Just days before the Run for the Roses, Gov. Ernie Fletcher made a trip to Churchill Downs to present the first Kentucky Thoroughbred Breeders' Incentive Fund check. The recipients were Mike and Jeanne Owens, owners of Kentucky-bred Sinister Minister, winner of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) April 15.
Though the track was sloppy, the early morning rain ceased May 2 just in time for Fletcher and Kentucky State Sen. Damon Thayer time to give background on the program and award the $25,000 gift to the Owenses. They promised to invest their award back into the industry.
Sixteen of the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) contenders are Kentucky-breds. If one of them wins, their breeder will be eligible for an even richer breeders' incentive check.
"This is a red letter day for the Kentucky Thoroughbred breeding industry," Thayer said, standing on the muddy backstretch. "It's just the kind I envisioned when we first started working on the plans for a breeders' incentive program.
He recounted a Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club meeting in 2003 when Central Kentucky breeder David Hager approached him about the possibility of creating a fund from the sales tax on stud fees to reward breeders. He believed the program needed to be implemented in order to compete with other states that already have incentive funds.
"Victory has a thousand fathers and there have been a lot of people who have worked hard to help make this happen," Thayer said. He said the Owenses being the first to receive a check was "only appropriate" since Mike Owens was president of the farm managers' club when the incentive program first took root.
Thayer also gave credit to Breeders' Cup World Championships founder John Gaines, "who has promoted some form of this program for many years," he said, and the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority for implementing the regulations that govern the fund. He also praised Kerry Cauthen, Doug Hendrickson, and Jim Gallagher, who were present at the press conference.
Fletcher said: "They've done a marvelous job at strengthening the integrity of this industry and improving our reputation nationally."
Cauthen and Hendrickson helped come up with a compromise of how the $12 million will be allocated to breeders. While half the money will go to Kentucky-bred horses racing elsewhere, and the other half is returned to horses that were born in Kentucky and also race in the state.
Regulations require mares to reside in the state from the time of conception until foaling, unless the mare is a maiden and is continuing her racing career at which time she must be returned to the state. The mare also may be transported outside of the state if an emergency medical procedure is required to protect the health of both the mare and foal.
Eligible Kentucky-bred winning horses began running for incentive funds Jan. 1 of this year. Breeders will receive incentive fund checks in 2007.
The program is funded by the 6% sales tax on stallion fees, which generates between $12 million to $15 million per year.
"This is the land where hopes and dreams come true. We want to continue to support this signature industry that is inherent in our logo, 'Unbridled Spirit,'" Fletcher said. "We're pleased to be announcing the first fruits of our (breeders' incentive) effort."
"I can tell you it will go back into the industry," said Mike Owens, standing next to his wife. "Being a small breeder, that's something we do--we just keep investing back, so it's a win-win for Kentucky. I'm glad I have the opportunity to raise horses where they were meant to be--right here in Kentucky."
The Owenses said they were specifically looking forward to breeding their two mares to better stallions, and looking at the possibility of purchasing an additional broodmare.
"Every little bit helps," said Jeanne Owens. "(The $25,000) could also pay for vet and vanning bills."