Reaching for Roses: The Beginning of the Journey

October 22, 2012

It’s Time to Have Faith

In September of 2011, I sold Skype (renamed Score Classy) at Keeneland. I wrote a few posts about getting her ready for the sale and what she meant to me. In my final blog post before the sale, I wrote “Having Dreams is What Makes Life Tolerable,” which can be read at https://reachingforroses.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/having-dreams-is-what-makes-life-tolerable/. The story was picked up on Paulick Report, Equidaily.com and Jennie Rees even wrote an article about me for the Courier Journal in Louisville. The whole experience of my first time as a seller was interesting, stressful, educational and, honestly, somewhat disappointing. But I just have one question…

Doesn’t it seem like that just happened!?!?!

It sure does to me, but it’s been more than a year since I sold Skype. She’s gone on to bigger and better things and is one of the best 2-year-old fillies in Puerto Rico. She won her first four starts, including the Clasico Eduardo Cautino Insua Stakes (Grade III). In her fifth start, she ran a good race, but just ran out of ground and finished second in an allowance. In her most recent start, she ran very well, but was just second best in the Clasico Dia de la Raza Stakes (GII). Overall, her career record stands at 4-2-0 from six starts and earnings of $62,698. Not too shabby!

Since Skype’s sale, Sky’s only other foal, Sky Above, has also gotten in on the action. A 3-year-old gelding by Artie Schiller, Sky Above won his career debut in a maiden special weight at Presque Isle Downs by a widening 10 lengths. He followed up that effort with a strong runner-up finish in an allowance race. His first two races were on a synthetic surface, but his third start came on turf and he was off the board. He’s bred to like the turf so maybe he just had an off day.

Anyway, the point is that Sky has two foals of racing age and they are both debut winners and have a combined record of 5-3-0 from nine career starts with earnings of just shy of $100,000.

Sky Above sold at the 2010 Keeneland September sale and, as I wrote previously, Skype went through the ring at the 2011 Keeneland September sale. Well now it’s time for Faith to strut her stuff. It’s unbelievable, but “little Faith” (as I called her when she was a foal, but she’s anything but little now) will sell on Tuesday at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearlings sale.

You can view her catalog page at http://www.fasigtipton.com/catalogs/2012/1022/468.pdf.

I hate to use the “it seems like yesterday” cliche, but when I think about the day Faith was born, it really does seem like yesterday! Heck, I remember the day she was bred to Parading like it was yesterday. She was covered on March 6, 2010 while I was dancing away at UK’s 24 hour dance marathon known as DanceBlue.

Exactly 11 months later, on Super Bowl Sunday, I got a call from Frank Mitchell that Faith was on the ground. I was able to make it out to see her when she was just a couple of hours old and I took the video below…

The next video was taken last week on her final day at Trackside Farm before moving to the sales grounds. She’s grown up just a tad.

I couldn’t be happier with how Faith has grown up and come along. She is a beautiful chestnut filly with great conformation and a fantastic walk. I’m also happy to say that her x-ray report came back perfect.

Faith has all the makings of a great racehorse and I truly believe that is what she will become.

This isn’t an easy game. The last two years have not been all blue skies and rainbows, but there are three things that have gotten me through the hard times: Faith, hope, and love.

The Thoroughbred industry is a game built on HOPE. Every trainer and owner “hope” they have a Derby or Oaks prospect (or if you’re my dad, you hope you have a Travers or Alabama prospect), every breeder and consignor “hopes” to sell a horse someday for six or seven figures, every jockey “hopes” to get a mount that will change their lives…the list goes on. Everyone in this game is hopeful that something great is in one of their stalls in the barn. I’m no different. And the hopes and dreams of breeding a major stakes winner keep me going through the rough patches.

I am also extremely blessed in that I have a ton of LOVE in my life. I have the most wonderful family in the world that has loved and supported me in everything I’ve ever done. I have the best friends that a guy could ask for, seriously. Some people aren’t fortunate enough to have one truly close friend; I have a half-dozen. And I also have the love and grace of God. As 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “Love never fails.”

That brings me to FAITH.  It took a lot of faith (and some would say stupidity) to get into the Thoroughbred breeding industry as a nearly broke college student almost three years ago. Two years ago, when the first foal that I bred hit the ground, I decided to name her Faith. I published a blog post when I named the new foal and wrote

The new filly will be nicknamed Faith.

After the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl, Packers’ wide receiver Greg Jennings was interviewed on the field. During the interview he repeated the phrase, “To God be the glory.” I remember watching it live and thought it was really cool that Jennings remembered to give praise to God. Many athletes say, “I’m going to Disney World,” after winning a championship, but not Jennings. His words inspired me to go with a name that had a Biblical connection.

I began to think about some of my favorite Bible verses. One that came to mind was 1 Corinthians 13:13. It states, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Faith, hope, and love. They were all finalists for the nickname of the new foal. Then I began to think about each one a little more.

I have a lot of hope in my life. I wrote a blog post a couple of months ago about the entire Thoroughbred industry being built on hope. I have hopes and dreams for my personal life and my career.

