Buying a Broodmare to Produce Racehorse Prospects
Buying A Broodmare
Buying a broodmare is easy. You just go to a sale and hold up your hand. Buying the right broodmare is more difficult.
The "Right broodmare" can best be defined as one that gives you the highest probability of producing a good racehorse and making money--and is priced within your budget.
Before we go further in the search for Ms. Right, let's deal with an idea that causes deadly mischief in the broodmare selection process: that mares used for breeding to sell and mares used for breeding to race are somehow different.
This concept is usually expressed like this: "I know her foals won't be worth much at the sale, but it doesn't matter because I'm going to race them myself."
But people who buy racing prospects buy them to race, and a foal that isn't worth much at the sale isn't worth much because all those bidders think it has little potential as a racehorse.
In addition, common sense tells you that buying a mare with market potential is prudent, because it gives you flexibility. You can sell foals you don't want to race without taking a financial loss.
What does such a mare cost?
Considering all the variables, from age to pregnancy status, to breeding history, the question is almost impossible to answer.
A top-of-the-line model costs many hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's always true. But for less glamorous stock, the market changes constantly. This year, following good yearling sales in most parts of the country, it may take as much as $30,000 to buy a serviceable mare.
But a patient buyer with a small bankroll can frequently find a mare who meets the minimum specifications for much less. It does take patience, though.
There's no "best place" to find such a mare. The best place is where you find the mare you want at an acceptable price. That could be anywhere, but beyond question you'll find the largest collection of desirable mares at the November sales in Kentucky.
A regional sale may have a half-dozen (or fewer) mares who qualify; in the Kentucky sales, primarily Keeneland but also Fasig-Tipton Kentucky there are hundreds.
Attacking a sale catalog can be daunting, especially if it comes in multiple volumes like Keeneland's, but the numbers can be carved down to size by following the steps outlined below. This article can't deal with the subject of conformation, but a good rule of thumb is this: Don't buy a mare if you don't want a foal that looks like her.
Checking the conformation of large numbers of mares takes time and effort, and there's no point in going to all that trouble to look at mares you may not want anyway. So here are tests to apply to those catalog pages that will reduce the inspection list to manageable numbers.
Step 1. Most people have an age requirement. Start out by eliminating mares that are older--or
younger--than you want.
Step 2. Eliminate all mares whose pregnancy status--in foal or not in foal--doesn't meet your requirements.
Mares bred too late in the year can also be crossed off at this point.
Step 3. Eliminate all mares that have four or more foals of racing age and haven't produced a black-type
Step 4. Eliminate all the remaining mares who haven't produced a black-type runner or were not black- type
runners themselves and do not have at least one black-type winner of $100,000 or more above the
words "2nd dam" on the catalog page.
With those four surgical strikes you've eliminated the majority of the mares in the catalog without having had to make a single decision.
Step 5. Brings us to the question of the mare's race record. If she's already produced a good stakes
horse, the question is moot; she's a producer, and that's what you want. If she's not such a
producer, you have to decide how important it is to you that she has been successful on the
Nobody knows how much racing ability adds to a mare's producing potential. Everyone agrees that racing ability is desirable, but it obviously isn't necessary, because many, many outstanding horses have come from mares who either didn't run or couldn't.
If you can afford and think it matters enough, making a good race record one of your requirements. But if you're on a limited budget, you may have to take a mare with a race record you're not that thrilled about.
Remember, though, that inferring racing ability from a catalog page isn't as simple as it might appear. A winning mare might have done that winning in cheap claimers at Delta Downs; an unplaced mare might have run fourth in straight maiden races at Belmont Park. You can deal with that problem only by research. Fortunately for buyers at Kentucky sales, such research is both simple and free.
Representatives of the two major Thoroughbred data bases are on duty at the sales with their computers and will print out such information for you, free of charge.
These five preliminary steps in the search for desirable broodmares have been simple. Now it gets more difficult.
Step 6: Dealing with the sire of the mare, gives plenty of room for individual preferences and bankrolls.
Best of all is the stallion that’s been among the leading broodmare sires for years and years, but most breeders would be happy to own a mare by just any major sire. But mares that have met all the above requirements and are also daughters of major sires can be very expensive.
Breeders with heavy bankrolls will go ahead and pay the price in order to gain the added probabilities that such a sire provides. A breeder on a limited budget usually has to settle for a mare by a lesser sire, unless he makes the serious mistake of buying a mare that’s by a top sire and has no other virtues. Those mares are affordable because sophisticated breeders know that the sire alone does not make a broodmare.
Many good stakes winners are produced by mares sired by undistinguished stallions; a mare by such a sire is not fatally flawed. Compromise is in order here, and an otherwise desirable mare by a weak sire is much to be preferred over the opposite. Narrow the list of survivors by eliminating all mares by sires that you just can't stand. Among mares that are otherwise desirable, that may be very few.
