Ominous Clouds

When members of the print media arrived at Churchill Downs the morning of Kentucky Oaks day, they found a copy of the 2004 Jockey Club Fact Book waiting for them at their workstations. They are not the only ones who should be given a copy.

I strongly suggest Damon Thayer, who works for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association/Breeders' Cup and is a member of the Kentucky state Senate, obtain a box to share with Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, his staff, and members of the Kentucky General Assembly.

On May 1, Fletcher's first Kentucky Derby day as governor, he made the traditional trophy presentation to the winning connections. Fletcher was very polished in congratulating Smarty Jones' owners, Roy and Patricia Chapman, his trainer, John Servis, and his jockey, Stewart Elliott. But his ears had to be ringing from Churchill CEO Tom Meeker's comment that, "The sun wasn't shining too bright in Kentucky today but I have a slight feeling it was shining in Pennsylvania."

Though Meeker was alluding to the gray clouds and thunderstorms that swept through the area, one could easily twist his statement--my twisting, not his--to mean the horse industry is hurting in Kentucky.
The sun may always shine brightly on My Old Kentucky Home, but it is not currently shining brightly on the horse industry in Kentucky.

This is the second straight year the winner of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) was not bred in Kentucky. The 2003 winner, Funny Cide, was foaled in New York, and Smarty Jones, as Meeker alluded to, was bred in Pennsylvania. Both Derby winners are by Kentucky sires but were not foaled in Kentucky. Let that fact sink in.

This is by no means meant to disparage horses bred outside Kentucky. Secretariat was a product of Virginia...Cigar was foaled in Maryland...Lady's Secret was bred in Oklahoma...Dr. Fager was dropped in Florida...Swaps hailed from California...the list goes on and on.

But the fact is Fletcher and the members of the Kentucky legislature must be made to realize the state's signature industry should not be taken for granted. They do so at their own peril, jeopardizing the industry's place of importance as well as the future of the state's citizenry.

According to The Fact Book, from 2001 to 2003, the number of Thoroughbred stallions standing in Kentucky fell from 448 to 374, a drop of 16.5% and a far cry from 1986 when 626 stallions resided in the Commonwealth.

A major new business seeking to locate in Kentucky finds state government offering a variety of incentives, yet the state's signature industry finds itself on the inside looking out. That a sales tax still exists on stud fees is but one example of how poorly Kentucky Thoroughbred breeders are treated.

As has been stated many times before, the center of the Thoroughbred universe is Kentucky because of the stallion population. If you put the stallions in Kentucky on vans and move them to another state, that location overnight would replace Kentucky as the capital of the industry.

Take away those stallions and the farms go away (which may please land developers, but no one else), the vet clinics close, the horse sales diminish, and the dollars spent on feed, fencing, and labor are no longer. Take a look at your state budget deficit then.

There is a reason Funny Cide was foaled in New York--his breeders wanted to take advantage of the lucrative incentive program in that state, a program Kentucky does not have. When a major operation such as WinStar Farm sends mares to foal in New York, Kentucky's officials should stand up and take notice.

If they don't, then someone should make them.

Which brings us to the most important thing to happen to Kentucky's Thoroughbred industry in many years. Finally, a group has been formed to educate Kentuckians about their most significant industry. Kentucky might now actually have a full-time lobbyist--something numerous other states have had for years--representing horse owners and breeders. One can visualize a PAC containing a significant amount of money, spent to inform people what Kentucky would look like without horses.

Let the work of the Kentucky Equine Education Alliance begin; and let the sun shine brightly again.

DAN LIEBMAN is executive editor of The Blood-Horse.

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