Last night we had our season ending Astar Thoroughbred meeting and celebration at the Oceanaire restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. It was great fun sharing another memory with our main trainer Gary Scherer, partners Tom and Felicia Lindquist and our main breeding and care managers, Rick and Joyce Osborne.
Though we only race 4 or so horses every year now, we still seem to collect a stakes win every other year or so. This year Blazing Angel was our main stable performer and our 7th stakes winner in the 11 years we've been in the business. She won the Minnesota Oaks at 26 to 1 and amazingly, a few of us like Gary predicted that outcome and prepared her to win that race months and years before.
Some people with much bigger stables, hoping for a rare stakes winning horse, wonder why we seem so lucky. In truth, a lesson learned long ago in the corporate world was that you will always be successful if you "diligently" chose to work with people who have winning character traits. Gary, Tom, Felicia, Rick and Joyce are some of the most honest and best people in the business, and frankly you can't say that about everyone involved in racing and breeding.
We feel very fortunate to have arrived at our racing relationships, and Debbie and I can't imagine working with better, more competent, caring and nicer people. Thanks for again making 2016 a memorable year!
Now that the Minnesota racing is done, I thought I’d catch up on a few questions I received near the end of the racing season.
Can I race my horses in other states? Yes, but you need to know if they can compete and at what level. Many MN breds make money here because they run in tightly conditioned races against only other MN breds. All other states have their own state bred races and therefore MN breds need to run in open company in those races. Rarely can MN breds compete in open company (against KY breds, Fl Breds, etc.) unless they run for claiming prices much lower than the same earning worth of those horses running in Minnesota.
What about licensing? All states require a state specific license, though there is a multi-jurisdictional license available. You should be licensed in those states well before you want to run your horses there. For example, my main trainer goes to Hawthorne so we license in Illinois well in advance so he can stable at Hawthorne and ship horses over to run at Arlington before Hawthorne racing begins.
Can I claim horses in other states? Yes. In fact Minnesota is a tough place to claim in my opinion. I have several rules of advice about claiming on this website. (i.e. Don’t claim from top tier trainers or excellent claiming trainers because they’ve already applied all the tricks of the trade to the horse, don’t claim pigeon holed horses that can only run on a certain surfaces or distances, use a “working claiming trainer” who is up at the track in the mornings to check out the potential claims well in advance of the race day claims, etc., etc.)
Will MN bred purses go up next year and should I still be looking to buy one? I don’t know if purses will go up. I can only speculate. MN bred purses actually went down slightly this year. The hope I see is that the currently uncompetitive level of our state bred purses, state bred earnings per starter are 6th out of 6 in the upper Midwest racing states, could rise if purse monies are directed from open to state bred purse structures. And yes, MN breds are still available for purchase privately and on a few online sites.
Why would MN state bred purses go up? Again, I am not involved in these discussions so I can only speculate. Since 2011 (Pre-Mystic Lake Deal) the “additional funds” directed to open horses running in Minnesota is near 5 times more than the “additional funds” added to MN state bred earnings. This is public knowledge based on the earnings and purses illustrated in public Jockey Club data. A shift may be possible. For every additional $1,000,000 directed toward state bred purses, I estimate an “additional” 50 state bred foals could be registered every year. That means, considering the normal average 4 year racing lifetime of a foal, and a 25% foal wash out rate, 150 more state bred starters could run annually for each additional $1,000,000 shifted to MN state bred purses because MN state breds are essentially a “captive” racing population. In other words, a shift would be very beneficial to all parties in Minnesota in my view.
How do I get started in breeding? This is a complicated question. I always suggest you first understand the long term commitments and costs associated with breeding. They are much more perverse than many newbies believe. For example, if you bought a broodmare for breeding today, you would contract a stud late this year, breed early in 2017, have the baby born in early 2018, and then either try to sell the yearling in the late summer or early fall of 2019, or if you kept the foal for racing, see its first race (if lucky) in June 2020 ..... after spending $40K to $50K or more! These timeframes shock many folks once they are confronted with them, and it’s why breeders deserve much more respect than they sometimes get. If you understand the dynamics and still want to proceed, let me know.
Today our Minnesota racing season ends with our Astar Lindquist PJ's Angel and Victory Ice running. Our small 4 horse stable has earned $119,335 so far and will finish in the top 20 stables in earnings and starts. With a $30,000 earnings average per horse we will again be profitable for the year.
I am often asked about "all in" ownership costs in Minnesota, likely because of all the asinine propaganda on the subject. Our 4 horses cost $9,720 to board, $68,804 to train, $11,523 to have ridden by jockeys, $2, 800 to ship, $2,150 to have their feet taken care of by farriers, $2,576 in vet costs and $235 in miscellaneous costs like tattoos and licenses. The $97,808 works out to $24,452 per horse, all in cost. If someone tells you their costs are lower per horse, ask them how they factor in the 20% of projected earnings they expect their horses to earn. Ours would have been under $20,000 per horse IF our horses earned nothing!
