09/22/2014 3:15PM

Sparkman: Pennsylvania's breeding industry on a steady rise

Pennsylvania sire Smarty Jones has sired a respectable 6.2 percent of stakes winners from foals 3 and up.

Although they sometimes seem to be working at cross purposes, the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industries are inextricably intertwined. Both are also affected by economic and other external factors, sometimes in diametrically opposite ways, and this is true on both a national level and for individual states.

In 1994, the United States Thoroughbred bloodstock market was slowly recovering from the bloodstock crash of the late 1980s, which was precipitated by a substantial reduction in buying by Middle Eastern and European interests and exacerbated by the economic recession of the late 1980s. As it had been for more than 100 years, however, Pennsylvania was very much a minor player, accounting for only 1.4 percent of the national broodmare population and 2.6 percent of the stallion population.

As the broodmare population began to recover from the relatively small declines of the late 1980s, the number of stallions in service was falling due to advances in veterinary medicine. Sophisticated palpation and ultrasound techniques allowed stallion masters to double, then triple the size of a popular stallion’s book from the time-hallowed standard of 40 to 50 mares to more than 100. Fewer stallions were needed despite the modest increase in the number of mares to be bred. Until 2006, the ratio of stallions to mares decreased more rapidly nationally than in Pennsylvania, however, simply because there were more highly desirable stallions elsewhere – principally Kentucky, of course – capable of attracting large books.

Pennsylvania purses also lagged well behind the national average, but as the economy improved they increased more or less in lockstep with the national average – up until 2006.

As the birthplace of the first American-bred winner of England’s Epsom Derby, 1881 victor Iroquois, Pennsylvania owns a proud history in Thoroughbred breeding. Despite the fact that recent leading sires Danzig and Storm Cat both were born within the state, however, most of that history is far too ancient to be of much interest to contemporary breeders and racetrackers. What matters most, both on the racetrack and in the breeding shed, is money. The horses follow the money, and in 2004 the Pennsylvania legislature set in motion a series of events that changed the financial equation.

Partly because of Pennsylvania’s “blue laws,” the state was never a hub of horse racing even in Colonial days, but racing returned to the state in 1972 when Penn National Racecourse opened its doors. Philadelphia Park followed in 1974, but purses at both tracks were always relatively small and neither gained much national traction as a center of high-class racing.

In 2004, however, the state legislature passed the Racehorse Development and Gaming Act, which allowed the creation of racetrack casinos, slot parlors, and casino resorts, and dedicated a portion of the proceeds to racetrack purses and to the Pennsylvania breeder awards program. In 2006, the Mohegan Sun Casino opened at Pocono Downs, and a few months later the Philadelphia Park Casino and Racetrack (now called Parx) opened its doors, followed by the brand-new Presque Isle Downs and Casino in 2007.

The benefits of added casino revenue have been easy to spot, as average purses in Pennsylvania quickly caught and surpassed the national average. Last year marked the first year since the opening of the casinos that average Pennsylvania purse declined, but it remains slightly above the national average.

The Pennsylvania breeding industry responded by increasing the number of mares bred to Pennsylvania stallions from 1,159 in 2006 to 1,753 in the peak year of 2009. Since then the effects of the global economic recession of 2008 has reduced the number of mares once again, but not as drastically as the drop on the national level. Since 2006, the national number of mares bred has declined 44 percent while the Pennsylvania mare population, despite fluctuations encouraged by the influx of casino money, has declined only 22 percent.

Quality versus quantity

What ultimately matters most to a breeding program, however, is the quality of the stallions and mares and the talents of the breeders involved, not quantity. In Federico Tesio’s era through the first half of the 20th century, the breeding population in Italy was of comparable size to Pennsylvania’s, yet Italy produced all-time great racehorses Ribot and Nearco, both leading sires, plus influential international sires Donatello and Toulouse-Lautrec.

There can be no doubt that the increased purses and breeder awards have attracted higher-quality stallions to the Keystone State. Pennsylvania’s current stallion roster is headed by the best racehorse bred in Pennsylvania in perhaps more than 100 years, 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner and champion 3-year-old male Smarty Jones, who stands for $7,500 at Northview Stallion Station’s Pennsylvania division in Peach Bottom in Lancaster County.

Bred and raced by Roy and Patricia Chapman, Smarty Jones was beaten only in his heartbreaking loss to Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes, and began his stud career at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky before transferring to his home state in 2011. Although Smarty Jones failed to sire the string of Grade 1 winners and brilliant 2-year-olds required to continue to attract three-figure books in Kentucky, he is hardly a failure. Through Sept. 15, Pennsylvania’s favorite son has sired 24 stakes winners from 388 foals age 3 and up, a highly respectable 6.2 percent ratio, headed by Grade 1 winner Centralinteligence. Smarty Jones is enjoying another good year this year with 2014 stakes winners Cary Street, winner of the Grade 3 Greenwood Cup at Parx; Isn’t He Clever; and Old Time Hockey.

Standing alongside Smarty Jones at Northview is another veteran of the Kentucky wars, Jump Start. By leading sire A.P. Indy out of the Storm Cat mare Steady Cat, Jump Start won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and ran second in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, but did not race again because of injury.

He has been a consistently successful sire just below the top level, regardless of location, siring 42 stakes winners from 728 foals age 3 and up (5.8 percent), headed by Grade 1/Group 1 winners Rail Trip and Livingstone, one of the best current 3-year-olds in Argentina.

Two relatively new arrivals at Pin Oak Lane Farm in New Freedom have also made headlines this year on the national scene. Any Given Saturday’s Cristina’s Journey recently captured the Grade 2 Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs, while Offlee Wild’s Bayern won the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational and followed that by setting a track record when romping in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 20.

Winner of the Haskell himself, as well as the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes and Brooklyn Handicap, Any Given Saturday has sired 14 stakes winners (including two juvenile stakes winners), headed by Cristina’s Journey and this year’s Grade 2 Rebel Stakes winner, Hoppertunity, who also finished second to California Chrome in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

Offlee Wild, of course, was leading freshman sire of 2009 when his first-crop daughter She Be Wild earned champion 2-year-old filly honors with her gutty victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Bayern and She Be Wild are the best of Offlee Wild’s 18 stakes winners, but he too is enjoying a very good year, with stakes winners Wild Swava, Calitor, Blading Wild Cat, Waha Wild, Ethan’s Baby, Hortensius (Group 2 winner in Argentina), Offlee Royal, and Slick Deal, in addition to Bayern.

If the current state of the Pennsylvania breeding industry is in good hands with Smarty Jones, Jump Start, Any Given Saturday, and Offlee Wild leading the way, the future looks bright as well. The beautifully bred Grade 2 winner El Padrino, by sire of sires Pulpit out of Enchanted Rock, by Giant’s Causeway, retired to Northview this year and ranks as perhaps the best racehorse to retire directly to the state in decades if not a century.

Despite the rich purses and breeder awards, however, Pennsylvania still finds it difficult to compete with Kentucky, Florida, and the more established breeding programs in New York and Maryland for the best stallions. Ultimately it will be the success of young stallions like El Padrino that determines whether more and better stallion prospects will be attracted to Pennsylvania.

Despite the recent declines in number of mares bred, Pennsylvania now accounts for 2.7 percent of the national broodmare population, almost double the percentage of 20 years ago. If the reduction in number of mares over the past three years reflects culling from the bottom of the broodmare population, the increased stallion power available in the state is bound to mean better Pennsylvania-breds in the future.