Thoroughbred breeders are the heart of the racing industry. They are a patient lot that enjoy the meticulous work of reviewing pedigrees, comparing race results, and the long hours working with horses. But theirs is a long game with high stakes. With a minimum of a four year window, and most often five, to bring a racehorse to the track, breeders are also among the industry’s most high rolling gamblers.

A conservative analysis of the costs of breeding reveals that many thousands of dollars are invested in a broodmare to produce a single yearling:

• Farrier = roughly $500/year
• Broodmare Board = $12,000 – $21,600 ($500-$900/month for 2 years)
• Vet for mare = $2,500 ($2,000/estrus cycle + $500 maintenance)
• Stud Fee = $1,000 – $10,000 (and well beyond)
• Board for foal = $6,000 – $10,800 ($500-$900 weaned at 5 months board 1 year)
• Vet for yearling = $1,500 (Vaccines, wormers, and x-ray for sale)
TOTAL = $23,500 – $46,900

A breeder’s investment is easily between $23,500 and $46,900 per yearling depending on where in Canada the horse is kept. Note that this does not include the purchase price of the broodmare or serious vet costs in case of complications with the broodmare or foal. Yet sales averages across Canada are well below that. Ontario has the highest average in the country at $18,500 at the 2018 yearling sale, British Columbia reported $14,865, Alberta $9,657, and Manitoba just $8,850.

The costs increase if the yearling is kept on to become a racehorse:

• Farrier = roughly $1,000/year
• Vet = $500
• Board = $6,000 – $10,800 ($500 – $900/month for 1 year)
• Breaking = $2,400 – $3,600 ($40-$60/day for 60 days)
• Training = $9,000 – $16,200 (training $50-$90/day 6 months)
TOTAL = $18,900 – $32,100

With the additional costs, the investment in a single 2yo racehorse is between $42,400 and $79,000 and many won’t race until their third year further increasing the investment to $61,300 – $111,100.

In recognition of the importance of breeders as the engine of the racing industry, and since breeders aren’t always able to make a living selling their stock at the sales, many jurisdictions have introduced bonus payments to the breeders of horses that perform well on the track; the more prestigious the race, the greater the reward. In many cases, these rewards are for the lifetime of the horse, regardless of ownership.

Done well, these programs support a vibrant racing industry allowing breeders to improve the quality of their stock which in turn elevates the quality of racing at the track. It’s a powerful positive cycle which also benefits the rural economies as caring for horses is highly labour intensive.

When these programs are underfunded or unstable, however, the entire industry suffers. Breeders downsize operations or close them completely. The result is fewer horses at the track creating a shortage of horses to race. Since handicappers prefer to bet on full fields the handle is affected and racetracks struggle to stay afloat. To accommodate the decline, fewer race days are offered which gives breeders and owners even less opportunity to realize a profit and the downward spiral continues.

In this series, we take a closer look at breeder award programs in four different areas: How have they prospered? What problems have they encountered? How are they funded? Click here to read about New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ontario.