I have a ton of love in my life. I have the most supportive family in the entire world that loves me more than I can even understand. I have many close friends that love me. I also have a God that loves me and looks after me.

Now we move on to faith. I am less than three months from graduating and my future is still uncertain. Sometimes I lose sleep at night thinking about where I will be in a year. I have three horses that I have very high hopes for, but I know that this sport is one of the toughest in the world. It has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I can hope all I want, but that doesn’t mean my hopes will come true. What I need most in my life is faith.

I need faith that I’ll be okay when I graduate. I need faith to remember that God has a plan for my life and He will direct my paths. I need faith that whether Skype and Faith go on to be Grade 1 winners or low-level claimers that I’ll be okay. I need faith that my life is only slightly affected by things that I can control. The rest is up to the Big Guy. By nicknaming the foal Faith, I will constantly remember that I just need to “keep the faith.”

So there you have it. I can tell you that I was right in my thinking that by naming the foal Faith I would constantly be reminded to “keep the faith.”

It’s taken a lot of faith to get through the time of Faith’s foaling to this sale. But she has given me more happiness and joy than I could have ever imagined and, obviously, she has given me a lot of faith. Faith that she’s going to go on to bigger and better things, better than her siblings, better than her mom, and who knows, maybe even better than her dad.

I’ve got Faith. Now it’s time for someone else to have it.

September 26, 2011

Skype’s Photo Album

Filed under: Skype — traversman @ 10:31 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The first couple of pictures are of Skype during February 2010 when she was just a couple weeks old.

Skype at the end of April and 2 1/2 months old

Skype’s Jockey Club registration photos at four months old

In December 2010, ten months old

In February 2011…one year old

In August 2011, 1 1/2 years old and about two months from the September sale

Beginning of September; three weeks before the sale

And finally…this photo was taken on Sept. 22, the day before the sale

For anyone that did not see the results, Skype sold for $7,000 to Jose Garcia Ronzino, agent for Luis Morales. Thank you to everyone for all the support. I was overwhelmed with all the kind words that were sent to me throughout the week. I’ll post in a few days some thoughts about my first sales experience. So stay tuned.

September 22, 2011

Having Dreams is What Makes Life Tolerable

Well the day is almost here. Skype arrived at Barn 40 at Keeneland on Wednesday afternoon, she will be shown to prospective buyers today (Thursday) and will sell on Friday morning as Hip 3694. Jennie Rees, the turf writer for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, wrote a lovely piece on Skype today. You can read it by clicking on the following link – http://blogs.courier-journal.com/racing/2011/09/21/college-kid-needs-money-buy-his-filly/. To clarify…the words “college kid” should probably be replaced with “recent college grad.” But oh well…I could still pass for a freshman and I guess I could still be considered a college kid considering I’ve only been out in the real world for four months.

Anyway you can find a lot of good information at the link and read a few of my thoughts on the sale. You can even see the advertisement I made for Skype and have been distributing to prospective buyers.

Now…I will get a little more personal and try to tell you about my feelings going into the sale that you won’t find in Jennie’s article.

The purpose of this blog was to give readers a look into my life in the horse industry and my experiences as a first time owner/breeder. I have done my best to get as personal as possible and my hope was that readers could enjoy this fabulous ride with me. A lot of times I have a pretty good idea about what I’m going to see when I click the “New Post” button on my blog; however, today the words just won’t come to me.

Why?

Because I couldn’t describe to someone how I am feeling right now if I tried. I’ve never felt so many emotions at one time. I’m nervous, excited, anxious, proud, happy and sad all at once. Since February of 2010, all I’ve talked about has been Sky and Skype and then the next February it became Sky, Skype and Faith. On Friday afternoon, I won’t be Skype’s owner anymore and when people ask me the names of my horses, I’m going to reply with “Sky and Faith.” No more Skype. It’s just a weird thing to think about.

Now some of you might be thinking, “Come on, kid. She’s a sales horse and you knew you were going to sell her at some point from the day you bought her.” Well, that’s true. I knew this day would come eventually. But parents also know they’re kids will someday leave home, but that day still comes with a whirlwind of emotions. Because things simply aren’t going to be the same.

Speaking of kids…I think I now know how my mom and dad felt about me when I would compete in sports. Sometimes I would think, “My parents probably wish I was bigger, stronger and faster. They would probably rather have that kid or that kid. I’m not as good as those other players.” Now I realize that none of that mattered. They were proud of me because I was their kid. They didn’t want anyone else. And whether I went 5-5 or 0-5, they were still going to love me. That’s how I feel going into this sale with Skype. I don’t have 500 horses like some people…I don’t have 50 horses…I have three and because of that I have grown extra attached to each of them. Sure it would be nice if Skype was by Bernardini instead of Even the Score or if Sky had won a Grade I race. But that’s not how things are and I’m fine with that. I love Skype and I couldn’t be more proud of her or more happy that I had the privilege of being her owner these last couple years.

