Treasure of the Midwest: Indiana Thoroughbred Horse Racing


Indiana-bred, Indiana-sired Thoroughbred Jeff the Runner (Benny the Bull) breaks maiden at Indiana Grand.
Indiana-bred Jeff the Runner breaking his maiden at Indiana Grand.

Nestled in the Midwest of the United States is a place where fields of corn and beans stretch as far as the eye can see, a place where the land is spotted with forests, lakes, and rivers, a place where the people are industrious and passionate: Indiana.


The sunrise beckons the hard-working residents of this state to rise from their slumber and head to work in factories, farms, and businesses that manufacture the products that supply our nation. At the end of a long day, Hoosiers find release by watching or playing their favorite sport.


It is no secret that the residents of this state are driven by their love of sports and of competition. Sports are just as integral to life here as manufacturing and agriculture. That’s why it’s no surprise that Indiana has an affinity for the thrill and contention of horse racing.


Harness racing has been essential to life in Indiana since the mid-1800s. Hoosiers have been loving the ‘don’t blink’ action of Quarter Horse racing since the 1950s. Horse racing is so important to Indiana that two of the state’s major sports teams are named after horse racing: the Indiana Pacers were named for both harness racing (investor Chuck Barnes was a horse racing enthusiast) and the pace car used in the Indy 500 (NBA.com). The Indianapolis Colts originally played in Baltimore and were given their name to pay homage to horse racing and breeding in Maryland. The name stuck when the team moved to Indiana and is still very fitting (Team Name Origin).


Post parade at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino, Shelbyville, Indiana, Thoroughbred horse racing
Post parade before a maiden special weight at Indiana Grand

The Start of Thoroughbred Racing in Indiana:


Hoosiers love speed and racing, hence Indiana being home to one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world - the Indianapolis 500. Being so, it only made sense that Indiana residents would fall head-over-heels for a breed that had more speed than their beloved trotting Standardbreds and more stamina than the quick Quarter Horses: the Thoroughbred.


Thoroughbred racing has taken place in Indiana from the time statehood was granted in 1816. However, this racing was mostly held at county fairs or special events and was never fully organized or commercialized, mostly due to the illegality of pari-mutuel betting (PorterHistory.org). Nevertheless, Hoosiers have had their hand in breeding Thoroughbreds and sending them to neighboring states to race for many years.


It wasn’t until the 1990s that Indiana had its first official racetrack. Virgil E. Cook, a prominent businessman and resident of Anderson, Indiana, donated 110 acres to the city for the sole purpose of developing a racetrack. Thanks to the legalization of pari-mutuel betting in 1993, Hoosier Park was built on the land donated by Cook and opened its doors for the first day of racing on September 1, 1994.


The first Thoroughbred meet was held in 1995 and saw the introduction of what would become the premier flat race in the state: the Indiana Derby. This Thoroughbred meet gave Hoosier residents the chance to race their Thoroughbreds in their home state and spurred an interest in breeding even more of them. Thus, the Indiana Thoroughbred Breed Development Program was founded in 1995.


A second track, Indiana Grand (originally named ‘Indiana Downs’) was opened in Shelbyville, Indiana in 2002 and held their first meet in December. The addition of the casino at Hoosier Park in 2008 and at Indiana Grand in 2009 not only allowed for an increase of purses at the track but also an increase in funding for the Breed Development program. Indiana’s Thoroughbred breeding and racing industry has been growing rapidly ever since.


Indiana bred and Sired Unbridled Spring filly bred by West Farms, foaled at Springcliff Farm
Indiana-bred & sired filly Quinn Again (Unbridled Spring - How Awesome Am I, Awesome Again) bred by West Farms. She was just a few days old in this photo taken at Springcliff Farm.

The Indiana Thoroughbred:


The Indiana-bred is a beautiful, well-designed racehorse. They have proven themselves to be versatile, durable, and capable of defeating horses that were thought to be of higher value. These horses have competed on some of racing’s biggest stages, like the Breeders’ Cup and Royal Ascot.


Among the most well-known and successful Indiana-breds are Bucchero, Piedi Bianchi, Unreachable Star, and Lady Fog Horn. Bucchero tops the list as the highest-earning Indiana-bred to date with a bankroll totaling $947,936, thanks to his numerous Indiana stakes wins and consecutive victories in the Woodford Stakes (G2) at Keeneland.


