Strict rules govern breeding of popular racehorses
By GEOFF PARKS
For the Capital Press
Members of a thoroughbred horse owners group contend that successfully raising the animals -- the favorite breed for the racetrack gambling industry -- might be the biggest gamble of all.
According to Oregon Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association board member Ryland Harwood, the process that ends with the best thoroughbred horse is guided by the notion of "breeding the best to the best and hoping for the best." Harwood, 66, is a retired dentist who owns 20 thoroughbred horses and races many of them at the Portland Meadows race track.
The 365-member OTOBA was begun in 1944 to address the need to "gather together individuals who could promote the breeding of registered thoroughbred horses" for racing -- and other purposes. Wendie Hayes-Pounds is the OTOBA's executive director; she owns and races 14 thoroughbreds.
Hayes-Pounds said the breed can be traced back to three Arabian stallions used as the original bloodstock. Bred to suitable mares through the years, the breed was "refined to the type of horses the owners wanted," Hayes-Pounds said.
For the most part, that meant racehorses, although those that don't have success at racing can become polo horses or jumping horses.
"They gotta have the mind for (racing)," said Roland Ferguson, another OTOBA board member and owner of 10 of the horses. "The horse will tell you what you want to know if you're smart enough to read it."
There are strict rules within the OTOBA for producing new members of the breed.
There are 58 registered thoroughbred stallions in Oregon and 376 active breeding mares, Hayes-Pounds said, adding that breeding is "live cover only" -- no artificial insemination or other methods allowed.
And that's where the gambling comes in.
Mares come into heat every three weeks. After breeding, less than 60 percent of bred mares produce a live foal, she said. The foals are active and easily injured. Some don't develop until the age of five. Even at the age of two or three -- the "money racing" years -- the horses can be prone to a career-ending injury at any time.
But for those animals showing promise for the racetrack, the rewards for both owner and horse can be immense. Owners stand to make thousands of dollars at the track and some of their retired male horses command thousands more in stud fees.
Oregon agriculture plays a big part in the successes of the thoroughbred horse industry as well, Harwood said.
"Farmers have a big impact on us. We need whole oats, corn and barley for feed, wheat straw for bedding -- up to 70,000 bales a year -- and our alfalfa is shipped in from eastern and central Oregon," he said. The mixture of corn, oats and barley mixed with molasses provides 9 to 14 percent protein for the energetic thoroughbreds.
Membership dues in the OTOBA are $55 for individuals and $75 for couples or partners, and the group distributes to its members bonus money to owners of Oregon-bred horses that are consistently high placers in races at Portland Meadows.