People who consistently read this blog are not reading anything new. But maybe this is your first time to my blog and you’re just now understanding how much these horses mean to me. Maybe some of you are thinking…”Wow, he sure cares a lot about a horse in Book 6.”

Damn right I do.

And I hope people realize that every horse in the Keeneland sale means a lot to someone somewhere. Sure the amount of press that horses get decreases as the sale continues and some people don’t even pay attention to the Keeneland sale after the first few books. But the horses in Book 6 matter just as much as those in Book 1. While they do not carry equal monetary values, horses in Book 6 are cared for just as much and have affected just as many lives. For example, in less than two years, Skype has impacted the lives of Sam Penn (breeder), Frank Mitchell and his family who boarded her at their farm in Salvisa, Ky, Tom Evans and his team at Trackside Farm, my entire family and numerous friends that have come to see her throughout her life. And things have only just begun. Imagine how many people will be affected by Skype in her lifetime.

Skype has touched a lot of hearts and will continue to do so; however, I would be surprised if she will ever steal anyone’s heart like she has stolen mine. Skype will get a new owner on Friday, but she’ll always be my girl and will always have a place in my heart. I am excited to see where her life takes her and I can’t wait to update the blog on her first published workout and her first career win (and hopefully many wins).

So go get ’em, Skype! You’ll do great at the sale. Strut your stuff and if a few people likes you 1/100th as much as I do then you could be the session topper. And finally, I hope you know that “Whatever road you may be on, know you’re never too far gone; my love is there wherever you may be; Just remember, that you’ll always be my baby.”

July 24, 2011

Pictures of Faith, Sky’s First Foal with a Bullet, Skype at Trackside Farm

On Saturday I had the chance to visit Sky and Faith for the first time since the beginning of May. Faith was just about three months old at the time and it was amazing to see how much she has grown. It won’t be very long till she’s weaned from Sky, which is just crazy to think about because I feel like just yesterday I posted about Skype being weaned.

Here are a few pictures of Faith and Sky that I took yesterday. Faith is about 5 1/2 months old here.

For those of you that have forgotten what Faith looked like when she was first born, here is a picture of her and Sky that was taken when she was only a week old.

Shortly after returning from the farm on Saturday, I received some very good news. Sky Above, who is a 2-year-old colt by Artie Schiller and the first foal out of Sky, breezed four furlongs in 48 seconds flat on the all-weather training surface at Fair Hill on Saturday morning. It was the fastest of 20 workers on the all-weather surface that morning. The next fastest work was :48.40. Sky Above has a steady work tab and hopefully he will make his career debut very soon. It would be excellent to see him take a maiden special somewhere before Skype sells in the Keeneland September sale. Actually, “excellent” is probably not strong enough of a word. Perhaps “game changer” would be a more appropriate phrase.

Speaking of Skype…I recently received an update from Tom Evans of Trackside Farm and she is doing very well. Skype was moved to Trackside Farm in Versailles in the middle of June to be prepped for the September sale. Trackside Farm will also consign Skype. Mr. Evans said he is happy with the way she is developing. Hopefully she will keep getting bigger and stronger and she will have all the looks of a racehorse in September. As always, all there is to do is be patient and keep my fingers crossed.

That’s all for now. Hope everyone had a great weekend and has a fantastic week.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Australian poet, Pam Brown, that I read the other day.

“A horse is the projection of people’s dreams about themselves – strong, powerful, beautiful – and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence.”

April 12, 2011

Sky, Keeneland, and the 2YO Sale

Sky Bred Last Thursday

Sky was scheduled to be bred last Monday on April 4th; however, I was informed by my veterinarian the night before that she would not be ready. So I woke up extra early the next day and called Airdrie to cancel Sky’s appointment. I rescheduled for Thursday afternoon and was told on Wednesday that she would be ready to go.

After my morning classes on Thursday, I headed out to Airdrie to be there for the 2 o’clock breeding. At about 1:50 I got a call that the van with Sky was running a little late. Sky is incredibly protective of her foals, which is usually a good thing until you try to get her on a van and leave Faith behind. Needless to say, Sky was not the easiest horse in the world to load and so the van ran a little behind schedule. While I waited on the van to arrive, I took a couple of pictures with my phone. One of Stevie Wonderboy and one of the big man on campus at Airdrie, Indian Charlie.

The van made it to Airdrie around 2:15 and Sky was bred just a few minutes after that. Stevie was a professional and everything went smoothly. Sky then got back on the trailer without a problem and headed back to her home at The Croft, where she was happily reunited with Faith.

On Friday, I received word that Sky ovulated after the breeding. Now the waiting  begins. Sky will be checked 15 days post-cover for pregnancy. I should know if she is in foal by Easter weekend. Everyone keep their fingers crossed!

My Final College Scholarship Day

Last Friday was my last college scholarship day at Keeneland. College scholarship days are held once every meet and I attended all eight that were held during my time at UK. Unfortunately, while I went 8 for 8 in attendance, I went 0 for 8 in winning a scholarship. Although I didn’t win a scholarship, I still had a great time as always. I began my final college scholarship day by handing out flyers for TVG’s “The Late Double” show that will be filmed at Keeneland this Friday. Some people hate handing out flyers, but I had fun with it and distributed about 1,000 flyers in three hours.

