CTBA Looks to Continue Positive Momentum

The California Thoroughbred Breeders Association believes 2001 was a strong year for the California-bred program, with increases in the foal crop and number of mares bred. But officials with the organization indicated the status quo will not do for this year or subsequent years.

During its annual meeting, held not far from Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, the CTBA recapped last year and previewed new initiatives for 2002 and beyond. It also announced the results of the election for the board of directors.

"The horse industry, though we have our problems, is probably way, way ahead of other industries set back by (the terrorist attacks last September)," CTBA president Wes Fitzpatrick said. "We're bullish on the industry as a whole."

In 2001, the foal crop in California was 3,937, up from 3,520 in 1998. The number of mares bred in 2001 was 5,719, up from 4,778 in 1998. The average at the Del Mar select yearling sale, which generates income for the CTBA, was $43,663 last year, up from an average of $12,610 in 1996.

Six stallions in California were on the top 100 list nationally, and they were bred to average of 70 mares. California-breds won 100 stakes in 2001, 30 of them graded. The highlight for the state-bred program last year was Tiznow's second consecutive victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"That's pretty strong evidence of the quality of horses we're breeding in California," Fitzpatrick said.

A major initiative for the CTBA is its involvement in the proposed "Sunshine Millions" program tentatively slated for Jan. 25, 2003. The $5-million program of eight races -- four at Santa Anita Park and four at Gulfstream Park -- will be supported in part by Magna Entertainment, which owns both tracks; the Thoroughbred Owners of California; and the CTBA.

CTBA executive director Doug Burge said that of the $2.5-million in purses at Santa Anita (a $1-million event and three $500,000 events for California-breds), Magna would provide half, or $1.25 million. The TOC, through an allocation of purse money generated that day, would provide about $700,000. The CTBA, through a shift in state-bred stakes funds, would provide about $300,000.

The plan to drop a stakes or two from the $6-million restricted program has generated some questions among the CTBA membership. Burge said it's a pretty good deal by the numbers: "What you're talking about is parlaying $300,000 into $5 million."

The CTBA, in light of the speculation surrounding the Sunshine Millions, plans to ask for a four-year contract. Meanwhile, Jim Ghidella, who oversees Northern California for the TOC, said the organization's board approved the Sunshine Millions expenditure during a board meeting Feb. 7 in Southern California.

Scoop Vessels, who chairs the CTBA's sales committee, said there will be some changes in 2002 at Del Mar. For instance, the organization decided to hold the auction in the evening on a Sunday and Monday rather than a daytime sale on Tuesday, a dark day at Del Mar. In addition, X-rays will be mandated for all yearlings accepted for the sale.

"That adds tremendously to the quality of the California horse, and also assures there are no secrets," Vessels said.

Of horses consigned for the sale, 80% must be California-bred, Vessels said. That shouldn't be a problem, as out-of-state horses usually make up less than 20% of the total, he said.

In the election, incumbents John Barr, Leigh Ann Howard, Joan Rogers, and Vessels were chosen to return to the board. Pat Hurley got the fifth open spot via petition.

Myron Johnson, after having served 12 years on the CTBA board, announced his "retirement" from the board. Johnson, the first board member to be elected by petition, is largely credited with helping the CTBA become a "true member-driven association," Fitzpatrick said.

"I'm sort of self-imposing my own retirement," said Johnson, who owns Rivendell Ranch in Fresno with his wife, Jane. "I've always thought of the CTBA as the premier horse association in California, because (breeders are) in it for the long haul. This is certainly not an endeavor for people who want instant gratification."