Maryland Racing Commission to analyze status of Thorougbred racing, breeding industries
by Frank Vespe
“Don’t look back,” baseball great Satchel Paige reportedly said. “Something might be gaining on you.”
It’s in that vein that the Maryland Racing Commission announced yesterday it would form an ad hoc committee to assess the current status of Thoroughbred racing and breeding in the state. Commissioner Tom Bowman, a breeder and veterinarian, will chair the panel.
The committee will begin meeting shortly, Bowman said, and expects to deliver its work product to the Commission sometime in the fall.
“It’s going to be a good job versus a fast job,” he said.
Recent years have been something of a boom time for Maryland racing. The Commission in 2013 shepherded through a 10-year deal to govern the sport among the tracks, horsemen, and breeders and followed that up a year later with a muscled-up program to encourage breeding in the state.
Handle has jumped, and the number of Maryland-bred foals, and mares bred to Maryland stallions, have also grown significantly.
But Bowman says that these positive developments shouldn’t make the industry comfortable.
“If we become complacent, if we sit and wait to be caught by the competition, then maybe they pass us for a while,” he said.
On the breeding front, while the news has been good in recent years, there are still questions going forward. Some in the industry are concerned by the lack of sire power in the state breeding ranks. And nearby competitors like Pennsylvania and New York have much more money dedicated to breeding than Maryland does, or will have.
“The competition in the breeding industry has jumped back real strong,” Bowman pointed out. “The breeders’ incentive has been great. But it still can’t compare with Pennsylvania. So how do we do things that make it even more competitive?”
At the same time, Bowman allowed that there have been some concerns about the racing program. With tens of millions of dollars in slot machine revenue dedicated to racing, it’s incumbent on state racing interests to recognize the importance of keeping a substantial amount of that largesse in-state.
“There have been suggestions that Maryland horsemen maybe are not getting an equal shot when it comes to race-writing and things of that sort,” Bowman said. “I’m not trying to imply restricted racing per se. I’m just talking about are races being written that are inclusive for the Maryland horseman.”
Bowman said that the committee will include Larry Johnson, a member of the boards of directors of both the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA) and Maryland Horse Breeders Association (MHBA); MTHA president Tim Keefe; MHBA president Willie White; Maryland Jockey Club president Sal Sinatra; commissioners David Hayden and Konrad Wayson; and former Commission chairman Bruce Quade.
In the end, Bowman said, there’s one key question for the committee to answer.
“Are we doing our part to support Maryland horsemen and Maryland horses?”