After I finished working for TVG, I teamed up with the Keeneland “notes team” to get quotes from the connections after the Transylvania Stakes. My job was to interview the jockey of the 2nd place finisher, which happened to be Julien Leparoux. I always interview the connections of the losers, while Mike Battaglia interviews the winning connections. I actually joked with Julien the day before that he should hope that he doesn’t have to talk to me much this meet. It was very funny that my first interview of the meet was with Julien. He was not thrilled to see me, but he laughed it off.

Keeneland’s April 2YO in Training Sale

This afternoon I decided to head out to Keeneland for the April 2YO in training sale. I always enjoy the excitement of Thoroughbred auctions and I was also curious to take a look at the lone horse by Stevie Wonderboy in the sale, hip #48. The dark bay or brown filly out of Quanah County was consigned by Kirkwood Stables, agent, and sold for $70,000 to Side Management Ltd. Hopefully she turns out to be a nice runner and I wish all of her new connections the best of luck with her.

I stuck around for another couple of hours after the Stevie Wonderboy filly sold and wandered around the sales pavilion. It was a lot of fun to simply enjoy the excitement of the sale. I also got to speak with some of my friends in the industry that I do not get to see very often. After socializing a bit, I went to the dining area to eat a chicken salad sandwich from Turf Catering. I decided after eating the sandwich in about five minutes that Turf Catering will be catering my wedding. To my future wife: this is non-negotiable.

While trying to decide if I could eat another whole sandwich, I noticed trainer Mike Stidham sitting a few tables away. I needed to get some information from him about Willcox Inn for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes post position draw on Wednesday, and so I approached him. Mr. Stidham was one of the trainers that I wrote a short biography on for the Breeders’ Cup website and so we had spoken many times before. I got the information that I needed and then we began talking about other things. He was curious about how I got involved in horse racing, how crazy my parents are for naming me after a horse race, and what I wanted to do with my life. We even talked about the future of horse racing, breeder awards programs, and race day medications.

He probably had a lot more important things to attend to; however, he took some time to talk with me and I really appreciate it. I have had to talk to a lot of people in the Thoroughbred business over the last two years through working on the Breeders’ Cup Bio Book team and the Keeneland notes team. Very few, if any, have been as enjoyable to talk to as Mike Stidham. He’s never treated me with anything but great respect and kindness and has always made time to answer all of my questions. Cheers to you, Mike Stidham.

 

March 27, 2011

A Closer Look at Stevie Wonderboy. Part 3

Part three of the “Closer Look at Stevie Wonderboy” series is going to be pretty short because his stallion career has only just begun. Hopefully some of you will still find some of the provided statistics interesting.

On June 28, 2007, after being unable to recover from an injury, it was announced that Stevie Wonderboy would be retired from racing for stallion duty at Airdrie Stud. His initial stud fee was $17,500; however, his fee would drop to $15,000 in 2009 and $10,000 for the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He would stand his first season in 2008, covering 107 mares that would result in 73 live foals. The following year, Stevie Wonderboy covered 53 mares that resulted in 38 live foals of 2010. This past year he covered 59 mares. Obviously the number of live foals of 2011 by Stevie Wonderboy is not yet known. Based on his prior live foal percentages, one can expect around 40 live foals to be born this year. I honestly do not know how large his book is this year, but I would assume that it will once again be in the 50-60 range.

Although he has yet to have starters (his first foals are two-year-olds of 2011 and will race this year), Stevie Wonderboy’s progeny have had some decent success in the sales ring. Below are the sales statistics for Stevie Wonderboy for 2009, 2010, and 2011. All information was provided by The Blood-Horse‘s Stallion Register.

2009

Weanlings – 8 offered, 4 sold; $53,000 average, including a filly out of Road to the Ball that sold for $72,000 at the Keeneland November Sale.

2010

Weanlings – 2 offered, 1 sold for $35,000
Yearlings – 65 offered, 40 sold; $28,845 average, including a $170,000 colt out of Harlan Honey and a $90,000 colt out of Beloved by All. Both horses were sold at the Keeneland September Sale.

2011

Yearlings – 2 offered, 1 sold for $34,000
Two-year-olds – 7 offered, 3 sold; $20,000 average.

The sales numbers are decent for a horse whose foals have yet to hit the track, but there is definitely room for improvement. Buyers are willing to pay more for horses by a stallion that has a proven record of producing high-class performers on the racetrack. Hopefully, dozens of two-year-olds from Stevie Wonderboy’s first crop will break their maidens in 2011 and a handful will be stakes performers and stakes winners.

I know one thing for sure is that I’ll be rooting for every Stevie Wonderboy as if it were my own; just like I cheer for every Even the Score and just like I’ll someday cheer for every foal by Parading.

Go Stevie Wonderboy! Go Parading! Go Even the Score!

And of course…

Go Kentucky Wildcats!

