Chairman of Indiana Racing/Breeding Coalition Resigns

Thoroughbred owner/breeder Ed Martin Jr., who helped develop the Indiana-bred program before Hoosier Park opened in the mid-1990s, has resigned as chairman of the Indiana Horse Racing and Breeding Coalition.

Martin, former chairman of the state Thoroughbred Advisory Committee and a former member of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, said he no longer believes he should lead the coalition because he might become a "wedge" as the group works toward common goals, including racetrack-based slot machines.

Coalition members are Hoosier Park, Indiana Downs, the Indiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, the Indiana Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, the Indiana Standardbred Breeders Association, and the Quarter Horse Racing Association of Indiana.

In a statement prepared for a Sept. 29 legislative hearing called by Sen. Larry Borst, Martin said he learned of an attempt by Hoosier Park to cut a deal with Indiana Downs that would allow the tracks to equally share a riverboat casino admissions tax subsidy and at the same time increase the racetrack take from 40% to 50%. That would have meant a 10%--$2.8 million--reduction in breed development funds, he said.

"If that would have happened, Thoroughbred, Standardbred, and Quarter Horse breeding in Indiana would cease to exist," Martin said in the statement.

Indiana Downs didn't accept the proposal, and Martin never made his presentation because the Indiana Horse Racing Commission Sept. 26 voted to enact a 50/50 split of the riverboat subsidy. Borst had called the hearing to examine the issue, but it became a moot point after the racing commission meeting.

Churchill Downs Inc.-owned Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs work together as members of the coalition but actually are rivals in the marketplace. Indiana Downs repeatedly has attempted to open an off-track betting parlor in Indianapolis that would compete with one owned by Hoosier Park. In addition, Indiana Downs owns a parlor in Evansville, not far from CDI-owned Ellis Park, and recently was approved to open one in Clarksville, just across the Ohio River from Churchill Downs.

Tom Bannon, vice president of communications at Hoosier Park, acknowledged the track attempted to cut a deal with Indiana Downs on a permanent 50/50 subsidy split only if the racetrack portion was increased from 40% to 50%. Hoosier Park proposed a 50/50 split between tracks and horsemen. (The horsemen's share already is divided 50/50 between Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds.)

"Any agreement by the two tracks would have had to be approved by the (racing) commission," Bannon said. "The commission would have had public hearings on the matter, and would have taken public comment. There was nothing secretive about the proposal, nor could there have been. It was simply a suggested settlement to the issue at hand."

Martin, in an interview Sept. 30, said he notified all members of the coalition of his resignation. He said a push by one coalition member to reduce the horsemen's share of the subsidy couldn't allow him to continue in a productive manner.

"It wouldn't be healthy if I stayed on," Martin said. "Everybody has gotten together, and I didn't want to it split up because of my feelings. The coalition has a good base, and it has a good story to tell. I didn't want to be a wedge."

In earlier interviews, Martin noted how Thoroughbred purses in Indiana have decreased. Indiana-bred purses are the lowest they have been since the program was inaugurated in the mid-1990s. In fact, purses for Indiana-bred maiden and allowance races at Hoosier Park are $10,000 less than they were during the 2002 meet, a reduction of more than 50%.

Martin also said that in 2001, Indiana-bred yearlings sold at Keeneland sales averaged $17,000. At the latest Keeneland sale, the average was short of $2,500, he said.

"So why are the purses so low?," he wrote in his statement to Borst. "Even with two racetracks in Indiana, the total purse pool available has essentially remained the same. In 2002, the total number of Thoroughbred racing days offered in Indiana was 70. In 2003, the number of days increased to 100 days. In 2004 the number will be increased to 108.

"When the purse pool has essentially remained at the same level, the problem of low purses is the result of dilution through the increased number of racing days. A survey of all licensed owners and breeders was conducted last year, and 82% of those who responded opposed purse levels that currently exist."

Bannon said because of the opening of Indiana Downs near Shelbyville, Hoosier Park has lost $5.4 million this year in riverboat subsidies. Average daily handle is down 24% at the Indianapolis Trackside OTB parlor and down 19% at Hoosier Park, he said.