(Photo by The Racing Biz.)
by Frank Vespe
She’s Hot Wired and Dreamboat Annie ran one-two in a first level allowance at Laurel Park on February 15 — the last day of live racing in Maryland before the hiatus that will end tomorrow.
Remarkably, just a few months earlier, neither the winner nor the runner-up would have been permitted to enter the race.
She’s Hot Wired had already won an allowance race. And Dreamboat Annie had won not only an allowance but also a stakes race while earning more than $140,000 in nine races.
What gives? How could horses with such resumes enter a race known in the parlance as an “a-other-than,” meaning for horses that haven’t won other than in maiden, claiming, or starter company?
The answer: Those prior allowance and stakes wins had come against state-bred company: New Jersey-bred in She’s Hot Wired’s case and New York-bred in Dreamboat Annie’s.
Winners of state-bred allowances and stakes taking first level allowance races at Laurel Park are a picture that’s been increasingly common since the Maryland Jockey Club (MJC) modified its allowance conditions in late 2015 to exclude state-bred and state-sired wins from consideration.
And that points to the necessary next step in the revitalization of the Maryland breeding industry. It’s time for restricted, Maryland-bred allowance races.
From an MJC perspective, the modification of the allowance conditions makes good sense. It makes more horses eligible for the condition, which means more horses entered, and more horses entered means more betting. That’s good for business.
And for some horsemen — who own or train horses bred in other nearby states — it’s a real boon: an opportunity for another good payday in a sport where making money is hard enough as it is.
There’s only one problem: it handicaps Maryland-breds, who have virtually no state-bred allowance races to bolster their earnings and who also now must face the tougher fields created by allowing more accomplished runners to enter local allowance contests.
It’s quite literally providing an advantage to horses bred outside of Maryland.
That needs to change — and not just for the health of the breeding industry.
For one thing, the state Racing Commission has in recent years been quite assertive about its interest in promoting the Maryland breeding industry. Yet having bonuses for Maryland-breds while at the same time providing advantages to horses bred in other states — when those same advantages are not available to Maryland-breds — means that different facets of the industry are working at cross purposes; leveling the playing field by adding a Maryland-bred allowance would bring those facets back in concert.
For another, keeping Maryland horses home is essential to ensuring the sizable horse population the track needs. As purses have risen, and then bonuses were instituted, the percentage of starts made in Maryland by Maryland-breds has doubled, according to the Jockey Club — that’s good for the industry. Adding a Maryland-bred allowance would be another inducement to bring Maryland horses home.
From a political perspective, the wisdom of adding a Maryland-bred allowance condition is clear. Maryland racing and breeding benefit substantially from state subsidies from slot machine revenues. As has been made clear — most recently in West Virginia and Florida — that those revenues will come to the Thoroughbred industry is not written in stone; both gaming companies and many state legislators have what they perceive as better uses for this money than subsidizing racing. By spreading the wealth around — so that breeders and horsemen and the racetracks and their employees all benefit — the industry increases its political clout and to a certain extent inoculates itself against political attacks.
Some have argued in the past that there are too few Maryland-breds to hold state-bred races. But the success of last summer’s Maryland Pride Day — and New Jersey’s having a state-bred program with many fewer NJ-breds — suggest that’s not accurate. What’s more, adding simply one condition — a Maryland-bred a-other-than — or even Maryland-bred maiden and a-other-than races is hardly going to overtax the horse population.
And then there’s the question of where the money would come from. The answer is that it ought to come from the purse account. It will be Maryland-based horsemen who benefit most of all from such a change, and a Maryland-bred allowance will actually take less from the purse account than a standard one does, since there will be no state-bred bonuses to pay on it.
Multiple sources have said that productive discussions on this topic are currently taking place. On the other hand, state-bred racing has been a hot-button issue in Maryland for years.
It’s time to resolve this issue. It’s time for a Maryland-bred allowance condition.