The Ohio horse industry, in an effort to make its voice heard around the Buckeye State, has formed a coalition similar to the Kentucky Equine Education Project, a horse industry advocacy group in Kentucky.

Early members of the Ohio group are the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association, Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners, Ohio Quarter Horse Association, and the Ohio Horse Council. The Ohio Farm Bureau and groups representing draft horses and trail riding are involved as well.

“We’ve incorporated an organization like KEEP,” Ohio HBPA executive director Dave Basler said Dec. 10. “Any horse industry group is welcome to join. Basically, we’re trying to model our organization as a KEEP-type organization and advocacy group.”

The Ohio horse racing industry has taken hits in recent years with declining Thoroughbred and Standardbred foal numbers and pari-mutuel handle. Thus far, it has failed to win approval to use alternative forms of gaming as a revenue source, most recently in 2006 when a statewide referendum on racetrack video lottery terminals failed at the polls.

According to the industry Web site saveohioracing.com, horse racing provides about 16,000 jobs in Ohio and generates $770 million for the state’s economy.  In 2006, there were 292 registered Thoroughbred foals in the state, down from 611 in 1997; for Standardbreds, the figures were 1,468 and 1,940, respectively.

The most recent figures provided by the Ohio State Racing Commission show statewide wagering on Thoroughbred racing down 11.1% through Dec. 1, and betting on harness racing down 14.5% compared with the same period in 2006.

In 2006, Thoroughbred purses averaged about $63,000 day, and harness purses $45,000.

There are seven commercial tracks in Ohio--three Thoroughbred and four harness--as well as more than 70 county fairs, many of which offered limited pari-mutuel wagering during short harness meets from late spring to early fall. The fairs give the horse racing and breeding industry a presence throughout the state.

The coalition has been in the works for the better part of this year. Basler said that like KEEP, the group’s legislative efforts will include non-racing issues that impact the horse and farm industry.

“Initially, the legislative end will be non-racing related, but somewhere down the line we hope to use our grassroots efforts to push legislative issues that would benefit racing,” Basler said.

In recent years, KEEP has pushed for tax equity and racetrack gaming in the Kentucky General Assembly. The group has raised millions of dollars through two stallion season auctions since it was launched in 2004.

The Ohio group is being headed by Brock Schmaltz, who has worked for the American Horse Council and United States Trotting Association, among other organizations. Schmaltz’s father, Brad, was the longtime racing writer for the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio.

“We’re just about ready to start a publicity push to get a lot of groups on board,” Basler said.

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