Lady Fog Horn, the second-highest earning Indiana-bred, also made waves by winning the Falls City Handicap (G2) at Churchill Downs. The mare currently poised to overcome her for the second spot, Piedi Bianchi, started her career running very well in Grade 1 races out in California, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, and has won stakes all over New York and in Indiana.


Indiana bred and sired Sky Judge (Sahara Sky) winning the Sagamore Sired Stakes at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino. Indy Dancers.
Indiana bred & sired Sky Judge (Sahara Sky) winning the Sagamore Sired Stakes at Indiana Grand.

The demand for these quality Indiana racehorses is increasing with each passing year. “When I first started in Indiana, I would buy them for $2,000 or $5,000, but the market has really increased,” Anthony Granitz, trainer of Lady Fog Horn, said of growing interest in Indiana’s Thoroughbreds. “People buy Indiana-breds that sell for six figures and that’s positive for the breeding program - that people are willing to invest in our state.”


The affordability and profit potential of Indiana-breds has been drawing a lot of attention from the horse racing industry. Piedi Bianchi cost just $80,000 when she sold at the Ocala Breeders Sale as a two-year-old. She has since generated more than 10x that amount in earnings alone, not including the awards her breeders and owners have accumulated throughout her career.


Bucchero was purchased for just $43,000 as a two-year-old but went on to defeat horses like Lady Aurelia, a mare purchased for $350k as a yearling and sold for $7.5 million at the end of a career that included two Grade 1 wins; Marsha, a two-time Grade 1 winner that sold for more than $8.4 million; and Mongolian Saturday, a Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner. Bucchero took his connections to prestigious racing events like the Breeders’ Cup and Royal Ascot, proving that Indiana-breds can be competitive at this sport’s highest levels.


[Video: Watch this video on trainer Tim Glyshaw, featuring Bucchero and Unreachable Star]


The success of these horses has shone a spotlight on Indiana’s breeding program and drawn the attention of Thoroughbred breeders from all over the world. Some of these breeders have transferred some of their finest mares to Indiana to foal, others have scoured public auctions for new mares and then brought them to Indiana to take advantage of the state’s mare incentive program. Indiana offers up to $2,000 in incentives for new mares foaling in the state.


There are plenty of stallions available in Indiana for those who want to reap the benefits of having an Indiana-sired horse or for those who need to meet a breed-back requirement to obtain a full $2000 mare incentive. Among them are horses like Unbridled Express, Indiana’s Leading Sire and Leading Juvenile Sire in 2019 and 2020; Skylord, Indiana’s Leader by Percentage of Black Type Winners in 2020; Santiva, a sire of 25% juvenile stakes winners; and Harry’s Holiday, sire of stakes winners Holy Justice, Hard Luck Justice, and Voodoo Justice.

Indiana bred & Ready's Image sired Chipofftheoldblock at Indiana Grand. Mike Lauer Racing Stables
Chipofftheoldblock, a leading runner for Indiana sired Ready's Image, before a stakes race at Indiana Grand

Indiana also has a wealth of farms for breeders and owners to choose from for all their foaling, breeding, and boarding needs. Each farm is filled with staff who care immensely about the health and happiness of every horse in their care. Though the prices for boarding and stud fees may be lower than those in places like Lexington, Kentucky, the standards of care here are the same. Each horse is treated with hands that are gentle yet firm when necessary, patience, and kindness.


Horses who are foaled and raised here grow up strong and healthy under the watchful eyes of those who run or work at the farms.


Breeders who choose to sell their registered Indiana-bred foal can usually expect a nice return on their investment. The Indiana Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association’s (ITOBA) 2021 Fall Mixed Sale saw 64 horses sell for a total of $640,900, making the average more than $10,000. The sale topper was a yearling filly by Bucchero that sold for $48,000. Indiana-breds make waves at sales all over the country. Indiana-breds that went through the ring at the Fasig-Tipton October Sale brought prices like $250,000 and $145,000.


The earning doesn’t stop for breeders after the sale; they earn 20% of the purse of any race that their horse wins at Indiana Grand and 10% of the purse - capped at $10,000 - for any race won outside of Indiana. This can lead to quite a handsome sum of money. ITOBA takes this even further by rewarding $5,000 to both the consignor and buyer of the highest-money earning Indiana-bred or sired two-year-old at Indiana Grand that was purchased as a yearling at their Fall Mixed Sale.


