VLT Ballot Measure Considered Key to Ohio Auction

With ongoing declines in Thoroughbred breeding and racing in Ohio, and a possible November referendum for racetrack gaming in the state, organizers of this year's Midwest Regional sale said the industry has reached a "pivotal" point.

The sale, held by the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners and usually scheduled for September or early October, has been moved back to Nov. 28, exactly three weeks after Election Day. Should state officials determine there are enough valid petition signatures, Ohio voters would decide the fate of the "Learn and Earn" ballot measure, which calls for video lottery terminals at seven racetracks and two non-track locations in Cleveland.

"This may be such a pivotal point that it will determine whether some of us are still in business," OTBO sale chairman Ed Crothers said in a letter to horse owners. "Six percent of gaming revenue to purses will certainly help our industry."

Last year's Midwest Regional sale was canceled because of a lack of entries. Many Ohio breeders keep their best stock for racing and breeding purposes, and overall, the number of stallions, mares bred, and foals in the state is down.

According to Jockey Club statistics, the number of mares bred in Ohio fell from more than 660 in 2003 to about 460 (figures aren't yet complete) in 2005. The number of stallions in the state went from 110 to 81 in the same period. The foal crop has steadily declined since the mid-1990s.

Ohio State Racing Commission statistics indicate total handle at the state's three Thoroughbred tracks through Aug. 12 is down 5.7% compared with last year. Similar declines have been registered in previous years.

It's expected the success of the sale will be tied to the outcome of the VLT vote. Passage could lead some owners and breeders to keep their stock given anticipated purse increases, or it could create a more lucrative market for Ohio-breds at auction.

"We don't want our owners to be left out after the passage of this amendment wishing they had entered their horses," Crothers said in his letter.

Because of the uncertainty, the OTBO will refund a portion of the sale entry fee should consignors choose to withdraw horses after the Nov. 7 vote. If there aren't enough entries to have the sale, 90% of the entry fee will be refunded.

The OTBO will continue offering a $25,000 bonus to Midwest Regional sale yearling graduates that win designated 2-year-old filly or colt Ohio-bred stakes in the fall of 2007. The two races, one for each sex, are usually held as part of the Best of Ohio championship program.

The sale would be held at Roberts Arena in Wilmington because of possible inclement weather in late November.