Horse in­dus­try gal­lop­ing back

Ocala Breed­ers’ Sales is first event since lock­down

Orlando Sentinel - - Local & State - By Car­los E. Me­d­ina

OCALA — The horse in­dus­try in Mar­ion County is gear­ing up for its re­turn af­ter lock­downs brought on by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic caused events to be can­celed en masse.

The first back is Ocala Breed­ers’ Sales, which be­gins its four-day sale of 2-year-old thor­ough­breds to­day.

The sale lists more than 1,300 horses for sale, about the same num­ber that the can­celed April sale usu­ally draws. Horses started of­fi­cial work­outs ahead of the sale a week ear­lier at the Ocala fa­cil­ity about 80 miles north­west of Or­lando.

For some, it’s a make or break sale.

“It’s turned into our most im­por­tant sale. Peo­ple’s liveli­hoods are on the line here. There are peo­ple in town that have not sold a horse at pub­lic auc­tion all year,” said Ed­die Woods, a long­time Ocala-based con­signor.

The highly con­ta­gious new coro­n­avirus, which causes a dis­ease called COVID-19, hit at a cru­cial time in the thor­ough­bred in­dus­try. Spring is when sales, breed­ing and foal­ing are at their peak.

The pan­demic forced the can­cel­la­tion of auc­tions, and live rac­ing, in­clud­ing the post­pone­ment of the Ken­tucky Derby and Preak­ness Stakes, two of the three jew­els of the Triple Crown.

The Bel­mont Stakes was sched­uled to run on time on June 6 at Bel­mont Park. The Derby will run on Sept. 5 and the Preak­ness on Oct. 3.

With­out rac­ing, there was no in­cen­tive for own­ers to buy horses. But rac­ing is also mak­ing a come­back around the coun­try, with per­for­mances run with­out crowds. De­spite the lack of crowds, off-track wa­ger­ing is brisk.

Woods be­lieves top-tier horses will con­tinue to sell well, while those be­low that tier will keep strug­gling.

“We’ll keep the ex­pec­ta­tions high for the time be­ing,” he said, adding that he ex­pects the sale will draw plenty of buy­ers.

OBS quickly fol­lows up with an­other 2-year-old sale in July. The sales com­pany went for­ward with its March sale ear­lier this year, just as the pan­demic was start­ing to force clo­sures and can­cel­la­tions around the coun­try.

At the Florida Agri­cul­ture Cen­ter and Horse Park, shows are re­sum­ing af­ter the fa­cil­ity closed in midApril.

While shows re­sume at the 500-acre fa­cil­ity, the events will re­main closed to the gen­eral pub­lic, for the time be­ing, said Ja­son Reynolds, horse park ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor.

“We’re try­ing to limit the amount of spec­ta­tors. We just want to make sure we take it slow and do it cor­rectly,” Reynolds said. “We will only hold one show per week­end to make sure we pro­vide peo­ple with the proper dis­tance.”

He said many of the shows that can­celed are try­ing to resched­ule, but with most week­ends al­ready booked be­fore the pan­demic, space is hard to find. Sanc­tion­ing bod­ies for some of the shows also must ap­prove dates, so they don’t over­lap other events.

“It’s a strug­gle, but at least we are hold­ing events again. I know peo­ple couldn’t wait to get back out there,” Reynolds said.

In the mean­time, the World Eques­trian Cen­ter has an­nounced that it will move sev­eral com­pe­ti­tions held at its Ohio fa­cil­ity in Jan­uary to an Ocala fa­cil­ity it is build­ing.

When com­pleted, the am­bi­tious WEC project will boast a world-class eques­trian cen­ter fea­tur­ing cli­mate-con­trolled com­pe­ti­tion are­nas.

The fa­cil­ity an­nounced it will hold a 12-week show se­ries start­ing the first month of the year. The se­ries will in­clude the WEC Premier cham­pi­onships fea­tur­ing the Premier Equi­tation Cup and two Hunter Clas­sic Premier Cup classes.

Prizes in­clude a new car for each class win­ner. The Equi­tation Cup also fea­tures a $100,000 trainer bonus.

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