Photo by Laurie Asseo.

Photo by Laurie Asseo.

by Frank Vespe

A new racing task force to be created by the Maryland Racing Commission will have a wide-ranging charge and the chance to “define its own scope of work,” Commission chairman Bruce Quade said in an interview Monday.

Quade proposed the task force at the Commission’s most recent meeting, earlier this month, and the response from the racing industry, he said, has been gratifying.  “Everyone wants to be involved,” he noted.

That includes not just Thoroughbred interests but also people involved in the standardbred industry.  “Some issues are relevant to the standardbred industry,” Quade said, “and they want to play an active role in this.”

That there is great interest in participating in the task force is not surprising; the group’s “roving mission,” Quade said, will be no less than trying to scope out a future for the Maryland racing industry.

“It’s an attempt to get ahead of the curve on some of the issues we’re going to face as Maryland racing evolves,” he said.  “We trying to adapt to the way the industry’s changing globally and in Maryland.”

That means focusing on two main areas: expanding the industry’s customer base and optimizing its economic model.

Quade characterized the first area, expanding the customer base, as in part a response to a question he sometimes hears from state legislative leaders: What are you doing to build the business?

“We want to focus on the information arm of racing,” Quade said.  “Getting our story out there, and getting back in the public eye.”


Regarding the economic model, Quade envisions the task force both reviewing some of the steps the industry has already taken — such as the program to boost the value of Maryland-breds by increasing bonuses to their owners and breeders — and delving into some new areas.  That could include takeout, Quade said, though it is not at the top of his personal list of priorities.

“There are no bounds,” he added.  “Everything is up for grabs.”

While the composition of the task force is not yet settled, it likely will include a number of industry stakeholders, including members of the Racing Commission, as well as representatives from the racetracks, horsemen’s groups, and breeders’ organizations.

Representatives of the Maryland Jockey Club have indicated their desire to participate, Quade said.  The company’s involvement is somewhat complicated by the turmoil at the top of the organization, as the Stronach Group is bringing Parx racing secretary Sal Sinatra in to take charge, a move which has led to the resignation of current president Tom Chuckas.  But Quade indicated that Stronach Group officials reacted warmly to the proposed task force.

That is a positive sign for the task force, since some of its charge could be seen as encroaching on the territory of some of the stakeholders.  That they are eager to participate may stem in part from the Commission’s recent record of success with similar collaborative processes.  The Commission’s breeding task force, for example, developed the concepts that undergird the state’s new breeder incentive program.  And its health and safety committee has enabled the Commission to stay on top of important issues involving the welfare of horses and riders.

“It’s sort of like a think tank for racing,” Quade said.  “We’ve had a lot of good things come out of these task forces so far, and that’s what we’re aiming at here.”

Frank Vespe, the founder of The Racing Biz, has owned, bought, sold, claimed, and written about horses, in varying combinations, for a decade.