Bruce Quade has been chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission for a bit less than one year. In that time, he has helped to broker a 10-year agreement among the tracks, horsemen, and breeders; formed a Breeding Task Force to tackle issues facing that segment of the industry; and confronted a disturbing spate of breakdowns at Laurel Park. He’s also garnered a reputation in the industry as a straight shooter occasionally impatient with the pace of change in the sport. We spoke with him recently on a wide array of topics. Part One of two follows.
The Racing Biz: You’re not an owner, a breeder, or a trainer, and here you are on the Racing Commission. What’s your interest in the sport?
Bruce Quade: I’ve been going to the track since literally the early 1960s. My interest has always been from the betting side.
TRB: Any memorable scores as a bettor?
QUADE: I don’t know about memorable scores. But what I like to bet most of all are Pick Fours. I just like the challenge of trying to string together four consecutive winners. Certainly, I like the money, but I really like the challenge. The Pick 4 is my favorite bet.
TRB: Moving to more serious topics, you and the Commission helped to broker among the stakeholders a 10-year agreement to govern racing in Maryland. It’s fair to say that some observers are a little bit skeptical about whether 10 years means 10 years. Do you think this agreement will last?
QUADE: I absolutely think the 10-year deal has staying power because of its importance. However, it’s incumbent on all of the stakeholders to make sure of it. For example, we on the Commission followed up the implementation with individual meetings with the track, the MTHA (Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association), and the breeders to loop back. It’s Job One for everybody to keep this deal on track. If somebody blows this up, they’d better have a damn good reason. [pullquote]If somebody blows [the 10-year deal] up, they’d better have a damn good reason.[/pullquote]
TRB: Even if it’s a bad deal?
QUADE: It’s not. The reason the 10-year deal happened is that is was a good deal for everybody, and the reason it will stay in place is it’s a good deal for everyone. Plus, there’s a political dimension. I think the Legislature is happy that racing has its act together, and the 10-year deal is one thing that demonstrates that.
TRB: The ink was barely dry on the agreement when we the rumbling began about a sudden spike in the frequency of breakdowns at Laurel, a track generally considered among the safest in the region. The Commission’s taken a number of steps — enhanced pre-race vetting, modified claiming rules, and others — to try to combat the problem. What’s next?
QUADE: In addition to having an in-house health and safety committee, we have a new task force with representatives of the breeders, the horsemen, and the track. It will monitor the effect of what we’ve done and develop recommendations for other things we should do. We’re tracking it [safety] at a bunch of different levels. And just yesterday, the Commission voted to move forward on the medication reforms, starting the rule-making process. Just because there hasn’t been a breakdown since doesn’t mean we’re going to stop.
TRB: The adoption of regional medication rules — including limiting medications to an approved list, requiring that Lasix be administered by the state vet or his designees, prohibiting the use of adjunct medications like Amicar, and getting a certified lab to provide drug-testing — is a big step. What made it happen?
QUADE: I think it was the realization that we have to get in sync with our surrounding states and that we’re best served following the RMTC (Racing Medication and Testing Consortium) guidelines, including the prohibition on the use of adjuncts. There has to be uniformity in the way drugs and medications are handled. Now everybody’s singing out of the same songbook.
TRB: What was the biggest hurdle to overcome?
QUADE: The elimination of adjunct medications was the biggest obstacle. Maryland is the only state in the region that still allows them [for Thoroughbreds], and even though some people were upset, we had to eliminate them to be consistent with surrounding states.
TRB: It seems as if the lack of comparative data presents a challenge in assessing what’s happening today versus what’s happened before. Is the Commission trying to remedy that problem?
QUADE: I think we need to look at some historical data, use whatever digitized date we’ve got. We can use that to conduct some analysis of what the data’s telling us, and maybe cut some things off at the pass. That might allow us to compare our data to regional and even national trends, which might help us get ahead of problems like this in the future.
TRB: Another major initiative of late has been the Breeding Task Force which you formed to try to revitalize that segment of the industry. What spurred you to do that?
QUADE: To see how the numbers of Maryland-breds and stallions based here have dramatically decreased over the last 10 years, and that’s coupled with national trends and that we were late to the game on slots — those numbers just spoke for themselves. We’ve got to do something about that.[pullquote]We can’t sit around and wait for the purses to reach some magical level; we’ve got to do something now.[/pullquote]
TRB: Why the urgency to act now?
QUADE: The biggest challenge is that if you did something today, it’s at least a three year process before you have a racehorse, so you’ve got to act now before time slips away. I also think the intent of a lot of what was done in Annapolis was geared towards farms and open space, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t act.
TRB: One could argue that the Legislature already made its decision when it split racing’s share of slots revenues 89-11, with the 11 percent going to the bred-fund. How do you respond to that?
QUADE: If something’s not working, then you’ve got to find innovative ways to improve it within the 89-11 framework. The 89-11 shouldn’t be written in stone for all eternity. Because of how long the process takes, we don’t have the luxury of waiting a few years. We can’t sit around and wait for the purses to reach some magical level; we’ve got to do something now.
In Part Two, we discuss why he believes it essential for the Commission to be more assertive now than in the past, and what he sees for the future of Maryland racing.