04/04/2017 3:06PM

Stock rising for Maryland-breds at auction

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Barbara D. Livingston
Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia is a Maryland-bred graduate of Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic sales.

The North American bloodstock industry has largely managed to climb out of the recession that hampered the early part of the decade, but the demand for Maryland-breds has bounced back particularly well.

Of the top 10 states and provinces in North America by mares bred in 2016, Maryland was one of only two jurisdictions to post a higher number bred than the previous year, growing its roster of active broodmares from 799 to 923. The only other state in the top 10 to see a year-over-year increase in mares bred was perennial leader Kentucky.

The level of interest in producing Maryland-bred foals mirrors the interest of those looking to buy them. The average sale price for a Maryland-bred yearling has risen 115 percent from its lowest point in 2010 to the latest milepost in 2015.

The average price at auction for a Maryland-bred yearling in 2015 was $43,412, marking the highest point since 2007 and the third-highest since the turn of the century. Figures for 2016 were not yet available in The Jockey Club’s State Fact Book, but gains in gross and average during last year’s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic fall yearling sale suggest that they should be competitive with, if not surpass, 2015.

Bill Reightler, a perennial leading consignor at the Midlantic yearling sale, listed several reasons for the upswing for Maryland-breds at auction, including The Stronach Group’s investment in facilities at Laurel Park and the state’s lucrative incentive program for owners and breeders of Maryland-breds who race within the state.

“In the past, when we were in the doldrums, they were asking for Pennsylvania-breds or West Virginia-breds,” Reightler said, referencing two nearby states with slots-infused programs. “Now, prospective buyers are asking for Maryland-breds. Naturally, everybody’s looking for the best pedigrees or the best-conformed horse, but if two horses are equal and one was a Maryland-bred and the other is from one of the other states, it might sway them toward the Maryland-bred.”

While the supply for Maryland-breds at auction will be up in the coming years, both Reightler and Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sales director Paget Bennett said much of that growth has come from existing breeders in the state expanding their broodmare bands or returning them from elsewhere. Developing new breeders, they said, would be important for the state’s long-term prospects.

“I’m sure there are some new people, and we’ve lost some of the old-timers due to them passing away or they’ve just gotten out of the industry completely,” Bennett said. “I would say that a lot of the breeders have always been here, but I would also say there are some people coming in from Kentucky and places like that sending mares here to foal in Maryland and breed back to Maryland sires.

“There are some new breeders coming, whether they’re in partnerships with existing breeders, I kind of feel like that might be a lot of it, but people are definitely coming to the Maryland breeding industry and taking advantage of it,” she added.

Bennett said she also noticed a shift in buyer interest toward Maryland-breds at the Midlantic sales.

She used Charles Zacney of Cash is King LLC as a primary example. The Pennsylvania resident bought 2016 Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia, a Maryland-bred, for $30,000 out of the 2014 Midlantic yearling sale. Zacney returned last year to buy the auction’s two most expensive offerings, led by a $450,000 Curlin colt bred in Maryland.

Momentum is in the program’s favor, but Reightler was quick to note that the Maryland-bred program still faces the same challenges at auction as the rest of the industry, with high demand for the top offerings and an increasingly tough market farther down the ladder. However, the state’s incentive program – which rewards breeders of runners who finish in the top three of a Maryland race and awards 30 percent of in-state stakes earnings – means a young horse’s potential for return does not hinge entirely on the sales ring.

Reightler also said Maryland is approaching a time when its program will need to develop new star power in its stallion ranks to maintain buyer interest. The recent deaths of cornerstones Not For Love and Two Punch mean the state’s current stallion roster will have just a few years to establish name recognition in the marketplace to help keep figures at their current trajectory.

“The old stalwarts that really did well for people are lacking, so we’re still waiting for one of our sires to come up and really help us at the sales,” Reightler said. “Right now, weanlings and yearlings by those are selling, but not really huge. Generally, they don’t start to sell really well in the marketplace until they start producing a nice horse” on the track.