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Maryland Task Force Faces Uphill Climb

Commission considers the breeding industry to be in critical condition.

By John Scheinman

A task force recently formed to address the struggling Maryland Thoroughbred breeding industry suggested several measures Jan. 15 to reverse steep declines, including replacing the state's owner/bonus program with significant purse enhancements for state-breds that win in open races and the advent of races restricted to horses foaled in the state.

The Task Force on Revitalizing Maryland's Thoroughbred Breeding Industry, formed by Maryland Racing Commission chairman Bruce Quade, made its first presentation at the commission's monthly meeting at Laurel Park.

The task force–Tom Bowman, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association; commission member David Hayden, who owns Dark Hollow Farm; and commission member Charles Tildon III–also suggested an increase in breeder and stallion bonuses paid from first to third place to registered Maryland-breds.

No details of the proposals were made, and there was no input from horsemen, but it is clear the commission considers the breeding industry to be in critical condition.

"All of the details, the costs, the guidelines will be fleshed out by the next commission meeting," Quade said. "Cost will be a factor, but anybody who doesn't think something needs to be done is woefully underestimating the problem."

Declines shown in a presentation using The Jockey Club statistics were staggering.

In 1991, 2,782 mares were bred to 198 stallions in Maryland; by 2011, the number had dipped to 541 mares bred to 31 stallions. Bowman pointed out that 10 of the 31 stallions covered 80% of the mares.

Registered foals dropped from 1,709 in 1991 to 1,212 in 2000 to just 373 in 2011, a decrease of 78%. The North American foal crop declined 37% in that time period.

The task force compared the Maryland Thoroughbred breeding industry to those in New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, seeing them as regional competitors.

"Every place you saw, (there was) a jump in production in breeding after slots were initiated," Bowman said.

With the passing of Question 7 in last year's election, legalizing table games and a new casino in Maryland, the state racing industry is expecting a sizable jump in video lottery terminal revenue in coming years.

The study showed most horses bred in the comparative states made the majority of their starts and approximately 75% of their earnings in the states in which they were bred. By contrast, Maryland-breds earned just 36% of their winnings at state tracks.

Bowman said restricted races would provide Maryland-breds with a significant competitive advantage. "All we're saying is that every state that has a restricted program is flourishing," he said.

The primary goal of the task force, Bowman said, is to develop plans to create a population of horses that will be best served by racing in Maryland, which is especially important in light of the decrease in the national Thoroughbred population.

In other news, the commission announced the closing of the Cambridge Turf Club on the Maryland Eastern Shore, leaving the North East Sports Club in Cecil County and the Riverboat on the Potomac River near Colonial Beach, Va., as the only other non-track betting sites in the state. The Cracked Claw, in Urbana, closed in 2011.

The Cambridge Turf Club was owned by William Rickman, owner of Delaware Park.