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Economy hitting Marion County horse farms

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Editor shares ideas

By Amy Ryffel-Kragh

The editor of the Florida Horse magazine, Mike Compton, gave insight into the impact of the horse industry on Marion County and its status when he spoke this week at the regular monthly meeting of the S.R. 200 Coalition.

Compton discussed the business in Ocala/Marion County and how it affects the area.

During his presentation, he showed several short videos that helped to illustrate the industry.

For example, there are more than 600 training centers and thoroughbred farms in the Sunshine State, according to the video compiled by the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association (FTBOA).

The horse business brings about $1.3 billion of “total economic impact” into Marion County and has created about 31,020 jobs.

Each year, approximately 3,500 to 4,000 foals are born in Marion County, which makes up about 12 to 13 percent of the entire foal population in the United States.

“We’re second only to Kentucky,” Compton said.

The state of Kentucky produces more than 10,000 foals per year.

But, even though Marion County is the second largest producer of foals and is the “Horse Capital of the World,” it is losing horse farms.

“The thoroughbred industry in the state is hurting right now,” he said. “We’re producing fewer foals, we have fewer stallions and we have fewer farms.”

To encourage horse owners to breed their horses in the county, the FTBOA has an incentive program and hands out $6 to $8 million annually.

Compton said Dick Hancock, executive vice president of the FTBOA, was in Tallahassee trying to get a bill passed, which would ultimately expand their breeders award program.

The bill also encourages people to sell and raise their horses in the county. Compton said they are hoping with some help from legislation that things will get back on course in the industry.

Top horses tied to county

In addition, Ocala is not only the “Horse Capital of the World,” but it is also the training capital of the world, Compton said. Many horses trained in Marion County have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby, The Preakness Stakes and The Belmont Stakes.

He said a lot of the horses that viewers see on the day of the Kentucky Derby have been in training camps in the county.

In 1956, a horse named, Needles, who was born and trained in Ocala, became the first Florida bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby.

Compton said Needles helped to put “Ocala on the map.” The horse was later retired and used as a stud in Marion County.

Then, there was the horse that had the odds stacked against him, Afleet Alex. Though his breeder lived in South Florida, the horse was born and trained in Marion County.

He was a sickly foal and would “not take to his mother.” He eventually was fed his mother’s milk through a beer bottle.

The once sick Afleet Alex went on to run in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in 2005.

“The horse is just a miraculous story,” Compton said. He finished third in the Kentucky Derby that year and won the other two races.

Compton showed the Coalition members a clip from the Preakness Stakes, where Afleet Alex tripped, but managed to keep going and win the race.

“I’ve been in this business 19 years and I’ve never seen a stretch run like that Preakness,” he said. Compton called the run “amazing.”

As for this year’s Kentucky Derby, Marion County born and raised horses are not plentiful.

“We’re pretty thin,” he said.

There were a few Florida bred horses that showed promise, but they did not make it.

However, “most of the horses in the race will have some kind of tie to Ocala/Marion County.”

Some might have been trained here, while others might have been sold at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales (OBS), he said.

The FTBOA owns the monthly The Florida Horse magazine, along with two other publications. The association was formed in the 1940s with about a dozen people members. Today, the organization has about 2,000 members.

The American Horse Council provides some of the data and stats to the FTBOA.

For more information about The Florida Horse magazine, visit www.theflordiahorse.com or for more information about the FTBOA visit www.ftboa.com.