Casner to Farm Managers: In-State Breeder Awards Make Sense

WinStar Farm co-owner Bill Casner, speaking to the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Manager's Club Nov. 1, spelled out his support for a breeders' incentive program that would reward Kentucky-bred horses for winning races solely at tracks in the state.

Joking that he was in hostile territory and might need the chicken wire customarily drawn between bar patrons and the band in Texas honky-tonks, Casner, an El Paso, Texas, native who began galloping horses at Sunland Park at age 15, called for unity.

"We need to be able to have a difference of opinion on breeders' incentives and not create a wedge in the industry," Casner said. "We need to hold this debate with open minds, setting personalities aside."

The Kentucky Thoroughbred Breeders Incentive Fund, which became law with the signature of Gov. Ernie Fletcher in March, will put an estimated $12 million a year into a fund earmarked for Thoroughbred breeders. The money is scheduled for distribution beginning in 2006.

The funds are derived from a 6% tax on stud fees that previously went into the state's general fund.

The farm managers' club--as well as the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, which is responsible for administering the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund--is on record in support of a program that would pay breeders a one-time payment for a horse's maiden win in racing jurisdictions worldwide.

That payment has been estimated at a one-time average of $2,100 and would accrue to breeders anywhere in the world. The plan's supporters have said the breeders pay the in-state sales tax and are deserving of the program's benefits.

Casner's position, backed by the Kentucky Equine Education Project, the grassroots group that championed the legislation, and former Gov. Brereton Jones, would offer awards only to a Kentucky-bred winner in his home state. Proponents of the plan claim legislators who approved the incentive fund may not want to see rewards paid to Kentucky-breds who win out of state, and may be reluctant to back the industry should it seek additional legislative support.

Casner said breeders could expect an average of $14,300 a year based on current statistics. According to KEEP's Web site, funds would be awarded for multiple wins, thus creating an opportunity for unlimited award payments.

According to KEEP, the plan also encourages more horses to race at Kentucky tracks, increasing purses through increased pari-mutuel handle. The money available from the legislation is estimated to provide a 25% breeders' award for every Kentucky-bred winner of every race in Kentucky, at every level of competition.

In his presentation, Casner focused on the history and "tone" of the legislation that created the fund.

"The key thing to ask is what is the purpose of this program as mandated by the Kentucky legislature--and the answer is to create jobs," Casner said. "This was part of the governor's economic development package, and we sold it to the legislature that it is for economic development and growth in the industry.

"What creates jobs and economic development in this state?" Casner asked. "Mares and stallions. And what keeps a stallion in Kentucky? Money and a substantial book."

Casner called the mare the "economic engine" of the state's economy. He used Kim and Rodney Nardelli's Springwood Farm near Lexington as an example of a "prototypical" Kentucky farm that saw its income from boarding decrease from $3.9 million to $3.2 million between 2000 and 2003.

Casner said Springwood showed a gross income of $6,881,445 in the last five years, most of which is expended directly in to the Kentucky economy in the form of stud fees, employees, veterinarians, farriers, feed suppliers--all of whom stand to benefit if the mare population stays healthy.

"We need to keep these mares here and the money churning in Kentucky," Casner said. "This is a huge economic benefit."

Fellow Texan Bill Heiligbrodt, self-described as an "outsider looking in," was present at the farm managers' meeting to lend credence to the Casner position. Heiligbrodt owns 70 mares and said he keeps just 20 in Kentucky at four different farms, choosing instead to take advantage of breeder programs in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas for the other 50 mares.

Heiligbrodt said there is "nothing to keep mares here in Kentucky. The only thing that's going to work is a major proposal, with a large incentive. If that were to happen, Kentucky would boom."

Heiligbrodt said he would participate in jurisdictions that offer the most money.

"I will come back."