We were only here for 2 nights – one full day - and rather than spend the day at the Kentucky Horse Park as we have in the past, this time we opted for a tour of area horse farms. And we picked a winner!
The tour group consisted of us, a couple from upstate New York and a couple from Connecticut. Our tour guide picked us up at 9:15 at the Horse Park and off we went. The tour guide was great. He is a native of Lexington and has been around the thoroughbred world his entire life. He knew more about the horses than Monte does and that is saying something! Did you know that it costs $18,000 per mile to paint a white horse fence and only $6,000 per mile for black fences? Just one of the many interesting facts imparted to us by Shaun, the tour guide.
Our stops were at WinStar Farm and Shadwell Farm, two of the biggest names in thoroughbred racing. 1,400 acre WinStar is the home of this year's Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver. But we were not there to see horses in training, we were there to see the stallions.
The only real money to be made in the Thoroughbred world is through having the best sires standing at stud at your farm. The stud industry allows you to make enough money to be able to afford a stable of horses that are currently in training to race and are racing. The stud horses have a rough rough life. They are retired race horses who now spend their lives having sex. Lots and lots of sex.
Because every thoroughbred, born in the Norther Hemisphere shares the same birthday of January 1, horse owners want their foals born as close to that date as possible (close to but after, if born on Dec 31, you are considered 1 year old the next day.) There is an 11 month gestation period so mares are bred between February and July. To get all the mares bred in this period of time, the sires “cover” (have sex with) 3 mares per day, 7 days per week.
Initially, stud fees are based on how well a horse did while running races, as time goes on their stud fees are based on how well the horses they sire do at the track. Two of the 8 or 9 studs at WinStar are Distorted Humor and Tiznow.
Distorted Humor is the sire of 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide. Every time Distorted Humor covers a mare his fee is $150,000. Seriously - $150,000 – 3x per day.
Tiznow is a two time winner of the Breeder's Cup Classic (considered the premier thoroughbred race of the year). Tiznow gets a measly $75,000 for each mare he covers.
Remember how I said that the breeding season is from February until July? Well, that is only for the Norther Hemisphere. Horses born in the Southern Hemisphere share a birthday of August 1. So after the breeding season here, many of these big name sires ship to Australia where they continue at the 3x per day pace. This goes on from say age 4 until age 20. After 20 they might slow down to 2x per day. There is no Artificial Insemination allowed for thoroughbreds.
Shadwell Farm was an interesting stop in that it is the most amazing, state of the art facility, and is owned by Sheikh Hamdan, the Crown Prince of Dubai. As a member of the Dubai ruling Maktoum family, he is not in this for the money but for the bragging rights. For all of the Sheikh's money and for all of his success in horse racing in both the US and England, having topped the owners list in Great Britian for 21 of the last 23 years, he has yet to be able to breed or buy a Kentucky Derby winner. The most interesting thing about this farm is how the employees are taken care of. Besides being paid very well apparently, everyone, from managers to grooms, gets full health insurance, and extra $250 per month paid on their mortgages, $200 per month for gas to get to work, and bunches of other perks. Needless to say – those jobs are very very hard to come by – no one quits.
Our last stop was at Keenland Racecourse to get a look at the “back side” where horses in training are stabled. We got to meet trainers, exercise riders, and most importantly a few race horses. All I can say is watch out for Lady McQueen on the turf at Churchill Downs and Weekend Wildcat who will probably run next at Woodbine in Canada. These 2 horses are part of the Larry Demeritte training stable. (don't go bet the kids' college funds on these 2).
We are really looking forward to our next stop – the Delaware, Ohio Fairgrounds. Now, if that doesn't sound exciting I don't know what does. You will just have to wait and see what is in store.