“We all hope to have that yearling that we hit a home run selling, but if you don’t always get that huge sale price those horses can still go on to win,” Dr. Tony Wolfe, the consignor of the second-highest priced yearling at the ‘21 ITOBA Sale explained. “That’s still a nice way for the breeders to get something on the backside if they don’t get a huge sale price.”


All of these success stories and awards have acted as a magnet for breeders and owners who want to find a place to grow their business and thrive in this industry.


[Video: Listen to Tony Wolfe, DVM talk about his experience with Indiana horse racing]


Indiana Grand Racing & Casino:


The state’s only Thoroughbred racetrack, Indiana Grand Racing & Casino, hosts a racing meet from April to November each year. The Indiana program’s good reputation among horsemen, competitive purses, and great racing draws horsemen from Indiana and surrounding areas to participate.


Indiana Grand is known for having clean and safe facilities on the backside. “I love the facilities,” said trainer Anthony Granitz. “Indiana Grand is probably one of the cleanest facilities. The backstretch, they take care of it. There are always things that they are working on improving.”


The track is constantly making improvements to its infrastructure to boost life at the track. In April of 2021, Indiana Grand announced the construction of a new 100-stall barn and 50-room dormitory. The barn will be enclosed, winterized, and include 10 wash bays, 10 tack rooms, and two restrooms. The dormitory will provide housing to the additional people hired to care for the horses that will fill the new barn and will have central heat and A/C, laundry facilities, and community bathrooms for both men and women. (tammyknox.wixsite.com)


Indiana Grand Racing & Casino backside, barns
Indiana bred Fashion Diva and assistant trainer Jose Cazares on the backside of Indiana Grand

The paddock was updated with rubberized bricks in the walking ring, stalls, and ramp in 2020 and a beautiful memorial plaque to Jonathan B. Schuster, the former vice president and general manager of Indiana Grand, was unveiled outside of it.


Physically improving the track isn’t the only step that Indiana is taking to support the horsemen that race there. The state chapter of Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protection Association represents horsemen and provides them with various services that can improve their lives. These services include health care services, education, chaplaincy, and insurance coverage.


Members of the HBPA include the people who work on the backside of the racetrack such as grooms, hot walkers, pony riders, and trainers, as well as owners. There are over 2000 members of this organization, led by a board of volunteers that is elected every three years.


The Indiana HBPA negotiates with the track on things like schedule and working conditions. They represent the horsemen in promoting effective and appropriate state and federal legislation, rules and regulations, and racing policies.


HBPA board member Michael Lauer & stakes winning Indiana bred filly Copper Nickel at Indiana Grand
HBPA board member & prominent breeder/trainer Michael Lauer helps Copper Nickel cool off after she won a stakes race.

The HBPA often hosts events that benefit the horsemen or improve the image of horse racing to the general public. These events included things like “Grand Mornings at the Track”, golf outings, picnics, ice cream socials, and much more. The HBPA also regularly honors hard workers on the backside with a “Barn Crew of the Month” award.


Additionally, Indiana Grand’s ever-growing purses help the horsemen thrive. “The purses are really nice in Indiana, they are structured very well,” breeder, owner, and veterinarian Tony Wolfe said. “I think Indiana tries to support the owners and the trainers. Very competitive fields, great racing, and the track is beautiful. Indiana Grand has a very nice facility. You probably couldn’t ask for a better place to race.”


“They’re investing in the infrastructure at the track because they see the value. Indiana has been very good about supporting the horsemen - the owners, the breeders, all of them. I think all of that is a very positive sign about Indiana’s program that’s already really strong.”


Indiana Grand has become a beloved track among horsemen thanks to their competitive purses, clean facilities, and excellent community support.


“I really enjoy Indiana Grand, I really like the management and the people that handle things there,” said trainer and HBPA board member Anthony Granitz. “It’s like a family - you can go talk to people there and your word will be heard and suggestions are taken with positive attitudes.”

Indiana bred and sired Sky Judge after winning Sagamore Sired Stakes.
Sky Judge & jockey Orlando Mojica meet their team at the winner's circle after winning the Sagamore Sired Stakes.

