For the first time since 2007, Kentucky's Thoroughbred breeding industry apparently grew this year.
According to Jockey Club statistics released Thursday, 15,695 mares were bred in 2013, up 334 mares or 2.2 percent compared to the year before. And the number of stallions increased as well: 11 more stallions were breeding in Kentucky in 2013, up 4.9 percent from the year before.
"It was exciting for me to see Kentucky gain," said Clifford Barry, president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and general manager of Pin Oak Stud in Versailles. "The sheer quality of the infrastructure here is second to none ... our access to the land, to vets, to horsemanship in general is of very high standard. And some of the biggest farms, with the highest quality stallions, are standing here. ... There's nowhere like Kentucky to raise a horse."
The apparent gains are even more intriguing since they bucked the national trend without additional revenue from expanded gambling to sweeten purses and breeders' incentives.
Of the top 10 states and provinces, only Oklahoma and Texas also showed gains in mares (but in much smaller numbers) and only New York showed a gain in the number of stallions (of two).
"From Kentucky's perspective, that shows some growth and is quite positive," said Dan Metzger, president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. "If people see the trend reversing in Kentucky, it could be encouraging for other people as well."
The Jockey Club, which is the registry for the breed, annually releases data on the number of mares bred based on reports received from stud farms across North America.
(The numbers are based on reports so far but there may a few thousand more reports that come in later that could tip the scale in the other direction for Kentucky.)
Those reports show Kentucky's dominance of the Thoroughbred breeding market continuing to expand, with the state's share of the breeding pie now at 45.9 percent.
Nationally, breeding continued to decline: 1,698 stallions covered 34,174 mares in North America; the number of stallions is down 8.8 percent and the number of mares is down 3.4 percent.
"We'd like to see stabilization," Metzger said. "Our biggest concern is how this is going to affect the horse population that will have to fill races. ... I don't think we can continue to sustain the number of racing dates, the number of races to maintain a healthy field size."
The busiest stallion: Into Mischief, sire of Kentucky Derby contenders Goldencents and Vyjack, led all stallions with 210 mares bred in 2013. He stands at Spendthrift Farm, where he was listed at $20,000 for 2013.
"He's likely going to be $20,000 for next year but that could change," said Ned Toffey, Spendthrift Farm manager.
Toffey said that the breeding market has seen increased prices at the horse sales, renewed strength in the market, and that has led to more competition for stallions. "Overall, people seem to feel better about the economy," he said.
Rounding out the top five were Spendthrift's Archarcharch, covering 187 mares; WinStar's Harlan's Holiday, 187 mares; Ramsey Farm's Kitten's Joy, 184 mares; and Ashford Stud's Majestic Warrior, 176 mares.