If the mare has already produced a stakes horse, the sire question has been answered. He's okay.
Step 7. Remembering that the whole breeding enterprise is an exercise in probabilities, take a hard look
at the produce records of those mares without four foals to race.
If a mare has three or more foals on the ground that is by low-probability sires, scratch her from your list. The chances that any runner by a poor sire will become a stakes horse are low, so you can predict with a high degree of accuracy that such foals out of this mare will fail, too.
You are, in effect, culling the mare as a failed producer, in advance, thus sparing yourself the agony and expense of having her lose value while on your payroll.
Now the groundwork has been laid and the search for that "right broodmare" has reached its final stages. Most of the mares remaining on the list have a reasonable chance of producing a quality runner and/or a profitable sale horse.
So now it's on to fine tuning, and here are points to consider, in no particular order:
Number 1: The quality of the fetus.
Paying a premium for a mare in foal to an expensive stallion can be a good investment, but it's risky. Except in rare cases, live-foal guarantees by stallion owners aren't transferred to a new owner; there's no refund if the mare doesn't produce a live foal, and even good mares aren't guaranteed to produce desirable foals every time.
So it comes down to price--how much extra to pay for the added value of the fetus? Much less risky is buying a mare in foal to a lesser stallion. That way you get more mare for your money.
However, if you're willing to gamble, the sale of that potentially expensive foal she's carrying can produce a handsome profit if everything goes right. But unless you're primarily a speculator rather than a breeder, make sure she's a mare you want to own after that foal is out of her.
Number 2: The good race mare from the poor female family. Every so often a quality runner will emerge from a
female family that has been unproductive for generations.
Such mares sometimes become successful producers themselves--though infrequently--but most people believe that a strong female family with black-type runners flowing down through the generations offers higher probabilities of success and thus is a better place to put your money.
A good one to scratch from your buying list is the minor stakes mare--a winner of less than $100,000, say, with no placing in graded stakes--with no stakes winners under her first two dams.
Following the same theme, it's time now to take another look at some of the mares that passed our earlier tests. Those are the mares that have produced stakes horses. That's a big plus, but--as is the case with the mares discussed above--if there's little or no other black type in the female family, that stakes horse has to be a pretty significant winner to make the mare worth owning.
Number 3: Fertility.
No matter how strong a mare's credentials, she isn't worth much if she doesn't produce foals. Almost every mare takes a year off now and then; that's to be expected. Two barren years in a row should send up warning flags, as should a late current final breeding date coming off a barren year.
Aborting--or "slipping," as it used to be called--is usually followed by a barren year. A mare should get only one black mark instead of two when those two years show up on her produce record.
A mare with fertility problems may be worth buying, but only at a discount and only if she's something special otherwise.
Number 4: The probability of improvement in the pedigree.
The best way to get more mare than you pay for is to buy a mare with active females under the first dam. Some old first dams may have dozens of female descendants whose offspring can add black type up close on the catalog page. Others may have not a single producing female under that first dam.
Buying a mare with producing females under the first dam--especially those being bred to high-quality sires--makes it possible for that mare's value to increase through no effort of her own. A computer printout will provide all the information necessary to gain that advantage.
Number 5: The old stakes producer.
Buying an old mare that’s the dam of a high-class runner can be an appealing idea, but her produce record should be scrutinized. It's not uncommon to find that such a mare produced her good horse (or horses) a decade ago and has had nothing of value since. Such mares have announced that their good years are past and you shouldn't expect them to give you a runner like that earlier one. And in this Information Age, yearling buyers are likely to be onto her secret, too, so selling her foals at a profit may not be easy, and she isn't likely to produce anything you'll want to race.
Number 6: How much black type?
The non-stakes mare with a $100,000 black-type winner under her first dam is still on our list, but she barely qualifies. If she has just that one black-type horse under the first dam, at the least she should have a half-dozen or so black-type horses under the second dam. If she doesn't, scratch her off. Even if she does, she's still marginal.
A sounder investment is the mare with two or more black-type stakes winners under her first dam, at least one of them a graded stakes winner.
Number 7: The mare with well-bred foals coming to the races.
An excellent way to put you in the path of good fortune is to buy a mare with a weanling and a yearling--or even an unraced 2-year-old--by high-class sires. Based on their sires' records, those foals have a good chance of running well and increasing their dam's value.
There is always the chance that those are badly conformed foals and that's why the mare is being sold. One way to check that out is to see if any of those foals have sold at public auction. If they have, their prices are likely to show whether they were bad individuals. Or her weanling may be in the sale where she's selling, and if it is, you could look at it.
Generally, though, well-conformed mares produce well-conformed foals, and the risk is worth taking even if you know nothing about those foals.
Those are the guidelines, and when you've picked out the mares you want to buy, all you have to do is decide how much to pay. But you'll have to figure that out for yourself.