Although the bulk of the juvenile sales season has been pushed back, Lonny Powell, CEO of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, shared his thoughts on why the Florida market has been such a commercial strength.
Q: What does the Florida climate offer that makes it an asset to the equine industry?
A: “About 15,000 young Thoroughbreds train annually in Florida, specifically Marion County, as they prepare to become racehorses. Horses in training in Florida miss very few days thanks to the mild climate, unlikeliness of frozen ground, snow and ice. The limestone rich soil and mineral rich spring-fed aquifers aid in the development of young horses. The large amount of pristine farmland with rolling hills and large stands of shady live oak trees makes for an idyllic place to raise and train thoroughbreds.
In addition to the climate, Florida has excellent training centers, sales prep, mare care facilities and world class reproduction, veterinary, professional and support services. The concentration of 80,000 horses in Marion County alone creates a synergy of services rarely found elsewhere in the world. Multiple feed mills specializing in blends of racehorse feeds and supplements are located in the county along with national and international shipping services.”
Q: What makes the Florida horsemen/women unique?
A: “Operations in Florida range from small to large footprints. They offer tailored, specialized, friendly service and excellent horsemanship skills. Florida has its share of leaders in every sector of the thoroughbred industry and especially when it comes to preparing horses to race and horses for the sales arena. In fact, it was a group of Ocala area breeders that created the concept of two-year-old in training sales to market their horses in the 1950s. The idea, once novel, is a mainstay of the sales season worldwide. Ocala Breeders’ Sales is the leader of two-year old in training sales hosting globally renowned sales in March, April and June bringing buyers from as many as 49 states and 38 countries.
Florida’s Department of Agriculture has created a favorable business environment with exemptions for horses purchased from their original breeder. Feed and animal health items are exempt and there is no personal income tax for the state.
Florida stallions are also part of this mix and there are some very valid reasons to think about them when heading to the sales. Sometimes Florida stallions are overlooked at the sales, however, one of the industry’s pleasantly surprising numbers is the success of the runners by Florida stallions. In 2019, 70% of the Florida-breds running first through third at the Gulfstream Park Championship meet were by Florida stallions with the percentage increasing to 77% for the spring/summer meet. The average for all tracks for Florida stallions was 75% from January through September 2019. When breeding, there is no tax on stallion seasons and there is a breeding stock exemption.
In addition, horses by an FTBOA registered Florida stallion may be eligible for the lucrative Florida Sire Stakes which features over $1.6 million in stakes purses at Gulfstream with an emphasis on 2 year-olds as well as additional stakes purses for older horses including two at Tampa Bay Downs.
Florida-breds of all ages and categories also benefit significantly from money offered on select Gulfstream Park overnight races through the popular Florida Bred Incentive Fund.
Things have evolved to where if you want to compete for the serious year-round racing money at Gulfstream, you have to have some competitive Florida-bred and Florida-bred/Florida-sired horses in your shedrow or on your shopping list!”
Q: What does the infrastructure in Ocala, Marion Co and Florida offer in general?
A: “If you fly over Marion County, you will see the extensive infrastructure of more than 750 thoroughbred farms. It’s impressive to see from above the number of oval shaped training tracks and facilities that dot the landscape. Some centers are private and some are commercial so access to a training track is available year-round. The Ocala Breeders Sales training center is a perfect example of a public training track where horses can travel over the synthetic surface to train while preparing for their under tack performances prior to the sales.
Training centers offer a wide range of services including dirt, synthetic and European style turf courses along with state-of-the art equipment for sports rehab and therapy. Training centers that do not have their own rehab centers are closely located to many in the Central Florida area. Practitioners are abundant thanks to Marion County leading the country with more horses than any other county. These 80,000 horses and a host of other disciplines mean a lot of practitioners are available for thoroughbreds. The concentration of the thoroughbred breeding and training industry is strongly supported by a network of equine services and specialists, such as veterinarians, tack retailers, blacksmiths, equine dentists, and major horse transportation companies. Top notch facilities are also located in South Florida including Payson Park and Palm Meadows.”
Q: Talk about the history of the 2-year-old sales in Florida and the sales companies?
A: “As mentioned previously, Ocala breeders promoted the first two-year-old in training sales in the country to sell what they raised and to show that the Sunshine State could produce runners. They decided that creating the marketplace was better than relying on private sales or another market. Fasig-Tipton played an early role in the 1950’s in South Florida and continues to do so with a sale at Gulfstream annually. Also in the 1950s, the Florida Breeders’ Sales Company held a monopoly on the sales in Florida for 16 years until 1974 when Ocala Breeders’ Sales was formed making it the largest mixed-sales company in the world at the time.
In 1984, OBS bought out FBSC and began conducting two-year-old in training sales which in 2019 held 74% of the market share for juveniles attributing to $139 million. This is up from 60% only five years ago. Sales grads competing in the Breeders’ Cup from 2017 to 2019 resulted in seven wins. OBS sales grads accounted for 18 first, second and third place finishes in Cup races – 11 more than the next closest sale. From 2018-2019, OBS grads have won 411 stakes, finished in the top three 1,246 times, and recorded 116 graded stakes wins.
Among horses sold at OBS are Florida-breds that many times stay and compete at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs. Florida-breds in 2018 earned $109,306,827 and $20,704,431 of which was stakes earnings in Florida. Florida-breds by Florida sires compete particularly well and offer value to buyers as evidenced by last year’s Gulfstream Park numbers. Florida-bred bonuses and Florida Sire Stakes bonuses are offered at all levels at Florida racetracks.”
Q: Put into context the economic impact to Ocala/Marion Co and the state of Florida
A: “The impact of the thoroughbred industry to Florida is $2.7 billion with one in four horses in Florida being a Thoroughbred. The industry supports 23,000 jobs and equine operations cover more than 195,000 acres of prime land in Marion County alone and more statewide. The impact of OBS sales is $1 billion from 2000 to 2018. The annual economic impact of the Sunshine State’s thoroughbred industry exceeds the annual economic impact of baseball Spring Training.”