12/02/2010 5:26PM

Small breeders in Florida criticize state association's policies


LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association was scheduled to respond to critics Friday at a special meeting in Ocala, Fla., where a group led by small breeder Gordon Reiss planned to raise questions about the organization’s transparency and the direction of Florida racing and breeding, particularly for smaller breeders.

Reiss, an insurance executive and former Warnerton Farm manager, owns two broodmares. He says he’s concerned that the FTBOA isn’t promoting policies to keep Florida’s breeding program more competitive.

On July 1, FTBOA-backed legislation went into effect, including a reduction in the state tax on slots revenue from 50 percent to 35 percent, that both the FTBOA and its critics say should help boost the Thoroughbred economy. But Reiss and others would like to see a higher percentage going to breeders’ awards and the development of a statebred restricted racing program.

Reiss contends those initiatives will help prevent breeders and stallions from leaving Florida for states with more lucrative programs such as Indiana, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania.

“Their argument is that we have a lot more horses than those other programs, but at last count, our foal crop this year was down to a little over 2,000 foals,” said Reiss. “It’s obvious we have some serious issues going on, and we just wonder about the management of the FTBOA after some 20 years of leadership, whether this is the right avenue any longer.”

According to the FTBOA, the breeders’ awards fund has fallen in recent years, from $5.9 million in 2007 to $4.5 million in 2009. But FTBOA president Fred Brei notes that handle – which funds the awards – has decreased nationwide. He said he believes the new legislation can help turn the tide, not just through the slots tax reduction but also because it allowed a proposed extension of breeders’ awards. Currently, those are paid out for winners in Florida, but the FTBOA now proposes to pay bonuses of 10 percent of the purse for wins, 3 percent for second, and 2 percent for third (the bonuses are capped at $10,000, $3,000, and $1,500) in Florida races.

“I’m trying to figure out why we’re in such dire straits down here, why there’s no money for breeders’ incentive awards, why there’s no statebred program in Florida,” Reiss said, adding that other states combine statebred races with generous incentives for owners, breeders, and stallions, exactly the kind of program he would like to see in Florida. “You have to have owners and you have to have purses, I understand that. The bottom line is, our program is the weakest program I see as far as breeders, owners, and stallion awards. And this was going on in Florida before the economy went.”

But putting money toward state-bred restricted races could ultimately damage handle, Brei said, and that’s what feeds the awards program.

“Records have shown over the years that the higher the quality of racing, the higher the handle,” said Brei. “Anything that compromises quality racing compromises our income. Restricted races most often don’t have the same number of horses participating, and the number of horses in a field affects income.” And tracks won’t agree to a statebred program if it affects handle, Brei said.

As for the accusation that the FTBOA has lost sight of the needs of its smaller members, Brei doesn’t buy it.

“We keep hearing about this ‘small breeder syndrome,’ but if we do anything to hurt someone with one horse, and we have 20 horses, then we’re hurt 20 times,” Brei said. “I hope somewhere along the line they’ll figure out that we all have the same problems, just in a different size.”

Tattersalls sale exceeds expectations

The Tattersalls December sales ended Thursday with an increase in median, with gross and average only slightly behind last year’s figures in a performance auction house chairman Edmond Mahony said “exceeded expectations.”

Aided by a rash of seven-figure prices in its mare sessions, the auction ended with a total of 1,398 horses sold for $91,674,404, down 2 percent from last year’s total for 1,399 horses. The average price, about $65,575, also fell 2 percent.

But the median price, about $28,025, increased 13 percent.

“The general consensus prior to this week was that despite two quality dispersals the catalog was a little short of obvious stars and that the sale might fall short of last year’s levels, but the figures tell another story,” Mahony said.