Thursday, May 24, 2001

Horse industry could be injured in years ahead

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The death toll from the mysterious Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome may be slowing, but the economic impact could echo for years.

        Whatever the cause, the ailment has made no distinction between common show horses that can be bred for a few thousand dollars to potential superstar thoroughbreds that command six-figure stud fees and sell for millions as yearlings.

        On Wednesday, The Blood-Horse, an industry trade magazine, estimated that Kentucky could see a 5 percent to 10 percent loss in the 2001 foal crop, and a 20 percent loss in 2002. That's down from previous predictions as high as 40 percent for 2002.

        Rather than a $225 million hit predicted a few days ago, The Blood-Horse now projects a $150 million loss. Whatever the final number, the impact won't be good for a horse-racing industry already hurting from competition with riverboat gambling.

        “It's not just a breeding industry problem, it's a whole racing industry problem. Anything of this magnitude will affect us eventually,” said Jennifer Haas, spokeswoman for Turfway Park in Florence. “You lose (part of) a generation of horses and it will affect field sizes. The larger the field size, the more desireable for handicappers.”

        While horse owners, breeding farms and related suppliers are taking hits right now, the racing impact will be felt mostly in 2004 for 2-year-old races, such as the Breeder's Cup. The Kentucky Derby, a race for 3-year-olds, will notice the effect mostly in 2005.

        Few farm owners have been willing to discuss specific losses. Among the worst racing losses Ms. Haas has heard about: the unnamed foal of Angel Fever and Storm Cat.

        Angel Fever is the dam of Fusaichi Pegasus, the winner of 2000 Kentucky Derby. Storm Cat is considered one of North America's top breeding stallions.

        In 1998, Fusaichi Pegasus was sold at a yearling auction for about $4 million. The progeny of Angel Fever and Storm Cat might have commanded an even higher price, Ms. Haas said.

        However, Gus Koch, an assistant manager at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., doubts the racing effect will be severe. If anything, owners with surviving foals may find them becoming more valuable.

        “There are 35,000 to 40,000 (thoroughbred) foals born a year. Even if you lose 5 or 10 percent, there will still be plenty of racehorses out there,” Mr. Koch said.


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