Thoroughbred breeding activity fell for the fourth year, according to The Jockey Club.
The national breed registry reported Thursday that 4,741 fewer mares were brought to the breeding shed in 2010, a decline of 10.5 percent from similar figures reported last year. Since 2006, when mares bred reached 59,434, the number has dropped 31.7 percent.
This year, 40,576 mares have been reported as bred to at least one stallion in North America. The figures, which are preliminary, are based on "reports of mares bred" sent in by farms after this spring's breeding season.
Dan Metzger, president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, said the continued slide is "simply a matter of the financial challenges we're facing in breeding racing and selling in a very difficult economic environment."
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With The Jockey Club's forecast of a smaller foal crop next year, the numbers were no surprise, Metzger said.
"I think we may have hit the bottom," he said. "There's been a lot of pain this year. ... I don't see a quick turnaround."
In Kentucky, 17,303 mares were bred in 2010, a 9.2 percent drop from last year or 1,756 fewer mares. Since 2006, the number of mares bred in Kentucky has declined 18.3 percent.
Mark McEntee, manager of Miacomet Farm in Georgetown and president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club, said Thursday he doesn't think the state's problems are over yet. "I have personal knowledge that stallions are leaving the state for Pennsylvania," McEntee said.
Pennsylvania, Ontario and Indiana — racing jurisdictions that have expanded gambling dollars to pump into purses and breeders incentives — were able to buck the overall downward trend with modest gains in stallions or mares.
Without those gambling resources, Kentucky might not be able to retain its edge, he said. "I don't believe these numbers reflect us not having gambling yet, but that's the way it will trend," he said.
Although numbers declined in Kentucky, the state continues to dominate the breeding market and its market share held steady. Kentucky stallions covered 42.6 percent of all mares bred in 2010, comparable to 2009's share and an improvement over the 35.6 percent share in 2006. That dominance reflects the number of stallions that breed to large books of mares: of the 82 stallions that bred to 100 mares or more, only 10 were in other states.
The number of Thoroughbred stallions dropped nationally, to 2,186 in 2010 from 2,409 in 2009, with Kentucky falling to 266 from 307.
The Jockey Club's analysis of the decline in mares bred found that most of the drop-off occurred at the middle and lower end of the scale.
The busiest stallion this year was Giant's Causeway, who was bred to 217 mares, followed by freshman sire Dunkirk, who was bred to 186. Both stand at Ashford Stud in Versailles. Giant's Causeway has a listed stud fee of $100,000 and Dunkirk for $10,000.