08/28/2008 11:00PM

Sale lacked many familiar faces

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These are not the best of times for owners and breeders in Florida, and they are not yet the worst of times. That time, to paraphrase the purview of John Penn, who sits on the boards of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company and the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, could be coming.

“Things are not good in south Florida,” he said. “Business is way off at Calder Race Course and no one seems to know how to get it back.”

Penn was citing the effects of the recent simulcasting brouhaha between the Florida horsemen’s group and Calder owner Churchill Downs Inc., which, although mostly settled in early July, has not produced the expected recovery on handle.

Penn’s perception of the current disquiet and uncertainty of Florida owners and trainers was visible at this past week’s OBS sale of yearlings. There were Florida buyers, but many familiar faces of Calder Race Course regulars were not seen – even the ones who seldom bought but were always prospecting. This absence factor in some degree lent to the declining numbers experienced at this past week’s OBS yearling sales. But, it was not the only reason being proffered for this decline in the sales numbers. The everyday inflationary costs roiling the industry have dampened optimism as well.

Not the way it used to be

A study of the 40 leading sires in North America shows that there are no resident Florida sires on the list. Another top 40 list that has also taken a hit, where Florida sires are concerned, is the one that shows the leading sires of 2-year-old money earners. This list shows that of the 40 leading sires, seven of them stood in Florida but have moved on, leaving four stallions who stood in Florida in 2008 on the list. None of them are assured of being available for Florida breeders in 2009.

The four Florida stallions on this list are Graeme Hall (Winding Oaks Farm), Roar of the Tiger (Hartley/De Renzo), Peace Rules (Vinery) and the venerable Montbrook (Ocala Stud).

“The steady export of stallion power is being felt throughout the local industry,” said Tom Ventura, OBS director of sales and general manager.

Ventura cites the practice of booking 150 mares or more as affecting the balance between supply and demand.

“Stallion owners look to recover their investment before the first get of a stallion get to the races,” said Ventura. “This produces the oversupply that often exceeds demand.”

Florida has heretofore been a fertile locale to develop sire power. In the formative days of the 1960s, breeders such as Joe O’Farrell (Ocala Stud), Doug Stewart (Shady Lane Farm), Freeman Keyes (Reverie Knoll Farm), Issie Sherman (Farnsworth Farms) and others like them knew that successful sires were key to their commercial success. To sell a successful stallion was almost unheard of. True, A.I. “Butch” Savin sold Mr. Prospector to Claiborne Farm after he had made his mark in Florida, but, for most part, stallions who retired to Florida usually stayed in Florida.

The 1982 OBS selected sale of yearlings cataloged yearlings by several sires who were ranked among the top 10 on the general sire roster or were ranked among the top 10 on the leading 2 year-old roster. Some were on both. All of these stallions stood in Florida at the time of that sale: Baldski, Diplomat Way, Nodouble, Noholme II, and Valid Appeal. There were other stallions with national appeal listed as sires of yearlings. Distinctive was such a sire, as was Medieval Man. Canadian Sovereign Award champion Norcliffe stood in Florida with many of his pregnant mares sent to Canada for foaling.

A government backed solution?

The Irish National Stud has been in business since 1946 when the Irish government, under the Department of Agriculture, nationalized the 900-acre facility in Tully, County Kildare. The stud currently stands 10 stallions. Six are considered racehorse stallions and four are Thoroughbreds but used primarily to provide for National Hunt (jumping) progeny.

Successful stallions are rarely sold. These stallions range in fees from 3,000 euros to 12,500 euros with the average fee around 10,000 euros. Noel Hickey, owner of Irish Acres Farm in Ocala, was born and raised in Ireland and is familiar with the program. Would it work in Florida, he was asked?

“I certainly think it is worth a try,” said Hickey. “And I agree it should be placed under the Florida Department of Agriculture, similar to what goes on in Ireland. I have not kept up with changes in policy regarding the Irish National Stud, but I do recall it was an effective way to assure that Irish breeders had access to successful stallions and good stallion prospects and at competitive fees. This is something we don’t have much of in Florida these days.”