I've never understood why transparent honesty pisses so many people off in racing, but these are the real costs for the last full 12 months of taking care of and racing 4 Minnesota bred horses through the 2016 racing season. Many of the BS'ers who lie about all in costs focus on track "day rate" training costs. If you want to have quality racing results, horses have to be properly broke if yearlings, prepped for racing, maintained on quality farms, shipped properly, medically cared for and have their hoofs done all year!
Lastly, Minnesota breds are typically done racing after the Minnesota racing season. Running elsewhere is a losing proposition for almost 100% of Minnesota bred horses, though some racing executives and knuckleheads talk about it as if it is a viable common concept. Rarely can even MN bred stakes winners compete anywhere but at open company (bred anywhere) horse claiming levels. If you own a MN bred, you need to make your money here.
With all this said, our stable had a good season, 4 wins so far, a nice Minnesota Oaks stakes win and another year of great memories. Many thanks to trainers Gary Scherer and Tony Rengstorf, plus Joyce and Rick Osborne for caring for and shipping our horses when they are not racing. Next step.....getting our yearlings off to be broke in November.
Last week I shared a chart revealing the fact that Minnesota Thoroughbred breeders are the leading volume breeders in the Upper Midwest, considering actual state bred horse earnings. In that blog post, I also mentioned that our MN State Bred horse earnings and sale prices were uncompetitive.
This comment caused a bit of a stir, which resulted in a few emails and messages. So since you poked the bear, the "uncompetitive" comment was not an opinion but a fact based upon Jockey Club data available to anyone who cares to look at it.
It is a myth to think that Minnesota Bred purse increases have made our annual state bred earnings competitive! The first included chart on this post illustrates the actual 2015 earnings per state bred starter. Minnesota ranked dead last in the Upper Midwest racing states!
A major share of the "absolute" Minnesota purse dollar increases went to Non-Minnesota bred horses. In 2011 Minnesota bred earnings represented 53% of the total purses paid in Minnesota. In 2015, that percentage dropped precipitously to only 33% of the total! Is it really any wonder that Minnesota state bred racing starters dropped 23% from 2011 to 2015 while the non-state bred starters increased 62%, and the Minnesota registered foal count declined in both 2014 and 2015 after a post Mystic Lake bump up in 2013? Racing in Minnesota will need many more state bred Thoroughbreds in the future. That was clear this year considering racing fields and several less than 10 race daily programs.
To debunk the sale price myth that Minnesota is competitive, the following chart illustrates actual average yearling prices properly indexed to state bred earnings. Minnesota remains the only state in the Upper Midwest that realizes yearling sale prices that are less than annual state bred average earnings. Minnesota breeders only realize 77 cents per dollar of earnings for their sold yearlings, while the other Upper Midwest states see a $1.48 average! Since 2015 Minnesota average yearling sale prices were $10,458 for all sales, and the 2016 average for the Minnesota sale alone was reported at $10,560, it is very doubtful that Minnesota's uncompetitive Midwest relationship will change once all 2016 sales data is updated.
John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence". We are uncompetitive in Minnesota related to both state bred earnings and prices. Do we chose not to address this issue, or do we simply not understand how vital Minnesota Thoroughbreds are to both racing and the Minnesota economy?
I often wonder why I am always amazed every time someone who is in a position of responsibility expresses an idiotic opinion. Often the opinions are simply innocent and based on what people have said for years, but it still disappoints me that responsible people do not seem desirous of discovering the truth.
This happened recently when an individual was telling a group of horsemen about how Minnesota breeders are failing to support Minnesota racing, by not breeding in greater numbers. Being who I am, I stopped him cold, telling the group that this long held myth was simply BS. As a result, I thought I'd include this information on my blog for intelligent reference.
You see, "thinking horsemen" index breeding volume. Breeding volume is represented by "State Bred" registered foals, which should be indexed against "State Bred" earnings. Earnings represent the ultimate value of foals, whether they are sold or kept by breeders for their own racing purposes. If earnings are high, foals are worth more because they sell for more as yearlings, and are also worth more in an breeder/owner's stable if kept for racing as homebreds. If earnings are low of course, the opposite is true.
By simply evaluating public Jockey Club data, it is easy to see that breeding is in decline in Minnesota, consistent with nationwide trends. Nevertheless, Minnesota remains one of the leading states in the country when breeding volume is properly indexed against earnings. In fact, 2015 published results indicate that Minnesota still produces 45.5 foals per million dollars of earnings, while the nationwide average was only 18.6! Furthermore, Minnesota is easily the most prolific breeding state in the Upper Midwest when indexed. Our closest racing Midwest breeding competitor is Iowa, which produced 29.7 foals per million in 2015.
Of course, declines are still declines and disappointing. However, Minnesota breeders are simply under appreciated in general. They often take losses on their foal crops to support racing in Minnesota, in spite of clearly uncompetitive state bred earnings and yearling sale prices.
I hope this one example intellectually dispels this foolish myth. You might be shocked about what truth the data clarifies about Minnesota breeding, purses, prices and trends. It is a pity that the people that should understand this information do not seem to. They simply do not know what they do not know. What a pity.
"You will learn more truth about Minnesota Thoroughbreds by mistake here than you will ever learn elsewhere on purpose!"
Dave Astar is a race horse owner, stallion owner, breeder, 40 year business executive, and 50 year handicapper.