In the past few years, most of the overt signs of a decline in Kentucky's signature Thoroughbred industry showed up on its racing side.
Reduced purses. Cancelled race dates. Shortened fields. Shortened cards. Shortened meets. All brought about because owners and trainers who previously traveled Kentucky's racing circuit were moving their horses to states with greener purses — purses fattened by profits from expanded gambling.
Less apparent was the impact "racino" states were having on the breeding side of industry in Kentucky.
But a leading breeder's comment in a Feb. 20 story by the Herald-Leader's Janet Patton illustrates how Kentucky's breeding operations have been impacted by gambling-enhanced breeding incentives in other states.
"There's not the market to breed the $5,000 horse in Kentucky," said John Sikura, owner of Hill 'n' Dale Farm. "If you're standing that horse here, you're standing alone."
In other words, just like their racing counterparts, Kentucky breeders are moving their horses to states with better breeding incentives than the Bluegrass State offers.
"Mare owners under economic pressure will concentrate their mares where it's most lucrative," Sikura said. And when the mares go, the stallions won't be far behind.
Patton's story documented other aspects of the industry's decline — lower employment numbers, Kentucky farm operations looking to expand in other states while cutting back here, boarding farms seeing their business cut in half, decreases in the number of foals and the number of mares bred. In short, a signature industry undergoing a significant contraction.
Although the public perception of Thoroughbred breeding and racing may be one of wealthy owners, breeders and trainers entering horses worth millions of dollars in the Triple Crown and other purse-heavy stakes races, the reality is quite different.
Whether it's racing or breeding, the bigger segment of the Thoroughbred industry is the small and mid-sized operations that fill the fields for the claiming and allowance races making up the majority of a daily racing card or stand those $5,000 horses for breeding.
These operations must pay the closest attention to their bottom lines, and are thus more susceptible to the draw of higher purses and breeding incentives.
When Kentucky loses these operations, it will lose the heart and soul of its Thoroughbred industry.
And sadly, we are losing them and will continue to do so as long as the Republican-controlled state Senate refuses to join Gov. Steve Beshear and the Democratic-controlled House in supporting the expanded gambling Kentucky needs to be competitive with racino states.