a prediction when asked if the 2012 foal crop could grow in response to purse incentives, or better economic conditions.

“That’s a crystal ball I can’t see into,” he said. “I expect the crop to continue to decrease. We had a decline in the number of mares bred this year from the year before, and the year before. I hope we’re close to stabilizing that.”