Small horse farms struggle after recession - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Small horse farms struggle after recession

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Kate Lantaff Kate Lantaff
Zak Lantaff Zak Lantaff

LEXINGTON, KY (WAVE) - We often hear about Winstar, Three Chimneys and Lanes End the big, ultra successful, Kentucky race horse farms, but many much smaller farms produce some pretty big winners at the track.

It's those smaller farms that have also struggled since the recession hit. Some have closed their barn doors for good. 

The owners of a small horse farm in Lexington said the only way to survive is get smaller - and smarter, "I think we're on the endangered species list, only because the question becomes who will follow us," said owner Zak Lantaff.

Zak Lantaff and his wife Kate run Tahoma Farm in Lexington. They've sold colts for six figures, including one by Bernardini, but sale prices dropped 60 percent in the recession, which was not the case with other costs. Kata explained, "There's a lot of nights you sit up thinking how am I gonna do this next week, how am I gonna make payroll, how am I gonna make whatever it is - make that next bill?"

One way to make that bill is to empty some of the stalls. Tahoma used to have 18 to 20 mares dropping foals producing beautiful colts and fillies. Now they have six and said they may need to cut back even more.

"The mom and pops are under a lot of stress. It's hard to do this. I don't think we've taken a vacation in 15 years," Zak explained.

With fewer horses coming to sale demand has gone up but Kate said so has the quest for the perfect horse, "Hand in hand with that has been this unbelievable quest for perfection. I mean if you go to sale you have to be so perfect if you're gonna be in the top five percent."

Little flaws that won't affect racing and didn't use to affect price can now drastically reduce the sales price of a young horse. So to hedge their bet Tahoma no longer sells all these newborns within a year, they keep some to race. If the sales don't go  well it offers a chance to pull in some revenue from the track.

Maybe they'll raise a Derby winner, "We're capable as anybody else of foaling that, breeding that horse and getting it there and now we have the ability to get it there ourselves,"said Kate.

In the end, the Lantaff's want horse racing to win and Kentucky horse farms to thrive. And while Zak thinks expanded gaming could he calls it fools gold, "We've got a much more exciting product than sitting and pulling a slot lever. If we don't do a better job of marketing to young people and getting them involved in the excitement of the sport,  we're doomed."

Despite the changes they have had to make both said they will never stop raising race horses and that Kentucky is the best place to do just that. To Zak it's the best life imaginable, "If you're not smiling at the end of the day here, we've said this to our staff in the past, then you need to find something else to do."

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