MTHA election: Agreement on many – but not all – issues

by | Jul 25, 2017 | Breaking, Business, Maryland, MD Business, Top Stories

Paddock weathervane. Photo by The Racing Biz.

Part 2 of 2. Part 1 can be found here.

by Frank Vespe

There’s a lot the 29 candidates running for the board of directors of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA) agree on.

For one, the importance of aftercare for retired Thoroughbreds. Eight candidates — five incumbents and three challengers — mentioned aftercare as one of their top priorities in their candidate statements. The state’s new Beyond the Wire program — sponsored by the MTHA, Maryland Horse Breeders Association, and Maryland Jockey Club, as well as owners and jockeys — is one example of the industry’s commitment in this regard.

Another area of widespread agreement is maintaining the flow of slots revenue into the racing industry. “I believe the number one challenge facing Maryland racing is the danger posed by the threat of losing slots revenue that is fueling our revitalization,” said Joann Hayden, an incumbent running for reelection.

According to the state Gaming Commission, the industry’s share of slots revenue — split between Thoroughbred and harness racing and dedicated to purses and facilities improvements — has amounted to nearly $300 million in recent years. That’s allowed the state’s Thoroughbred purses to rise from $27.3 million in 2010 to $49.5 million in 2016 and the number of days of live racing to grow from 151 to 161 last year, with further growth anticipated this year.

Ten contenders for the board – seven incumbents and three challengers – pointed to this issue as among their top priorities.

Another area of generalized agreement is the importance of taking care of backstretch employees. Key issues there include improving backstretch housing and continuing to finetune the MTHA’s recreation program.

“The hot walkers, grooms and riders that take such excellent care of our horses every day need to be taken care of as well,” Dan Eubanks said in his candidate profile.

And trainer Jonathan Maldonado, also running for a seat, added that he wanted to be “an advocate for people on the backstretch.” Though the backstretch population is heavily Spanish-speaking, he pointed out, the MTHA’s current board has no Spanish speakers.

But there are a couple of areas of disagreement, too.

For example, as detailed here in part one, some trainers and owners are frustrated with claiming rules that restrict what they can do with newly claimed horses and with the racing program in general: the condition book and which races the track uses, or does not use.

The “heavy concentration of turf races and low-level claiming races” creates a hardship for horsemen, challenger Stephen O’Neill claimed.

Added trainer Gina Rosenthal, “The people who spend money want to stay home with their Maryland-breds and want Maryland racing to provide a condition book with a broader spectrum. That’s what I’m fighting for.”

Interestingly, all six of the candidates who cited these issues are challengers. They and others argue that the MTHA hasn’t done enough to hold the track’s feet to the fire when it comes to creating a more balanced racing program.

On the other hand, all six of the candidates who mentioned continuing to foster the industry’s newfound unity are incumbents seeking reelection.

“Strong, dedicated leadership is more important than ever,” trainer Katy Voss said. “It is also critical that the MTHA, the Maryland Horse Breeders Association and the Maryland Jockey Club continue to work together to improve Maryland racing and breeding and to protect our current revnue stream.”

While, of course, everyone believes generally in a racing program that meets the needs of the state’s horsemen and in the desirability of industry-wide unity, the differences here are more than cosmetic.

Voss, other current board members, and many others in the state’s racing community believe that unity among the state’s horsemen, breeders, and racetrack operators is both good for business and politically potent. They say that the industry’s ability to present a united front in Annapolis gives it power and helps to convince legislators that the industry has its act together – that, in other words, by continuing to subsidize the sport through slots revenue, the General Assembly is backing a winner. Earlier this year, for example, the industry was able to fend off a proposal advanced by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to fund the state Racing Commission out of the industry’s slots revenue.

But others, including trainer Jerry Robb, counter that what they perceive as the MTHA’s focus on unity at the expense of standing up for local horsemen actually jeopardizes those hard-won slots funds. They argue that the current racing program is putting the squeeze on workaday Maryland trainers and owners while benefiting breeders, track management, and out-of-town shippers. That situation, they claim, is unsustainable and weakens the industry’s hand with legislators, whose primary concern is the well-being of their constituents and not that of out-of-state corporations or training operations.

Robb suggests that the direction in which the MTHA is leading the state racing industry is hurting local owners and trainers, and if it doesn’t change soon, “there will not be an MTHA or big fields for management.”

But to hear current MTHA president Tim Keefe tell it, the current Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association board “has shown steadfast leadership and has helped propel Maryland racing forward into a bright future”

How the voters, Maryland’s licensed horsemen, interpret the present — whether they agree with Keefe, or with Robb — will in large part determine how they see the future — and who they want to lead them there.

Owner candidates

  • Christine Bricker (incumbent)
  • Edward Buxbaum
  • Ellen Charles (incumbent)
  • Daniel Eubanks
  • Linda Gaudet (incumbent)
  • JoAnn Hayden (incumbent)
  • Michael Horning (incumbent)
  • Larry Johnson (incumbent)
  • Mark Lapidus
  • Robert Manfuso (incumbent)
  • Stewart Nickel
  • Stephen O’Neill
  • Charles “Chip” Reed (incumbent)
  • Lawrence Smith
  • Louis Ulman

Trainer candidates

  •  Ferris Allen (incumbent)
  • Dale Capuano (incumbent)
  • Claudio Gonzalez
  • Tim Keefe (incumbent)
  • Kieron Magee
  • Jonathan Maldonado
  • Hugh McMahon
  • Graham Motion (incumbent)
  • Gina Rosenthal
  • John Jerry Robb
  • Phil Schoenthal
  • Mark Shuman
  • Mike Trombetta (incumbent)
  • Katy Voss (incumbent)