Where are the mares? Last month, the magazine featured an article on the region’s stallions – pointing to at least nine new names – and the excitement of the various farms about the possibilities.
Of course, if you’re like most people, the news of all the new stallions quickly drew a simple question. Where are all the mares? Those stallions need mates, and they’re going to have to come from somewhere.
I say don’t worry about it.
All those new stallions will spread out the mare numbers – meaning books of 100 or more might be a challenge – but numbers are only part of the story when it comes to making a stallion. In what might be the longest game in the long game of Thoroughbred racing, a stallion proves himself over time and that goes for stallions in the Mid-Atlantic, Kentucky, Florida, Ireland, anywhere. It takes five years, at least, from the launch of a stud career to really know what you have.
Think it through:
• First, a horse is retired to stud in let’s say October 2017.
• Four months later, he breeds his first mares after being marketed on his race record, pedigree, conformation and perhaps some incentives (everybody loves incentives).
• A year (plus/minus) after that, his first foals arrive. It’s spring 2019.
• He starts breeding his second crop.
• Some of those first foals might sell as weanlings, but who knows where that leads. Weanlings by first-crop sires – or at least first-crop sires not named American Pharoah – are like buying lottery tickets. Oh sure, you’ll buy a few here and there – maybe even every day – but you’re not spending much money on them.
• The calendar turns to 2020. Those first foals become yearlings and grow every which way – like all yearlings do –
before going to the sales in August, September, October. If you’re keeping tabs, it’s three years since that stallion retired from racing.
• Also in 2020, his second crop arrives and carries with it the stallion’s slim reputation. Did those first-crop yearlings sell well? Yes? Awesome, get the contracts for the third season. No? Oh boy, start hustling. Now would be a good time to expand on those incentives.
• Those first foals are getting ready to run by spring 2021, but they won’t all run early. Some won’t even run until they turn 3. Everybody wants people to do right by their horses, but a stallion owner can be excused for lamenting the patience of a trainer with 2-year-olds by a new stallion.
• So now it’s 2022. The first-crop horses are racing, the second-crop horses are 2-year-olds and the whole thing is starting to percolate. Maybe. There’s still a long way to go. The first and second mares were bred on the enthusiasm of a new stallion. The third group, probably the smallest, needed a boost from the babies. The fourth and fifth group? One question. Can his sons and daughters run?
By October 2023, that stallion who retired five years earlier will have three crops at the races. Is he any good? Was it all worth it? You’ll have an idea, but you still might not know.
And that’s the magic in it. Nobody knows. And that’s also what drives the mare population. When stallions start to prove themselves, mares will come.
The next big stallion could be at Northview Stallion Station, across the street at Heritage or in Harford County at Murmur, perhaps Bonita or good old Country Life. Maybe, he’s in Pennsylvania. Maybe, he’s in West Virginia. Maybe, Pennsylvania-based Jump Start is about to go off and get a “classic” horse to cement his reputation once and for all.
The Mid-Atlantic stallion market bottomed out – and went a bit schizophrenic – when Maryland’s breeding industry tumbled to a low of 370 foals born in 2012 (from more than 1,200 in 2000) along with a national foal crop that dropped from more than 37,000 to less than 24,000 in the same time frame.
For years, new stallions of note were scarce. Some went to Pennsylvania and West Virginia because of the relative stability of the states’ breeding incentives. At venerable Country Life in September 2003, Allen’s Prospect died and Malibu Moon was relocated to Kentucky while among the nation’s leading first-crop sires. Add in plenty of other variables connected to time, luck and circumstance, shake vigorously, simmer for a few years and. . .
You end up with a mess, at least until Maryland’s industry stabilized with slots, and a long-term agreement between the state’s horsemen and racetracks. When that last puzzle piece dropped in 2012, along came new stallions. Of course, this being a long game, none of those stallions are proven. They’re not powering auction markets. They’re not making people buy a half-dozen mares a year (one or two maybe). Most of those stallions don’t even have runners yet, forcing breeders to squint at gangly yearlings and wooly foals to get an idea of what’s coming – a wave to ride or a storm to ride out.
Hang on, everybody.