NTRA commissioner Tim Smith, taking a proactive approach toward federal aid.

NTRA commissioner Tim Smith, taking a proactive approach toward federal aid.

Skip Dickstein

Federal Aid Not Currently Available; NTRA, AHC Begin Lobbying Efforts

Industry organizations have taken a proactive stand in the wake of the fetal loss syndrome that has gripped Central Kentucky farms in recent weeks. Tim Smith, commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, has been in contact with federal officials and is planning to spend most of Wednesday and Thursday morning in the nation's capital, meeting with members of Congress and staff to discuss the possibility of federal assistance for breeders who are being financially crippled by the health crisis. But Smith had some bad news about existing federal programs.

"We've found out that the horse industry does not now qualify for specific federal programs that already exist--low interest loans, etc.--to help people over the financial crisis," Smith said. "In order to qualify for the agricultural crop damage assistance programs, the crop has to be food or fiber."

Smith said he intends to explore the viability of congressional action to qualify the horse industry for these programs. "Nobody could explain why we are not covered from a policy standpoint," he said. "There is some political speculation that maybe the perception is it's all big operations or wealthy people, which of course is not factual. The people most at risk are small businesses."

Smith credits the American Horse Council for mobilizing Kentucky's congressional delegation, which wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman May 10 seeking assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "The Kentucky delegation has staffers assigned, and they are doing the homework to see what other programs entail, what the possibilities are," Smith said. "It's exploratory at this stage, but it's a matter of looking into low-interest loans--the same kinds of temporary federal assistance that would be available if another cash crop encountered an act of God type of problem. We don't really have any opinion yet how feasible it may or may not be."

Smith said in some ways the industry may be paying the price for not being "understood" in Washington. "Are we not a cash crop that contributes a lot in economic benefits and taxes?" he asked. "Is this not similar to citrus canker, an agricultural blight of some kind? The answer (from Congress) is, 'Well, we're just not as sympathetic.' It's the classic example of why we are starting a racing and breeding congressional caucus."

Breeders' Cup and NTRA also are looking to help fund research tied to foal loss syndrome. "There are three or four organizations that I'm aware of willing to offer support if needed," Breeders' Cup president D.G. Van Clief said. Smith indicated that NTRA Charities may provide funding for the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky.

Another potential financial supporter of research is Keeneland. "There's nothing specific yet, but we are ready to participate financially," said Jim Williams, director of public relations for the Lexington sale company and racetrack. "We're ready to offer our resources where they can be of assistance."

Meanwhile, Van Clief said it's too early to assess any impact foal loss syndrome may have on the bottom line for Breeders' Cup. Last year, 15,725 registered foals accounted for $7.86 million in revenue through nomination fees. Breeders' Cup had anticipated a similar figure -- perhaps slightly higher -- for 2001.

"It's not an issue we've analyzed yet, but we recognize the potential impact for the organization," Van Clief said. "There's really no way to accurately factor it in for the budget just yet."