February 8, 2011

One Year as a Horse Owner

It was one year ago today that I became a horse owner at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Winter Mixed sale. February 8, 2010 is so fresh in my memory that it is not like it happened yesterday, but as if it happened ten minutes ago. If I close my eyes I can picture sitting in my seat in the sales pavilion and shaking as Walt Robertson pointed at me and exclaimed, “Sold!” Then I remember my dad and I rushing over to see the results on one of the computers. We both teared up a little when the following picture came on the screen.

To commemorate the anniversary of me becoming a horse owner, I would like to re-post three blog articles that were written about that special day.

The first is titled “The Scoop at Fasig February” and was written by Frank Mitchell. This is his recap of my journey to buy my first horse. Last year, this article was the highest viewed post on Frank’s blog, Bloodstock in the Bluegrass. Give it a read at http://fmitchell07.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/the-scoop-at-fasig-february/

The second article was written by me back when I started this blog in early June. This is my recap of the day I bought Sky and Skype. It is titled “The Day I Became a Horse Owner” and can be read at https://reachingforroses.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/the-day-i-became-a-horse-owner/

There is also a second part to the first article that I wrote and can be read at https://reachingforroses.wordpress.com/2010/06/03/therollercoastercontinues/

February 8, 2010 will go down as one of the best days of my life. Hopefully by reading the above articles you can share in some of my excitement from that day.

Have a great day and stay tuned for some pictures and videos of Sky’s new foal that was born on Sunday.

January 12, 2011

Why you won’t find Skype at Keeneland January

In less than a month I will have been a Thoroughbred owner for one year. In my short time as an owner/breeder I have found out that things don’t always work out as planned and, in fact, they rarely do. When I originally bought Sky and Skype I had planned to enter Skype in the Keeneland November Sale as a weanling. However, I was advised by many of my friends in the industry that I should wait for the Keeneland January Sale. The November sale was too big for a weanling by a non-commerical stallion and out of a non-stakes performing mare with a blank first dam. It made sense and I took their advice.

So my plans changed and I set my sights on Keeneland January.

I was fortunate enough to work the entire Keeneland September Yearling Sale for Bluewater Sales. It was an amazing experience and I’ve never learned more in a two-week period of time. It was while working this sale that I realized just how rough the market is right now. I watched hundreds of horses go through the ring for one or two thousand dollars and then would look down at my catalogue and have to pick my jaw up from the floor. Horses with fantastic pedigrees were going for nothing. What was wrong with them? Was the scope grade not perfect? Did the vet find something in the x-rays? It could have been a million things. I discovered that a horse that doesn’t have all the pieces of the puzzle will bring little to no money at auction. It has to be by the right stallion, out of the right female family, have winning siblings, look the part of a potential athlete, and have a perfect vet report. Just one missing piece and it all comes tumbling down. To say it was scary for me to watch horses go through the ring on the final days of the sale would be an understatement. Larger breeders and pinhookers can make up for several horses selling for close to nothing by hitting big with a couple of others. Unfortunately, like so many other breeders, I don’t have that many shots. In fact in my case, I have just one.

After the September sale I began to question my decision to put Skype into the Keeneland January sale. I had several consignors come out to look at her and their opinions varied on what Skype would bring at the January sale. The optimistic consignors told me that if she had a clean vet report that she could bring the stud fee (Even the Score stood for $15,000 at the time he was bred to Sky). In order to put Skype through the ring at the January sale, it would cost me close to $4,000 (entry fee, minimum consignment fee, transportation to the sale, x-rays, board at the sales grounds, and sales prep). So, if Skype vetted cleanly, looked good at the sale, and had a few people on her, then she had the potential to bring around $15,000. If she went for $15,000 then I would be paying over 25% of her sales price to put her through the ring! And what if she didn’t bring $15,000? What if enough people didn’t get a look at her or someone found something on the x-rays? What then? Would she even bring the $4,000 to cover the expenses? It’s possible that she wouldn’t and I would lose money and lose my horse. I decided that I couldn’t take this risk. Like I wrote earlier, I just have one shot and so I have to make it count.

Plans changed again.

I decided to not enter Skype in either the Keeneland January or Fasig-Tipton February sales. The risk-reward of putting her in a public auction just didn’t add up. Instead, I will be looking to sell Skype privately. This will save me money on commission and entry fees and will allow me to protect my interests a lot more than I would have been able to at a public auction. I have some ideas about how to market Skype and I already have a few people interested in her. I am hopeful that there will be more to come and I believe there will be. Skype has good size and scope and has the potential to develop into an attractive racing prospect. If I can find someone who believes in her one-tenth as much as I do, then I’ll find a buyer.

So that is the plan for now, but I don’t know what curveball this game will throw me next. Maybe this time the plans will work out and maybe I’ll be writing another post in the future about another plan. I have heard the quote, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plan.” I do not know the original origin of this quote, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to find out this person owned Thoroughbreds. I know God has a plan for me…I’m just hopeful that plan includes selling Skype for six figures ;-).

