Kentucky foal crop down 14.4%, seen as retreat to quality

The number of Kentucky-bred foals continues to shrink, according to The Jockey Club. But industry leaders see this as a good thing.

In 2011, 14.4 percent fewer Thoroughbreds were conceived in the Bluegrass. At least 1,866 fewer foals were bred here than in 2010, based on reports received by the Thoroughbred registry so far this year. In 2011, 11,065 live foals were conceived in Kentucky.

The overall North American Thoroughbred crop is down about 3,675 foals, or about 13.5 percent; 23,558 foals have been reported so far this year.

Kentucky's numbers outpaced even last year's 9.3 percent decline.

"It's actually very positive," said David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. "The animals that were not bred were mares that were not commercially viable. ... If they're not commercially viable, there's no sense in breeding them."

Switzer predicted that the industry will soon see a shift from oversupply to increased demand for quality horses. As evidence, he cited the strength of the current yearling sale going on at Keeneland, where average and median prices have been on the rise for the first week.

Next month, The Jockey Club will release its annual statistics on mares bred, by state, which will give a snapshot of the health of the breeding industry.

"The decline in breeding activity in recent years has resulted in a downward trend for live foal returns that is expected to continue next year, based on our recently announced foal crop estimate of 24,700 for 2012," said Matt Iuliano, Jockey Club executive vice president and executive director.

Kentucky continues to lead in Thoroughbred breeding activity. According to The Jockey Club, Kentucky-based stallions accounted for 39.4 percent of the mares reported bred in North American in 2010, and 47 percent of the live foals reported this year.

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