Kentucky breeding and racing are alive and well, thank you very much.
That was the message Kentucky State Sen. Damon Thayer delivered to an audience of industry professionals April 17 as part of the Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association's educational symposium at the Keeneland sales pavilion.
"These are good times in Kentucky," Thayer said, citing four consecutive years of increased purses at the state's tracks and the state's dominance within the national breeding industry.
Overall, Thayer said some effects on the industry from the recession that started in 2008 have been positive because there is now greater equilibrium among the breeding, sales, and racing industries.
"We have had contraction in our sport at a national level, which was probably way overdue because the equilibrium of supply and demand between the breeding side and the racing side was way out of whack," Thayer said. "For the longest time we were producing way too many horses for the marketplace and we had way too many race days for the marketplace.
"The decline in the economy in 2008 really forced an adjustment in both sectors of the business. The breeding side reacted right away. When you look at the public sale figures for the last couple of years, you see that supply and demand is just about right. We are back to Secretariat-era foal crop sizes and that is not a bad thing."
Thayer reiterated positive developments within the Kentucky industry over the past dozen years, including the Kentucky Breeders' Incentive Fund that he was instrumental in getting approved by the legislature. It has paid more than $131 million in incentive awards.
The seed for the fund was planted after Thayer made a presentation to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club in which the elected official discussed the inability of the industry to convince legislators to remove the sales tax charged in stallion stud fees. Kentucky horseman David Hager approached Thayer about using the tax money to help fund an incentive program and the effort gained momentum.
With Republicans controlling the governor's seat and both houses of the state legislature, Thayer said the current environment in the state Capitol was favorable for reforms that could benefit the horse industry.
"You have more friends in the legislature now than you did 14 years ago," Thayer said, referencing his tenure as an elected official. Thayer, who is the Senate majority floor leader, said he would represent the horse industry in its ongoing effort to convince the legislature to remove the sales tax on fencing, feed, and equipment used in horse breeding, a tax that is not imposed on livestock producers.
In addition to Thayer's presentation, the educational portion of the symposium included a panel featuring young professionals within the horse industry, an update on the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, an update on the status of microchipping of foals, and an explanation of developments within equine genomics.
Lori Johnson, registration specialist and assistant to the registrar at The Jockey Club explained and showed a video outlining the process needed to have a microchip implanted in a Thoroughbred foal that will be required as part of the registration process beginning with the 2017 foal crop.
With The Jockey Club providing microchips on a voluntary basis last year, Johnson estimated 60% of the 2016 foal crop has, or will have, microchips implanted.
Lexington attorney Mike Meuser, vice president and secretary of the TAA since it was founded, told the audience that the distinctive feature of the organization is that it is the only aftercare entity that accredits the facilities that it funds. In addition to site inspections, TAA accreditation requires reporting and monitoring of the organizations.
"We want to make sure that the money gets to the horses in the best way," Meuser said. "We don't give money to bricks and mortar. We don't give money for fences or buildings. We only give money to organizations to use for the care and feeding of horses. At the end of the day we have been able to transform aftercare in North America."
With a 2017 budget in which about $3 million will be paid to providers, Meuser said TAA would like to get greater participation from buyers and sellers at public auctions to designate a portion of a horse's purchase price to be allocated to TAA.
During the young professional's panel discussion moderated by Keeneland track announcer Kurt Becker, five young people involved in various aspects of the horse industry offered insights on how they entered the business and shared some of their experiences.
In the lengthiest presentation, Dr. Emmeline Hill discussed equine genomics and its use in Thoroughbred breeding. Hill is chief scientific officer at Plusvital and was one of the founding members of Equinome in 2009, which stemmed from her discovery of the speed gene.
The day's session concluded with a roast of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. BloodHorse.com will report April 18 on that event.