December 27, 2010

My English Paper…A Proposal for Changes in KY Racing

I wanted to share my final paper in my English class with the blog’s readers. It is a proposal for changes in the Kentucky Thoroughbred industry. Please be aware that the paper was limited to 5 pages and so I was unable to go in-depth on many issues and had to leave a lot of stuff out. Trying to write a detailed report on what needs to change in the Kentucky Thoroughbred industry in less than five pages is pretty much impossible, so I did the best I could. Also note that I was writing for an audience that was not familiar with Thoroughbred racing. Another problem is that I could not get the graphs and charts to show up, so please disregard the parts when I mention them. Anyway, the paper is below. I appreciate any comments. Thanks and hope everyone had a great Christmas.

Necessary Changes in the Kentucky Thoroughbred Industry

The state of Kentucky is rightfully known throughout the world for bourbon, basketball, and Thoroughbreds. The Kentucky Distillers’ Association estimates that 95% of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky and the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team is the winningest program in college basketball history. Two of the three trademark industries of Kentucky appear to be continuing their success and have bright futures. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the state’s Thoroughbred industry. Money wagered on races, track attendance, television ratings, and foal crop numbers have all been declining rapidly over the past couple of years. The Thoroughbred industry is far too important to Kentucky for leaders to allow it to disappear, but that is what will happen if action is not taken.

According to the Kentucky Horse Council, the Thoroughbred industry provides 40,000 jobs in the state and has an overall economic impact of close to two billion dollars. The economic impact of the Kentucky Derby alone accounts for nearly one-quarter of a billion dollars. Changes in Kentucky’s Thoroughbred industry are necessary and vital to its survival. The Kentucky Thoroughbred industry will remain one of the state’s most important and successful industries and experience improvements in handle (money wagered), attendance, and television ratings if the following proposed changes are implemented in the racing and breeding sectors of the industry. The leaders of Kentucky racing, specifically Keeneland and Churchill Downs, must increase new client recruitment and development, improve client retention, and increase lobbying for expanded gaming legislation. The breeding industry leaders, this being major stallion farms, members of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, and the members of the Kentucky Breeders’ Incentive Fund, must work in collaboration to lower stud fees and improve the state’s breeder rewards program to be competitive with other states.

New Client Recruitment and Development

Kentucky’s Thoroughbred racing industry is desperate for new clients; i.e. fans and owners. The state’s two most important racetracks, Keeneland and Churchill Downs, must lead the way on implementing programs to recruit more fans and owners. The first task is to get people to the track and allow them to experience the joy and excitement of Thoroughbred racing in Kentucky. One of the easiest ways to get people to the track is with promotional days; such as Keeneland’s College Scholarship Day and Churchill Downs’ Night Racing. Keeneland’s College Scholarship Day occurs once per racing meet and offers free admission, free food, and live music to college students. The most recent College Scholarship Day attracted almost 3,400 students. Most of the students in attendance were students at Kentucky colleges and universities; however, the event also attracted students studying outside of Kentucky. Many of Kentucky’s Thoroughbred industry issues are causing fans and owners to leave the state; however, this event brought fans into the state. Churchill Downs’ Night Racing program features “prime-time racing” under the newly-installed lighting system. Churchill Downs held its final night racing program of the year last month and close to 16,000 people were in attendance. This number triples the attendance for an afternoon program on the same day in 2009.

Obviously, these promotional days have been accomplishing their task of bringing new faces to the racetrack. Keeneland and Churchill Downs have done a herculean job of getting potential fans to the track; however, improvements must be made to keep the potential fan entertained during their visit. First impressions are everything and if a potential fan has a bad first experience at a racetrack, he/she is extremely unlikely to return.

A good place to start on changes is pricing. Keeneland and Churchill Downs must cut their prices for parking, food, beverages, and souvenirs. A person going to Churchill Downs or Keeneland may pay $10 to park, $5 for admission, $7 for a sandwich, $3 for a drink, and $25 for a souvenir t-shirt. This person has already spent $50 and has not even placed a bet yet. Parking should be free, souvenirs should be cheap, and food and beverage prices should be more reasonable. In an effort to attract fans, many harness tracks, including Lexington’s The Red Mile, offer free admission and parking along with inexpensive food and beverages. The state’s Thoroughbred tracks should follow The Red Mile’s lead. Lower prices will encourage potential fans to make a few wagers throughout the afternoon; however, high prices will keep them away from the betting windows. No one should ever walkout of the racetrack and say, “I’m not coming back; it was too expensive.” Thoroughbred racing must be a cost leader in the live-sports entertainment industry.

Another area for improvement is customer appreciation. This will help recruit and develop new fans and also improve current client retention. Horse racing is known as the “Sport of Kings” and fans should be treated as kings while at the racetrack. Unfortunately, fans are treated as anything but kings while at racetracks. Frank Mitchell, author of several books on horse racing and owner of The Croft Thoroughbred farm, noted that Kentucky racetracks “don’t seem to recognize that their job is to make sure fans have a great time.” Customer appreciation can be improved with more comfortable seating, knowledgeable and courteous employees, cleaner facilities, and complimentary items to all guests. It is important to note that not all people attending the races will become fans, but enough will to keep the industry successful. Also, all owners were once “only” fans and then decided to take their love of the game to another level. The industry is in need of new owners and maybe a few people will leave a track after their first visit with the desire to own a racehorse.

