Commercial breeders in Kentucky are in no hurry to book their mares for the 2002 breeding season. Tough economic times, falling prices for sale horses, and the uncertainty caused by war and terrorism are making them approach the future cautiously. Many also feel there is no need to rush because there are so many stallions standing in the Bluegrass.Earlier this year, 88 mares from Jody and Michelle Huckabay's Elm Tree Farm went to the breeding shed. But as of mid-November, the Huckabays had finalized the 2002 breeding plans for only six."We're just sitting back and waiting to see if they (the stallion managers) are going to adjust the stud fees," Jody Huckabay said. "I think they are probably going to end up having to reduce the prices on some of these horses."We've already had calls from stallion managers wanting to know how many mares we've booked and if they can help us. I think they're getting nervous."Elm Tree boards mares for approximately 40 clients. In an effort to reduce costs, some of those clients from out of state will not send their mares to Kentucky this year to be bred, Huckabay said.Bill Kain of Southern Way Farm usually starts booking mares right after the Keeneland January sale. In 2002, he plans to wait until after each mare has dropped her foal to finalize a plan."The market dictates that prices for stud fees will have to go down, and I think the deals will get better as the breeding season progresses," Kain said. "There's a chance you might get burned, but the Stallion Register is three inches thick. There is a half-brother or brother to every horse that you like. If you can't get in to breed to one, the other one will be happy to have you."Said Barry Ezrine, the manager of Patchen Wilkes Farm: "By the November sale, we normally have all our mares booked. But I'm waiting until after the sale because I think some of the stud fees are too high. I don't know if the farms will adjust their prices, but I think some of the shareholders might."
Ezrine said Patchen Wilkes reduced the money it spent on stud fees in 2001 and will try to keep costs at about the same level in 2002.At Carl Pollard's Hermitage Farm, the breeding plans for "our top-end mares are pretty well set," said vice president and general manager Bill Landes. "I don't think we are going to buy as many seasons for $50,000 and above as we have in the past. I think we'll end up with a few more in the $10,000-$25,000 range."For his own mares, Landes plans to use seasons from the stallions in which he owns shares."I'm tucking in," he said. "In the past, I would sell the seasons from some of my shares and try to get something sexier. I've got a share in Conquistador Cielo and a share in Devil's Bag. They're two salty old codgers. But why spend $20,000 for an unproven horse, when I know they can get me winners? They can also get me a good sales horse."