25 July 2007

Fixing The Ontario Thoroughbred Breeding Business

Purses at Woodbine are very lucrative, at least for high claimers and allowance horses.
In fact, there is a great disparity in purse monies available for those competing at the high levels and those competing at the lower levels, much more than it should be.

Many times, a horse doesn't have to be a champ to win an Ontario sired Stake or allowance race. In fact, final times needed to win those events are often equal or lower, to horses competing in the 20-30,000 claiming ranges.

The thing is that very few try to compete in these events because there is usually one or two real good horses that show up in these races, and the goal of the trainer is to win, not finish 3rd or 4th.

Most of the time, even the top horses don't belong in non claiming races, but get to be protected because they are Ontario sired. This form of protectionism is good for only a few. Most Ontario sired horses wind up struggling to break even for their owner. And ownership is the key to fixing the Ontario breeding industry.

It is simple economics. Supply and demand. The more owners you have, the more potential bidders you have for current runners, and most importantly auctioned, yearlings.


Everyone knows that owning a race horse is a risky proposition. A horse needs to makes around $25,000-30,000 a year just to break even. Every horse is one step away from being retired for a long period of time or forever.

Yes, there are good incentives out there if you win, like the rewards an owner gets if he or she wins with an Ontario bred or Canadian bred. There is also some tax relief if an owner loses money, but it isn't high enough.

New owners need to get in cheaply. Buying a yearling may sound cheap, because you can get one who will most likely make the races for as little as $2,000, for example, at a CTHS sales event in the fall, but by the time the horse makes it to the track, the owner on average has close to another $15,000 into it by the time it makes the races, if it makes the races. And you can't expect much from a $2,000 or even $5,000 yearling purchase. Not appealing.

An owner can claim a runner at Woodbine for as little as $10,000 or at Fort Erie for as little as $4,000 (or even buy one privately for as little as $1500), but the chance are, the owner will be extremely lucky if he or she breaks even. Certainly, there is no incentive to go to the Yearling Sales. A $10,000 claimer always has potential, but even if was a successful claim and the horse makes $40,000 by moving up the ladder a bit and winning once or twice, the only incentive to the find another quick fix. And note: new owners getting lucky with a $10k claimer are up against it, because of all the sharp claiming stables out there who will most likely find the gems before a newbie gets a crack at one.


There is a bit of an incentive to claim and Ontario bred over a non Ontario bred, especially with horses that have conditions, because the odd one can win Ontario special races, but it isn't enough to help the Yearling Sales business.

What is needed is two things to happen. One is that lower claiming races at Woodbine need to be run for higher purses (at least Ontario sired horses need to). This will give incentives to new owners and partnerships.
Secondly, the perceived value of the cheapest Ontario bred needs to rise up. The way to do this is by including ONTARIO SIRED CLAIMING RACES. To my knowledge, Ontario and Florida are the only two jurisdictions that don't have such races. This gives owners of Ontario bred horses a safety net. If a person buys a horse at an auction, he or she knows that there is a good possibility that they can get out in cheap claiming races for Ontario bred horses only held at Woodbine or even Fort Erie.
Try writing a $5,000 claiming Ontario sired non winners of 3 at Fort Erie with a $15,000 purse, and see how quick the race fills, and how many claims happen as long as there are $10,000 open or non winners of 3 Ontario sired race at Woodbine with a $20,000 purse.

The money can come from the higher end races. Nobody can defend the disparity.

Will this change things overnight? Of course not. But I can almost guarantee it will increase prices of Ontario sired yearlings. Once that happens, quality will be attracted, though it is hard to compete with Kentucky, this is the best chance to do so.

One more thing. Get rid of B Allowance races. Horses need to run for what they are worth. B races are bad for handicappers as well, but that is another story. The B races is another form of protectionism that does not bring in new owners.

I hope the panel studying the Ontario Breeding Business gets wind of this post.


Anonymous said...

What exactly are B Alw races?

Anonymous said...

B Allowance and B Maiden Allowance races are events that are run for around half the normal purse of an allowance race where horses cannot be claimed.
The purpose was to protect the owners of horses that cost a lot, and give them a chance to run competitively without having a chance to lose the horse to a claim.
The allowance races are just plain idiotic. Let the horses run for what they are worth. If they are real allowance horses, let them run for the allowance condition. If need be, I don't mind seeing a 50 or 60k claiming Non winner of 2 or 3, which can protect the horse somewhat. But these races prevent horses from being claimed, and it is a discouragement to new owners. It really just tries to protect the big guys.

As far as the maiden races, let them run for 62K or 50K maiden. Nobody is going to claim a horse who can't win a maiden special regardless of the breeding. The breeding game isn't supportive of that nonsense here in Ontario.