By TIM THORNBERRY
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Every year at this time the Thoroughbred industry shines, as horses vie for the coveted Triple Crown, and horse lovers, sports enthusiasts and even novice admirers of the majestic animals raise their levels of interest.
But for those who work with horses in training, breeding or boarding, the excitement never really goes away. Kentucky has been known as the Horse Capital of the World for as long as anyone can remember and the title is well deserved, considering the number of Kentucky-bred horses that have made it to the top two legs of the Triple Crown: the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Assoc.-Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders (KTA-KTOB), said 17 of the 19 starting Derby horses, including the winning horse, Orb, were Kentucky-bred, as were all nine of the horses in the Preakness Stakes.
“With Kentucky-breds, one of the things we’re doing is promoting the quality of the horses that we breed and that we raise in Kentucky,” he said. “And if you’re in this business and want to participate in the Derby’s and Breeder’s Cup Races, the Triple Crown races, statistics will show that a Kentucky-bred has a higher percentage of wins or even being entered into the major races, than any other state-bred program.”
Through the years, Switzer said something like 76-77 percent of the Kentucky Derby winners have been Kentucky-bred, and last year 11 of 14 Breeder’s Cup races were won by Kentucky-breds. But the state’s Thoroughbreds aren’t just winning in the United States – these horses are successful around the world.
Switzer said recently, Kentucky-bred horses won Grade I, Grade II and Grade III stakes races in Europe and just about one month ago three of the top five-selling two-year-olds sold during the first day of the Tattersall’s Sale in England were Kentucky-breds. In fact, on the second day, another two-year-old Kentucky horse set a sales record, said Switzer. Tattersalls was founded in 1766 by Richard Tattersall, and is the oldest bloodstock auctioneers in the world and the largest in Europe, according to the organization’s website.
“Our horses are able to compete anywhere in the world and that’s what really separates us from a lot of other breeding jurisdictions,” said Switzer.
And while the world will have to wait another year to see if the Triple Crown can be mastered, Kentucky’s horse industry remains strong despite some losses in cash receipts over the last few years.
The Kentucky Equine Survey, conducted by the Kentucky field office of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), with support and assistance by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and the Kentucky Horse Council, found equine and related assets in the state – which includes all breeds – had a total value of $23.4 billion. This survey noted Thoroughbreds are the most prevalent breed in the state. The quality of Kentucky Thoroughbreds is undisputable in today’s market, which has seen a shift in the supply-and-demand model where there is more of a demand for these horses than a supply. That is something Switzer sees as positive.
“It bodes right into our marketing plan of breeding and raising quality horses,” he explained.
And those quality horses are not just coming from the larger and more notable horse farms, but from smaller mom-and-pop horse farm operations, as well.
“There are far more of them than the big, glamorous farms. We appreciate having those nice, glamorous farms, but the small family farms are the backbone of this industry; have been and always will be,” Switzer said.
He also said while the economic recession affected many industries, including the equine sector, as the economy has improved people are ready to invest again in horses.