The recent Keeneland yearling sales sold 2,792 horses for a total of $272.9 million and an average of $97,740.  The sales topper brought $3 million, which was the largest amount paid for a yearling in the United States in 2017.

Dollar figures of this magnitude vividly demonstrate the sizeable business of buying and selling prospective racehorses.  But they obscure the risks and emotional pain that are inescapably part of breeding and raising horses.  A heartfelt discussion on Sirius radio between host Steve Byk (At the Races with Steve Byk) and bloodstock expert Sid Fernando on September 20, 2017, conveyed this point better than any words that could be written to describe the lows of breeding and raising horses.

Mr. Byk, a small-scale participant in breeding and racing, told of how he had bred three mares (one rescued from a kill pen on the way to slaughter) and ended up with only two of their offspring still living after several years, instead of six or seven.  He told how a weanling unexpectedly died from disease and a mare aborted her foal on New Year’s Eve.

You could tell from Mr. Byk’s tone that the experience still hurts him deeply.  Anyone who has ever lost a family pet knows how the feeling of emptiness lingers.  Like Mr. Byk, the primary motive for numerous breeders with only a few mares is usually the love of the game and certainly not hefty profits.

However, my guess (you can never know someone’s emotions for sure)  is that the vast majority of large-scale breeders are similarly affected.  While commercial breeders expect that there will inevitably be mares that don’t carry their foals to full term and foals and yearlings that get sick and die, they still are saddened by the losses, and not just because a possibly financially valuable asset has been lost.

[Click here to access the At the Races segment.  The discussion referenced begins at about 35 minutes into the segment.]


In another part of the Byk-Fernando dialogue, Mr. Byk told (not in a braggadocios way) of how he considered whether to breed a Dunkirk mare he raced.  In the end, he gave her to an eventer because, in his view, she was not good enough to propagate the breed.  This made me think about the preponderance of entries I see in the cheapest claiming races at lower-rung racetracks.  It is evident that breeders have too often mated undistinguished mares to stallions that have little or no qualifications to be sires.

On Thursday October 5, I will post another article about a few of the many people who show their love for horses via their actions.

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