Lexington, KY --- Given the dearth of Standardbred stallions in Kentucky, it was unusual that the progeny of six stallions were victorious in the eight $250,000 finals of the Kentucky Sire Stakes for 2- and 3-year-old trotters and pacers at The Red Mile Sept. 1.
The sire stakes program is supported by the Standardbred industry’s share of the Kentucky Breeders’ Incentive Fund, money which comes from the six percent tax on stud fees in the state. But officials said they expect funding to be flat for next year’s program for a number of reasons.
“We hope to keep (the sire stakes) at $2 million next year,” said Jamie Eads, who oversees the KBIF for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. “I’m really not expecting growth because of changes in the business. It has flat-lined since 2008.”
Harness racing gets the bulk of its share of the KBIF from the tax on Thoroughbred stud fees. That revenue source isn’t expected to grow any time soon.
“Decreases in the number of mares and stallions, and changes in the payment terms of stallion fees, have affected the fund,” said Republican Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, who also attended the Kentucky Sire Stakes championships along with other members of the General Assembly.
Walnut Hall Limited of Lexington was among the owners who took home a $125,000 first-place check in the finals. Alan and Meg Leavitt of Walnut Hall bred and own the gelding Sorrento Hall, who powered away late to win the $250,000 final for 2-year-old colt and gelding trotters.
With Grand Circuit regular Mike Lachance driving for trainer Fred Grant, Sorrento Hall, by Walnut Hall stallion Groton Hall, trotted the mile in a lifetime best 1:58.
Samburu, a 2-year-old gelding bred and owned by Lynda and Robert Stewart of Lexington, finished second to Sorrento Hall. The Master Glide trotter is trained by Robert Stewart, who is based at The Red Mile.
Walnut Hall also bred and owns in partnership Ma Chere Hall, a Deweycheatumnhowe filly who won the $250,000 final for 3-year-old trotting fillies. She trotted the mile in 1:52.3 for driver Corey Callahan and trainer Jonas Czernyson.
Deweycheatumnhowe stood at Walnut Hall but was transferred to Ontario in 2010 and New York in 2013, to capitalize on that state’s gaming-aided breeding and racing program. Walnut Hall still stands three stallions -- Groton Hall, Cambest and Third Straight.
“Meg and I have been the only ones in Kentucky to stand at least a trotter and a pacer the last 20 years,” Leavitt said. “With the changes coming next year, I think it’s going to add tremendous value to yearlings.”
Beginning in 2014, the program will open up to stallions in other states under certain conditions. The mare must foal in Kentucky, and remain in the state for six months.
Thayer, who sponsors most of the horse industry legislation in Kentucky, said he was a “reluctant sponsor” of the bill that authorized the changes for Standardbred breeding. The industry, however, was unanimous in its support for the changes, he said.
“I took a leap of faith,” Thayer said. “I hope it brings more mares to Kentucky, and will have more horses racing for these big purses.”
Also on hand at The Red Mile were Gov. Steve Beshear and his wife, Jane, who made the trophy presentation for the first of the eight $250,000 finals. After the race, Beshear said he’s encouraged the struggling Standardbred industry has the $2 million to pay in purses for sire stakes, but he noted the competitive forces in other states.
“What we need in the state is expanded gambling,” Beshear said. “Other states are to have good purses and breeder incentive programs. It’s putting us at a disadvantage.”
The Red Mile reported total pari-mutuel handle in excess of $806,000 for 13 races Sunday evening. It was the highest one-day handle since 2011.