Squires: Don't Neglect Kentucky Horse Industry

Jim Squires is a fan of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). After all, he bred Monarchos, winner of the 2001 Derby at Churchill Downs.

But Squires, former editor of the Chicago Tribune, also is a realist. He and his wife, Mary Anne, own Two Bucks Farm near Versailles, Ky., so they have hands-on knowledge of what the business is all about.

Squires, also a member of the Kentucky Racing Commission in the mid-1990s, presented the University of Louisville's Warner L. Jones Memorial Distinguished Lecture at the "2004 Derby Owners Bruncheon" April 29 in Louisville. He mixed his usual humor with some hard assessments.

"It would be irresponsible to let Derby week gloss over the hard truth," Squires said. "Frankly, the horse industry in Kentucky may be looming on Mark Twain's borrowed time. The health of this wonderful business cannot and should not be judged by inflated prices for yearlings and broodmares or by the magnificent spectacle we're about to view (on Derby day)."

Squires said about 50,000 people make their living from the horse industry in the state, but only a small percentage outside of a few sale companies and upper-echelon trainers and jockeys make a profit. He expressed dismay at the lack of understanding on the part of legislators and the public on the importance of what he called "a seriously endangered enterprise."

"You can make a million dollars in the horse business," Squires said. "The best way to do that is to start out with $10 million and wait five years...This business from top to bottom works exactly like a slot machine. You keep putting money in until you don't have it anymore."

Squires said the horse industry in the state has a history of being under-appreciated, neglected, and failed by its leadership. He said quality breeding stock has kept it going, and he warned that loss of some top stallions and broodmares to other states or countries would do serious damage.

"And should they all go to one place, you'd have a new horse capital of the world," Squires said.

Monarchos, by Maria's Mon out of the Dixieland Band mare Regal Band, was owned by John and Debby Oxley. Squires said the couple was very generous in allowing him and his wife to participate in the Derby victory even though he felt somewhat awkward, "like an extra testicle hanging around with no value."

Squires also said he was glad Monarchos didn't break Secretariat's record for the 1 1/4-mile Derby. The colt came very close: He won in 1:59.97, second only to Secretariat's 1:59 2/5 in 1973. Squires called the record "so important to the industry."

Squires also mentioned a few horses he likes in this year's Derby. Among them are Borrego, Master David, and Tapit.