Client Retention

The Thoroughbred racing industry needs more fans and therefore cannot afford to lose any current fans. Fortunately, racetrack leaders can “kill two birds with one stone” when it comes to client recruitment and client retention. Several of the improvements that racetracks must make in order to attract new fans will also retain the current fans. Making the customer feel appreciated is extremely important and feeling appreciated matters to all fans.

There are a couple of improvements that can be made to retain current fans of racing; including frequent player rewards programs and decreased takeout. A frequent player reward program would reward fans for regularly betting on the live racing. There would need to be different player levels based on amount wagered by a person during a given period of time. Frequent players betting small amounts of money may be rewarded with free admission, free food, and free drinks. The “high-rollers” may be rewarded with Kentucky Derby tickets or a free VIP suite for the afternoon. Also, a decrease in takeout would be appreciated by current racing fans and bettors. The takeout is a portion of all wagering pools that is taken by the track to cover a variety of expenses and provide profits for the racetrack. The current takeout in Kentucky is 16% for straight wagers and 19% for exotic wagers. These takeout percentages are some of the lowest in the country; however, they must decrease even further. According to the Horse Players Association of America’s president, Jeff Platt, “takeout percentages must be lowered to a level that is competitive with casinos. Most casinos only take out 2% of money wagered on table games and 9% for money wagered with slot machines. Lowering the takeout by a couple of percentage points would encourage fans to wager more money, make the takeout rate more competitive with casinos, and would display the racetracks’ knowledge that the bettor is the most important aspect of this industry.

Expanded Gaming

Current legislation in the state of Kentucky does not allow for expanded gaming (slot machines and casinos). Keeneland and Churchill Downs must lead the charge on lobbying for the legalization of expanded gaming in Kentucky. It is vital to the survival of our state’s beloved industry and would greatly improve the economic impact of the industry as well. Expanded gaming licenses have vastly improved the economic impact of the Thoroughbred industry in other states, especially Pennsylvania. In 2001, before expanded gaming was legalized, the economic impact of the Thoroughbred industry in Pennsylvania was $345 million, the industry employed about 6,500 people, and racing provided close to $7 million in taxes. In 2008, after a couple of years with expanded gaming, the economic impact of the Thoroughbred industry in Pennsylvania had risen to $1.6 billion, the industry employed over 23,000 people, and racing provided nearly $80 million in taxes (Pennsylvania Equine Coalition).

The other states in the region that allow expanded gaming are Indiana and West Virginia. Similar situations are seen in these states, with massive increases in economic impact and people employed since legalizing expanding gaming. The revenue that is obtained through slot machines is going into the purses of the races in these states. The purses continue to grow and eventually Keeneland and Churchill Downs will not be able to compete with the purses at tracks in Indiana and West Virginia. This is already the case with Turfway Park and Ellis Park. Jennie Rees, journalist for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, noted that “Indiana, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia will continue to siphon off horses from Kentucky until expanded gaming is legalized.” Rees is spot-on with her analysis and the numbers are there to prove it. Figure 1 displays the number of Thoroughbred foals produced in the state of Kentucky for the past three years. Unfortunately, as the purses in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia rise, the foal crops in Kentucky fall. More and more owners and breeders are moving their horses to states with expanded gaming to benefit from the larger purses. It is the responsibility of all people involved in the industry to help keep the industry alive in Kentucky, and that includes supporting lobbying efforts for expanded gaming legislation. The leaders of these lobbying efforts must be the most powerful and influential people in the industry; including, but not limited to, Keeneland’s president Nick Nicholson, Churchill Downs Incorporated president Robert Evans, Fasig-Tipton’s CEO and president Boyd T. Browning, Jr., Taylor Made Sales Agency’s president Duncan Taylor, Keeneland’s Director of Sales Geoffrey Russell, and Lane’s End president William Farish. The previously mentioned men are some of the most respected people in the industry and carry a great deal of power, as they operate some of the most successful companies in the Thoroughbred industry. Although they must lead the charge on lobbying for expanded gaming legislation it is every fan, owners, and breeder’s responsibility to help the cause.

Lower Stud Fees

The bettor is the most important aspect of the Thoroughbred industry; however, the breeder is not far behind. The Thoroughbred breeding industry must also make changes and improvements; including, lowering stud fees and improving the state’s breeder incentive program. Both of these changes would improve the overall health of the industry and Kentucky and help prevent more owners and breeders from leaving Kentucky for nearby states that can offer big purses and fantastic breeder rewards programs with the revenue obtained with expanded gaming.

