By Gregory A. Hall
VERSAILLES, KY. — At WinStar Farm, 2006 Kentucky Derby
runner-up Bluegrass Cat has a road named after him near the stallion barn where
since 2007 he has been a leading sire of foals that go on to reach the
But this breeding season, the 9-year-old stallion will be
doing stud service in New York instead of the Bluegrass.
The move is being made because of a slots parlor that opened
in the New York City area at Aqueduct Racetrack — generating revenue that will
boost purses and likely result in more New York-bred foals that can run for
slots-infused purses and breeders’ awards.
Otherwise, Bluegrass Cat’s resume is good enough that
“without a doubt, he’d still be in Kentucky,” where the industry’s top
stallions reside, farm President Elliott Walden said.
He’s not alone. Major Central Kentucky breeding operations
are sending stallions to New York in the hopes that horses bred in the Empire
State will be in demand because of purses and breeding awards that are
skyrocketing because of expanded gambling in the country’s largest population
The New York Racing Association, which operates the state’s
three biggest thoroughbred tracks, is increasing purses by 36 percent this
winter. Purses throughout the year have been projected to increase by 30 to 40
percent, or about $40 million, and breeders will benefit from awards that are
based on a percentage of those winnings.
Kentucky breeders fear that New York’s slots revenues
eventually could put a dent in Kentucky’s breeding stranglehold, although industry
opinion is divided on how big the dent will be.
All of the premier stallions with the highest stud fees
remain in Kentucky. The top stallions in Kentucky are led next year by
Bernardini, Street Cry and Dynaformer at $150,000, compared with New York, which
will be led by Bluegrass Cat at $17,500.
Kentucky’s share of the breeding market remains dominant.
According to The Jockey Club, Kentucky’s 228 reported stallions covered 15,714
mares this year, more than the next nine states or Canadian provinces combined,
representing 43 percent of all of the mares reported bred in North America.
Nonetheless, Walden said “it’s a matter of time” until
Kentucky loses major stallions. He compared it to the large standardbred
breeding business in Kentucky 30 years ago that has dwindled to virtually
“You start allowing these stallions to leave the state, it’s
going to get nothing but worse,” he said. “It’s not going to get better.”
WinStar had planned to send 2010 Belmont Stakes winner
Drosselmeyer to New York as well. But it reversed those plans after his Breeders’
Cup Classic win in November at Churchill Downs and instead will start his stud
career in Kentucky with a $17,500 fee.
Walden said they kept Drosselmeyer in Kentucky because of
his status as a Classic winner.
“We still considered (sending) Drosselmeyer to New York
after the Classic,” Walden said. But “from a timing standpoint,” with more
mares available in Kentucky, the farm opted to start him in Kentucky, Walden
“If we’re five years down the road, the horse probably could
have gone to New York,” he said.
Besides WinStar, owned by Kenny Troutt, major Kentucky-based
breeding farms that already have or will have stallions next year in the New
York market include Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs, B. Wayne Hughes’
Spendthrift Farm and Tom Simons’ Vinery Ltd.
“We felt like this was the year to get in there,” said
Spendthrift General Manager Ned Toffey, which will have new stallion Dublin
begin stud service in New York next year. “We wanted to go in with something
new and something that we felt you could stand (successfully) in Kentucky.”
Toffey said it’s possible that Kentucky eventually could
lose its hold on the top stallions.
“Now will it happen? That’s hard to say,” he said.
Other states have cut gambling revenues previously used to
help racing and breeding — something that some fear also could happen in New
But regardless of how much change there is, Toffey said the
Kentucky breeding establishment’s attitude that it has the elite stallions,
while regional breeding markets are the “rabble,” is becoming outdated.
“I don’t think that’s quite so true any more,” he said.
Vinery President Tom Ludt said he believes New York could
emerge as the second-biggest breeding market, although he expects the top of
the market will remain in Kentucky .
He said New York’s impact likely will be to chip away at
“It’s very difficult running an operation that’s trying to
be ‘profitable’ and not go out of state,” Ludt said. “These breeders awards (in
New York) are just too good not to be interested in.”
Some around the industry aren’t overly worried about
Kentucky’s breeding future, despite acknowledging some concerns.
“Kentucky is still home to the best stallions,” said state
Sen. Damon Thayer, a Georgetown Republican who has worked in the horse
industry. Like Walden, he cited the soil and infrastructure that includes feed
services, climate and veterinary care and clinics. “We’re still No. 1.”
At the Kentucky Farm Bureau convention earlier this month,
David Switzer, the executive director of Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and
Breeders, acknowledged that the state has “seen some mares, (and a) few
But he said “basically the horses that are leaving our state
are actually the culls. I hate to say it that way, but they’re the ones that
are not commercially viable. They’re the stallions that could not get a full
book of mares.”
In an interview, Switzer said a top stallion could leave the
state someday, but he doesn’t see it happening soon. The New York program’s
structure — which, unlike Kentucky, includes races restricted to horses bred
in-state — has the effect of encouraging the breeding of horses to run in those
restricted races, rather than the Triple Crown or Breeders’ Cup, Switzer said.
The greatest concerns for Kentucky, Switzer said, are in its
Thayer said he’d like to find a way to improve purses for
Kentucky-breds at the state’s tracks, funded through betting taxes, and to
boost the state breeders’ incentive fund, which uses the sales tax proceeds on
“Certainly they’re going to be offering crazy money in New
York,” Thayer said. “We’ll see if they’re willing to pay the kind of stud fee
that big-time stallions bring in Kentucky.”
Bluegrass Cat is “a nice horse,” Thayer said. “I’m sorry he’s
gone … but he’s not a blockbuster.”
Walden acknowledged that “Kentucky does have some real
plusses on other states,” including a centralized breeding area and favorable
“All those things add up on one side of the ledger,” he
said. “But dollars add up on another, and you have to stay in business to