Like many businesses, the Thoroughbred industry enters the new year facing countless serious issues. In New York, the racing association is threatening bankruptcy; in Maryland, Texas, and Kentucky, slots are needed to compete with neighboring states that are reaping their benefits; in Louisiana, a natural disaster has changed the landscape; in California, there is a shortage of horses; in Florida, purse levels are below those of other major racing states.
In all states, the plight of jockeys is front and center. Wagering security, offshore wagering, and rebating continue as hot topics. Handle, purses, attendance figures, detention barns, television ratings, drug suspensions...
Yet despite those things, and others too numerous to mention, people are buying horses. And buying. And buying. And buying.
A record amount was spent on Thoroughbreds at public auctions in North America in 2005; the gross of $1,122,836,461 represented an increase of 8.6% from a year ago. There were double-digit increases in the gross for yearlings (11.4%) and weanlings (11.2%), and 2-year-olds (8.9%) and broodmares (3.1%) also showed gains.
If the bloodstock market is a New Year's party, then the ball drops at Keeneland in September, where an accurate gauge can always be made on the mood of buyers/owners.
Of the $553,928,546 spent on yearlings in 2005, nearly 70% of those dollars went through Keeneland's bookkeeping department for the youngsters it sent through its ring in September. The $384,349,900 made it the highest grossing auction of any kind in history...and not by a small margin. It blew past the old mark--set at the previous year's Keeneland September sale--by nearly $60 million.
Still, all is not rosy with the bloodstock market. In the year when Jess Jackson has filed a suit that has many persons nervous about its outcome and implications, now come the recommendations from the American Association of Equine Practitioners' Task Force on Medication Issues at Public Auctions calling for a ban on the usage of anabolic steroids in horses while they are on sale grounds.
For years, stories have abounded from buyers about the "shrinking horse." As the story goes, weeks after the purchase, the horse begins to look smaller because he is withdrawing from medications given before the sale.
The task force also called upon the sale companies to act as the "principal enforcers" of the recommendations.
Geoffrey Russell of Keeneland and Boyd Browning of Fasig-Tipton both were disappointed they were not part of the process of establishing the recommendations (The Blood-Horse of Dec. 24, page 7488). In fact, there was no reason for them to be.
An analogy might be that police forces are asked to enforce laws, not establish them.
"The sale company is the authority of record," veterinary surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage, chair of the task force, said. "They facilitate the sale."
And if you ask sale company officials if they represent buyers or sellers, they will say both. That goes along with the task force, which is trying to be fair to all groups. Not to mention that sale companies already act as arbiters on other matters.
"Everyone has to discuss it; there is an education process," Bramlage said. "We have to all get on the same page. But if you are a new vet, just arrived, how do you know what is allowable? Right now, there are no guidelines. Some have taken that to mean everything is allowable.
"The first step to establishing confidence for the purchasers is to get guidelines on what people can use."
As Bramlage noted when the recommendations were released, "Looking after the health of the horse was our prime objective."
Certainly the health of the animals that generate more than $1 billion for industry participants should be our prime objective.