Rob Whiteley, owner of Liberation Farm, wrote that “stallion owners are making less money, consignors are making less money, veterinarians are making less money, and breeders (the foundation for the other three) are experiencing heavy losses.” Many of these heavy losses are experienced due to incredibly high stud fees in Kentucky that do not reflect the current poor state of the Kentucky Thoroughbred industry. The average stud fee for stallions that will stand their first year at stud next year is about $9,000. This represents a 40% increase from the average stud fee for stallions standing their first season in 2010 (Blood-Horse). While all significant numbers in our industry our decreasing, stallion fees continue to rise. This is not right and must change.

The biggest Thoroughbred yearling sale in the world is the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Each year breeders bring their horses to sell and find out what their years of hard work and money is worth in the current market. The cost of getting a horse to the September Sale is significant and Whiteley estimates the cost at “between $60,000 and $70,000 to get a horse through the ring at Keeneland.” Whiteley took the $60,000 as a “break-even” price and analyzed the percentage of yearlings that sold at, or above, their break-even price. Figure 2 displays the results of Whiteley’s study throughout the 15 sessions of the sale.

As is clear from the graph of Figure 2, breeders are taking a beating whether they are selling horses at the front of the sale or the back of the sale. Only about one-third of the “select” horses, horses chosen for outstanding pedigrees and conformation, sold above their break-even price. That is an awful percentage, but nowhere near as awful as the percentage for horses that sold in the later sessions of the sale. Only about 1 out of every 50 horses selling towards the end of the sale were able to bring their break-even price. The easiest way to decrease the break-even price and give breeders a better chance at turning a profit is to lower stud fees. Stud fees are one of the most expensive parts of yearling production and a reduction would greatly help Kentucky breeders. In the study conducted by Rob Whiteley, his figures included a $20,000 stud fee, seeing this as a “ballpark average.” Being that the stud fee is a fixed cost in yearling production, a lower stud fee lowers the “break-even” point by the same amount. Therefore, an average reduction of stud fees in Kentucky would give Kentucky breeders more of a fighting chance at breaking even in the tough climate of the Kentucky Thoroughbred market. For many breeders, breaking even is the goal; however, currently many breeders are experiencing big losses and it is only a matter of time before these breeders either move their operations to another state or get out of the industry entirely.

Breeder Incentive Program

It is time that the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund’s members and the members of the Kentucky Breeders’ Incentive Fund come together to increase the breeder rewards program in Kentucky. The breeder rewards programs are so great in other states that one breeder of Thoroughbreds, who chose to remain anonymous, said, “I would be crazy to let a mare foal in Kentucky. There is nothing for me there.” The industry cannot survive without breeders because without breeders there are no horses. Money to increase the breeder rewards programs must be obtained, if not through expanded gaming, then through money from the state’s major sales companies and racetracks (Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton, and Churchill Downs). An extremely small percentage of money wagered at Kentucky racetracks goes into the breeder fund and this number should increase substantially, especially if expanded gaming is not legalized soon. Too many owners are leaving Kentucky to foal elsewhere. Figure 3 shows the percentage change in the percent of the United States foal crop from 1998 to 2008.

Conclusion

The Kentucky Thoroughbred industry needs a lot of changes and improvements to return to greatness. Horses used to be the number one cash crop in Kentucky; however, last year they were overtaken by poultry. Unless industry leaders would like to live in a state known for bourbon, basketball, and chickens then these changes must be implemented as soon as possible. Enough time has already been wasted and this industry no longer has any time to waste. The task at hand is not an easy one; however, it can be accomplished through client recruitment and retention, expanded gaming legislation, decreased stud fees, and improvement of the state’s breeder rewards program. Winston Churchill once said, “There something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” The Thoroughbred industry means too much to too many people to let it disappear. Failure is not an option.

 

September 20, 2010

Updates from the Library

Tomorrow I have a test in Plant and Animal Biology that will determine 33% of my grade in the class. I haven’t had much time to study because I’ve spent so much time at the Keeneland yearling sale, so now I’m at UK’s library and studying for the next several hours.

Right now I am taking a quick break from studying to give a couple of updates.

On September 6th I posted a story about a horse that I groomed for a class at UK when he was a yearling. “Charlie,” now named Usain Again, won his 3rd race on the 6th and improved his record to 3 wins from 3 starts. The full story can be read at https://reachingforroses.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/my-boy-charlie/. Well Charlie had his 4th career race on Thursday and he ran a very respectable 2nd to a horse that got loose on the lead. He is already entered in another race and will make start number five in the fifth race at Calder on Friday. This will be the first time that Charlie will test his talents outside of the claiming ranks. Good luck to Charlie and all of the connections on Friday. Go get win #4!

Also, a quick update on my time with Bluewater during the September sale. It has been an amazing experience. I have been doing a little bit of everything; including, turning in information to the repository, running cards, entering reserves, putting in updates, dealing with our clients, and working with potential buyers. Bluewater Sales has currently sold 28 yearlings for a gross of $3,245,500. The sales topper for the consignment sold on the opening night of the sale. Hip 73, a colt by Smart Strike out of Minister’s Mom, by Deputy Minister, sold to Ben Glass, agent for $475,000.

Well back to studying for me. I will post again this week with pictures from the sale. Until then, everyone have a great week!

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.