Horse Racing Helps Indiana:


Horse racing in Indiana has a huge impact on Indiana’s economy. A single racehorse can employ a plethora of people, including the breeder, the bloodstock agent, the owner, the trainer, the groom, the hot walker, the exercise rider, the farrier, the veterinarian, the jockey, etc. The list truly goes on and on.


Horse racing does not only affect the people who work at the racetrack. In fact, what happens at the track is just a small portion of how horse racing stimulates Indiana’s economy. The horse industry provides a living to the many employees at the farm’s around the state, the feed and equipment suppliers, truck drivers, insurance people, real estate agents, and more.


There is someone employed by or providing services to the horse racing industry in each one of Indiana’s 92 counties.


Tony Wolfe, DVM of Wolfe Equine Services at Breakway Farm.
Tony Wolfe, DVM scans a foal's lungs with help from Janice and Tara of Breakway Farm.

“We feed a large part of central Indiana’s farms,” said a representative for the Orchard Country Store (Mooresville, IN). “We’ve been doing delivery for 3 or 4 years now. The delivery on its own, which is primarily horse farms, is 45% of our business. As a small, family-owned business, these horse farms quite literally put food on my dinner table.”


“I’m not necessarily involved directly with horses, but I am involved with feeding those horses which impacts me wonderfully. It’s a blessing to be a part of this business.”


Indiana Grand Racing & Casino alone employs almost one thousand people in Shelby County, providing more than $36 million in employment. According to HBPA director Brian Elmore, the horse racing industry as a whole has an economic impact of more than $1 billion. (Interview)


Clearly, horse racing is essential to life in Indiana.

Mizzen My Momma and Indiana-bred Paynter colt at Springcliff Farm.
Mizzen My Momma & her Indiana-bred Paynter colt at Springcliff Farm, 2020.

Indiana Makes Dreams Come True:


Being a part of getting a racehorse to the winner's circle is a dream that many people possess. In Indiana, making these dreams come true is more of a possibility than ever.


You do not have to have millions of dollars or a lifetime of experience to become a breeder or owner in this state. Indiana has many programs to help individuals learn more about this industry and make decisions that will lead them to success. The Indiana Thoroughbred Alliance (ITA), for example, hosts many seminars and webinars that educate horsemen on topics like purposeful pedigrees, broodmare nutrition, and group ownership. They've even hosted events like a backside barn tour.


There are also options available for those who want to get involved in owning racehorses but don't have the capital to fund them on their own. Ownership groups like Ironhorse Racing Stable, B&B Stables, West Thoroughbreds, and Michael Lauer Racing Stables allow people to buy shares in racehorses rather than paying the full purchase price. Each group operates a bit differently, meaning there is one to fit each individual's needs.


Charming Kitten filly at Breakway Farm, Dillsboro, Indiana.
A filly sired by Indiana stallion Charming Kitten at Breakway Farm.

"It is definitely something that you can enjoy the people and the atmosphere and still be a part of it without spending a lot of money," new Indiana breeder Shelly Chavis, DVM said. "We have a lot of friends that say to us, 'Oh, I'd like to own a racehorse or be a part of it' and we tell them, 'You can, you can do this too!'"


"We enjoy stuff that the Thoroughbred industry does through the Thoroughbred Alliance and different groups. They put on a lot of educational seminars, so we try to be a part of that and listen to people, go to the sales, and see what's going on," Chavis continued. "We've learned a lot along the way that we didn't know. "


The Hoosier State is filled with people, places, and organizations that are dedicated to seeing Thoroughbred horse racing thrive. The state's Thoroughbred program strengthens every year, drawing more and more people to participate in Indiana's horse racing industry. Even those who have never owned or bred racehorses before are finding ways to get involved.


Thanks to the hard work and hospitality of all who find their livelihoods in this industry, Thoroughbred horse racing is thriving in Indiana.


[Enjoy our 8 episode series "Treasure of the Midwest" on Indiana Thoroughbred Racing, featuring some of the people and places that make this state so great.]


 

This article is part of our project #TreasureoftheMidwest. Champions of the Track has partnered with the Indiana Thoroughbred Alliance, Indiana Horsemen's Protection & Benevolent Association, and Indiana Grand Racing & Casino to shine a spotlight on Indiana's vibrant Thoroughbred industry. We will be highlighting the state's farms and successful horses and horsemen through written stories, a YouTube video series, and social media content.


Be sure to connect with us on all platforms below so you can keep up with our project: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube

 

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