In a feature story in last week's issue of The Blood-Horse
, Airdrie Stud owner and former Kentucky governor Brereton C. Jones said he is personally against slot machines. If truth be told, there probably isn't a single horse breeder who actually hoped the day would come when slots would be necessary for the survival of racing.
But that day has come.
It has come to Louisiana; it has come to West Virginia; it has come to New Mexico; it has recently come to Pennsylvania.
Kentucky waits; Texas waits; Florida waits; California waits; Ohio waits; Maryland waits.
You have slots or you need slots. It is that simple.
At the recent Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association's annual awards luncheon, more than one breeder spoke of how tough it is to breed in a state without slots-aided purses and state-award funds.
Later that night, at the organization's gala awards dinner, a farm manager/trainer for one of Maryland's better-known outfits lamented his state's situation and the legislature's indifference to an industry with a rich background and tremendous economic impact.
"We may have to move our operation; may have to start foaling the mares in Pennsylvania," he said. "It's unfortunate...it's really a shame."
As he spoke, the loud music of Three Dog Night wailed away under the expansive tent at Juddmonte Farms outside Lexington. From 1969-1974, the band was one of the country's most popular groups, with 21 consecutive Top 40 hits and three songs that reached No. 1.
In 1974, there were 1,553 foals registered with The Jockey Club as having been bred in Maryland. That number peaked in 1987, when 2,075 foals were bred in the state. For a four-year period, the foal count hovered around 2,000 each year-1,969 in 1984, 2,026 in 1985, 1,998 in 1986, and 2,075 in 1987.
>From 1968 to 2001, the number of registered Maryland-breds was more than 1,100 each and every year. There is a chance a few foals from the crops of 2002 and 2003 may still be registered, but the current numbers for Maryland are 980 foals in 2002 and 955 in 2003.
>From its high of 2,075 in 1987 to the 955 for 2003, the number of Maryland-breds has dropped 54%. In fact, it has decreased 21% in just the past four years.
In 1968, when Maryland had 1,277 registered foals, neighboring Pennsylvania had only 268 foals born within its borders. Fast forward to 2003 and the score is Maryland 955 and Pennsylvania 951.
The recently released 2004 live foal report paints a similar picture of Maryland from a different angle. The annual Jockey Club document lists number of foals by stallions standing in each state. From 2002 to 2003, the number of foals by stallions standing in Maryland dropped 13.9%, from 1,136 to 978.
This is not about whether or not the place where Northern Dancer stood is still a good place to breed a horse. Of course it is. It is about the fact that as previously mentioned, we have two types of states today--those that have slots and those that need slots.
Notice it wasn't said those that "want" slots, but rather those that "need" slots. Maryland, and the other states that do not yet have the one-armed bandits, need them. Stand at the gravesite of Native Dancer, as I did last fall. Feel the history of the state's breeding program. Listen to a breeder say he must foal his mares elsewhere.
Maryland breeders should take the foal counts and plaster them on the nearest billboard to the state capitol. The Thoroughbred industry needs Maryland, and Maryland needs help.