The media buzzed aplenty when Funny Cide pulled away in the stretch to win the 2003 Kentucky Derby. The story wasn’t just about the dream of six former high school buddies who pooled their funds for the thrill of owning a racehorse. The big story was that the winner of this prestigious race, a victory that all but guarantees a nice cash flow from the breeding shed, was a gelding. Even though the 16.2-hand chestnut has gone on to win more than $3 million and set an earnings record for New York-bred Thoroughbreds, many would say that unkind cut during the horse’s early training made his owners big losers in the Thoroughbred game.
But are they? The breeding game can be as big a gamble as the racing game. Just ask the owners of the great Cigar, the who retired after earning just a bit less than $10 million only to be found sterile at breeding time. Anyone planning to get into horse breeding at any level needs to start with a clear understanding of the odds and a solid business plan that carefully weighs all the costs as well as the potential cash and other benefits.
“Horse businesses mainly fail because of lack of planning,” says Dr. Martha M. Vogelsang, who heads the reproductive physiology section of Texas A & M University’s Department of Equine Science. If you plan to stand a stallion at stud, she says, ask yourself at what level in the horse game you intend to play. Do you want to stand a world-renowned stallion that attracts nationwide attention, or do you just want a small-scale operation breeding a few mares annually at the local or regional level? How will standing a stallion at stud fit into other activities and services already available at your farm or stable? Defining goals is important because it will drive your income expectations and cost decisions.
IS HE GOOD ENOUGH?
For starters, you need to objectively evaluate the stallion you plan to use to calculate whether he can support your goal. Is he capable of earning the stud fee revenues the breeding operation will need to turn a profit? The right pedigree, good conformation, and proven performance capability are essential.
Vogelsang points out that there is a lot of faddishness in the equine industry. There’s no escaping the fact that breeds, bloodlines and even horse colors go in and out of popularity like car bodies and clothing fashions. Are your stallion’s bloodlines currently desirable, or are you going to have to promote not only the stallion as an individual but also convince mare owners that his ancestors are worth putting into their foal’s pedigree? If the stallion does not have a competitive record of his own, does a parent, sibling or other close relative have an established reputation that might create a “shirttail effect” for your horse?
Next, you need to objectively evaluate the stallion at the end of a lead rope. Seek professional advice if you are planning to sink a lot of money into your stallion business. Your own opinion will be biased by your prior knowledge of the horse and your dreams. If you have objective horse industry colleagues, start there. You can also hire a bloodstock agent familiar with your breed, the horse judging expert from the nearest land-grant university, a licensed breed judge whose opinion you respect, or the manager of a stallion station specializing in your breed. Over time, the stallion will be judged by the quality of his offspring. In the beginning, however, he needs to stand on his own merits.