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Buying a Broodmare

By Dana Halvorson

Many choices abound, but it pays to do your homework

One of the truest adages in the horse business is: “It costs just as much to feed a bad horse as a good horse.” This is never truer then when buying a broodmare. Whereas, when buying a yearling or two-year-old, you will find out fairly quickly whether or not you’ve made a good buy, it could take three, four or five foals to find your fate with a
broodmare. That makes it imperative to make an informed decision when shopping for a mare. Hopefully, this article will provide you with some general ideas and guidelines to make the selection process a little easier. After all, there is nothing quite like breeding and raising a foal and seeing it get to the races. It’s just like watching one of your children compete.

The first item influencing your decision to buy a broodmare is whether her offspring are to be sold or whether you plan to keep and race them yourself. While these options and how you view a mare’s pedigree, etc. aren’t mutually exclusive, if you want the option of selling her progeny, whether as a weanling, yearling or two-year-old, you have to be a little more careful.

Breeding to Sell or the Importance of Black-type Close Up

First, something has to be happening in the first dam. The mare has to have been a legitimate stakes horse or be a sister or half-sister to a substantial stakes runner. You need to remember that the mare’s resultant foal will drop down on the catalog page a notch. (See examples.) Your mare’s first dam will be the foal’s second dam, and so on, as your mare’s family moves “down” the generations on the page. Consequently, if you have to go to the third dam, or further, to find stakes horses, you probably won’t be going to any of the selected sales with your foal, based on pedigree.

The other part of the equation is, of course, the sire of the foal. The better the stallion; i.e., race record, pedigree line, stud fee, etc.; the better the chance you will have a marketable offspring.

Breeding to Race Gives You a Few More Options

Another option when buying a mare is to race her foals yourself. In that case, you may choose your mares, your stallions and their families a little bit differently. But it is important to keep in mind, that if you do decide to sell an offspring of this mare, or maybe even the mare herself, that she and her foals need to have some commercial and marketable appeal (see above).

Try to buy a young mare from a deep quality family. Many times, with top families, quality racehorses can “skip a generation,” and while you might not get an immediate, say first generation, return, the depth of family will still continue to be an upside.

And remember; don’t breed that filly or mare just because she’s a female! Many a person has made an unprofitable and unsuccessful mistake of breeding a mare just because she’s “handy” and not because she, or her offspring, truly have the chance to succeed as racehorses. It is always better not to count on any miracles to appear.

How Important is the Covering Stallion?

The first thing to remember is to buy the mare first. It is great to have her in foal to a good sire, but after that foal has gone down the road, you are still left with the mare. What happens if she aborts that “promising foal” or it is born with less than promising conformation? You may have “paid” for a maximum stud fee and have nothing but a cheap mare to show for it later.

Does the Age of the Mare Matter?

Most buyers want a young mare, so consequently they cost more. There is an advantage to buying mares that only have a foal or two – especially if they are sired by good stallions – or mares that are carrying their first foal. For one thing, the seller really doesn’t know whether the mare’s foals can run or not, anymore than the buyer does.

My own personal sales “barometer” says that if a mare hasn’t had a runner of significance by the age of 10, you are in a state of “limbo” with that particular mare. When a mare reaches 10 to 12 years of age, she begins to depreciate significantly. By that point, she needs to be a stakes producer in order to give you a better chance at success.

Older mares may cost less at a sale, and you might occasionally get a good bang for your buck; i.e., better catalog page, more proven offspring. The disadvantages include potential fertility problems and limited production years remaining.

Is the Conformation of the Broodmare Important?

Absolutely! Try to find a mare with minor faults and who has the physical capacity to carry a foal to term. Older mares sometimes show their age, but if I were seriously considering buying one – as long as they look healthy – I would be more concerned with her production record and how her foals sold at auction. The price of her foals, especially compared to others by the same sire, will give you a pretty good idea about how they looked physically.

What’s a Good Way to Get Started?

Get good advice! And I repeat, get good advice! Use a professional, if possible, but always make sure to check his or her references. Just because favorite Uncle Joe went to Longacres, or even Belmont Park, as a kid, doesn’t make him qualified to advise you in matters pertaining to bloodstock purchases. Honesty and integrity are essential, and previous successful purchasing is paramount. Do your homework!

Where Do You Look for a Mare?

One can buy a mare privately or at public auction. One of the primary sources of breeding stock is the Keeneland November sale. Other auctions which offer a wide range of broodmares include the Keeneland January sale, the October or January Ocala Breeders Sales, Barretts’ October venue, and, of course, the WTBOA Summer Yearling and Mixed Sale in August. The biggest advantage to purchasing broodmares at the eastern auctions is the array of choice available.

When your new purchase drops her foal in Washington, that foal automatically becomes a Washington-bred and is therefore eligible for Washington-bred breeders’ awards if it wins at Emerald Downs, whether you still own the foal or even the mare at that point. This puts you in line to recoup some of your original investment. You then have the opportunity to breed that nice young mare back to a nice local stallion of your choice.

Whether you have plans to be a market breeder, or just have a few homebreds running in your own silks, the secret to success in the breeding business is quality.

If you have a product that somebody wants, all the pieces will fit in place and you will be able to realize the enjoyment and satisfaction that comes with being a part of the Thoroughbred breeding industry. Until then, happy hunting!

Dana Halvorson, a longtime WTBOA board member and sales committee member, has been involved in Thoroughbred sales since 1981. His Halvorson Bloodstock Services LLC has been responsible for bringing many significant horses to the Pacific northwest, including broodmares, stallions and future runners.

Published online October 15, 2006