Day At The Track

The breeding Industry fading fast in Illinois

02:35 AM 29 Jun 2013 NZST
Comment (...) Tweet Share Email Print

The declining state of the Illinois horse racing and breeding industry really hasn't even been a topic for debate.

But with the legislature and the governor unable to agree on a way to help — read, allowing slot machines at race tracks — the situation seems to worsen every year.

“It’s headed toward being just a hobby,” said Kenneth “Doc” Walker, a veterinarian who along with his wife, Pat, owns Walker Standardbreds near Sherman, one of the largest harness horse breeding operations in the state. “The purses are just dwindling to that point. The prices we get for yearlings depend on what they can race for once they’re trained.”

And that amount has been declining compared to other states as they use money from slots to boost purses at out-of-state tracks.

“It’s a matter of purses not keeping up with other states,” said Charlyn Fargo, bureau chief of county fairs and horse racing at the Illinois Department of Agriculture. “Purses in Indiana are four times what they are in Illinois. They have slots.”

In 1993, harness race purses totaled $41.7 million in Illinois, but were only $24.3 million last year, according to the Illinois Racing Board.

The Department of Agriculture registers foals, mares and stallions in Illinois.

“There are incentives offered to Illinois-breds when they race,” Fargo said. “We want more babies born here. It’s good for agriculture.

“But Indiana, Ohio and other states have similar programs, and the horsemen are going to go where the money is.”

Some have simply packed up and left the state, Fargo said. Others have cut back on their operations dramatically.

Numbers, prices down

“We haven’t cut back as much as some of the others,” Walker said. “But if we don’t get a gambling bill, we made a big mistake.”

Walker Standardbreds has owned about 150 mares in the past; that number is now around 120.

“We were breeding around 400 mares for many years, but we’re now breeding 250 to 300,” he said. “We’re probably going to be not much over 200 for this year.”

In 2008, 414 mares were bred on the 400-acre horse farm the Walkers have owned since 1991. That number fell to 324 in 2012, with only 266 of those classified as Illinois-bred. Of the mares bred so far in 2013, 58 have been bred to out-of-state stallions.

The Walkers’ annual Land of Lincoln Yearling Sale, scheduled for Aug. 11, has always been a highlight of the year.

by Chris DETTRO (reprinted with permission by The State Journal-Register)

Comment (...) Tweet Share Email Print

Read More News About...

Stallion Name

Next article: