Thoroughbred breeding continues to decline, according to figures released by The Jockey Club, the breed's official registry. But the rate has slowed to a 2.2 percent slide, rather than the precipitous plunges of the previous five years.
"At least the bleeding has stopped, said Dan Metzger, president of Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.
"It is the smallest decrease since the slide began in 2008," he said. "So you could say that's encouraging. Maybe we're starting to stabilize and maybe we've seen the bottom. And the sale numbers are encouraging as well."
The Jockey Club said that 22,001 live foals have been reported as of Sept. 9, based on 2,392 stallions covering 37,908 mares in North America in 2012.
The foal crop for 2013 is projected to reach 23,000 once all the births are reported.
The number of stallions in North America is down 8.7 percent and the number of mares bred dropped 4.8 percent, indicating that overall breeding continues to contract.
Kentucky remains far and away the biggest state for breeding Thoroughbreds, with stallions based in the state covering 41.1 percent of all mares bred and 48.8 percent of the live foals reported for 2013.
Kentucky's breeding statistics also fell, but the decline was slightly smaller than the national figures.
In Kentucky, 15,569 mares were bred to 249 stallions in 2012, producing 10,726 live foals this year, a 2.1 percent decrease in Kentucky-sired foals. The number of mares bred to Kentucky stallions fell by 2.2 percent, compared to the national decrease of 4.8 percent.
New York, which has boosted purses and breeders' incentives with casino revenue, saw a 36.2 percent increase in the number of foals from the state stallions. But New York's 971 foals were less than a tenth of Kentucky's foal crop.
Kentucky's share of breeding continued to increase — to 41.1 percent of mares reported bred in North America and 48.8 percent of live foals. That's up from 39.4 percent of the mares bred in 2010 and 47 percent of the live foals reported in 2011.
"I don't think there's any surprises there," said David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. "We're still producing a high percentage of the foals, our stallion base is still strong, and our mares bred to live foals (ratio) is 69 percent, and to me that tells me the infrastructure we have in Kentucky for foaling mares is exceptional. ...
The big question for the future, Metzger said: "How these decreased foal crops will affect the racing end of the sport. There's going to have to be a contraction in racing dates, and race meets."
AT A GLANCE
Mares bred 2012 2012 live foals 2013 live foals % change
Kentucky15,569 10,960 10,726 -2.1%
Florida3,187 1,642 1,751 6.6%
California2,475 1,600 1,582 -1.1%
Louisiana2,306 1,344 1,172 -12.8%
New York 1,664 713 971 36.2%
Ontario 1,350 700 684 -2.3%
Pennsylvania 1,124 628 608 -3.2%
New Mexico 1,127 585 503 -14%
Oklahoma 1,124 509 470 -7.7%
Texas 1,014 444 417 -6.1%
SOURCE: The Jockey Club
Reach Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.