At a time when many people involved in the Thoroughbred industry are scratching their heads and wondering what to do next, breeders in New Mexico are ramping up, posting vigorous increases in the state-bred program. Between 1999 and 2002, the number of mares covered in the state has increased by 72%.
"Each year there has been a change," said Anna Fay Davis, executive director of the New Mexico Horse Breeders Association. "Several breeding farms have been refurbished and are now back in business and the past several years has provided an opportunity for people to revamp their facilities. A lot of stallion farms are coming back to life and new mares are moving into the state at a consistent rate."
According to reports from The Jockey Club, 817 mares were covered in New Mexico in 1999 compared to 1,403 in 2002. In 2000, 1,131 mares were covered and 1,217 were covered in 2001.
The upswing in the New Mexico program can be credited to revenue generated from slot machines that were installed at the state's four racetracks (Downs at Albuquerque, Ruidoso Downs, Sunland Park, and Sun Ray Park) in 1999. The money has increased purses and padded the already successful breeders' incentive program.
As an example, the average purse at Sunland Park shot up from pre-1999 lows of nearly $1,500 to an average of $12,000, with state-breds running for an average of $6,000 per race more since the installation of slots.
The rewards of expanded gaming are drawing in new breeders. The 1,107-member horse breeders' association recorded an 11% increase in membership from 2001 to 2002, as well as a 30% increase in horse registrations. All horses, from foals to stallions, must be registered with the association in order to collect breeders' incentive money.
The association registered 464 New Mexico-bred foals in 2002, compared with 375 in 2001. Broodmare registration increased 35% over the same time period, with 346 new registrations in 2001 and 525 in 2002. Stallion registration showed a 32% increase from 26 new stallions registered in 2001 to 38 registered in 2002.
State law requires all mares be registered no later than Sept. 1 of the year they are bred, with penalty payments applying for in-foal registrations. In a unique twist, the mares are required to remain in New Mexico from the time of conception until foaling. There is a $50 broodmare registration fee. If a stallion is not registered before breeding, a $1,000 penalty per foal is assessed.
In 2002, the New Mexico Horse Breeders Association distributed $2,777,841.31--an increase of $496,698.10 over the amount awarded in 2001--in breeders' awards checks. The allocation was from Sept. 1, 2001 through Sept. 22, 2002, excluding SunRay Park's 2002 season. Of the total amount distributed, the program received $1,628,328.22 from gaming revenue.
Long-time New Mexico owner/breeder Michael Weatherly said the introduction of slot machines has given the state an opportunity to rejuvenate the industry and improve the overall racing, breeding, and sales product.
"Our simulcast signal is going out to more tracks; more and better horses are moving in to both race and breed. We are kind of like the last frontier of Thoroughbred racing," Weatherly said.
"We have sons of Storm Cat and Phone Trick moving in; genetically the landscape of New Mexico has changed. Young stallions have the opportunity to prove themselves here," continuted Weatherly, who stands 14 stallions and keeps between 300 and 400 mares.
In further testament to the state's success, for the first time in New Mexico history the Ruidoso Sales Co. will conduct a horses of racing age sale March 29 at Frontera Training Center, located across from Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino. A catalogue of 75 to 80 horses is expected.
"Right now, New Mexico is the place to be as far as the breeding industry is concerned," said Greg Creager, who relocated his Mountain States Equine to New Mexico from Utah in November. "We came here because of the breeders incentive program and the purses. We also built our farm near Hobbs because of the talk of a new track in the area."
Creager, who also is involved with Quarter Horses, will stand his first Thoroughbred stallion, Golden Ransom. The unraced son of Hennessy will stand as the property of Gayland and Denise Rush's R. Legacy Racing for a $1,500 fee. Creager will also stand three Quarter Horse stallions.