Johnson: MTHA election choice between vibrant future, failing past

by | Jul 27, 2017 | Breaking, Business, Maryland, MD Business, Opinion, Top Stories


The current MTHA Board election is critical to the future direction of this organization. Before examining the choices in this election, a brief look at recent history.

I was initially elected to the MTHA Board 6 years ago. Early on, I became concerned about the manner in which the MTHA business was being conducted; about its relationship with other stakeholders; and the need to present a cohesive and cooperative voice in Annapolis.

I began a campaign to change things, but despite overwhelming support from a majority of our members, change was resisted and I became a pariah in many quarters. But 3 years ago, I encouraged the election of many new members to the Board. And our members did just that. In his “Open Letter,” Tim Keefe outlined the many achievements of the current Board and I will not repeat them here. I encourage all members to read Tim’s letter.

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I am the last person to criticize voices who want change. But change to what and for what? I respect the hard work and importance of what our critics have labelled the “claiming trainers.” But this election should not be about the “claiming trainers” vs. the world.

It’s about whether our members vote to build upon the success that has led to a renaissance in Maryland racing; to continue the coordinated efforts of all stakeholders that has led to successful protection of slots funding and to a new reality presented to Annapolis; and to the rescue of our farms and the economics they create and the green space they preserve.

Our critics ignore these imperatives. They fail to remind you of the chaotic days of the past in which Maryland racing teetered on closure; in which our industry was divided and viewed with disdain in Annapolis; in which our breeding industry was on the verge of extinction. Rather, their platform is focused on the condition book, the number of racing days and the claiming rules.

Any of us who race in Maryland are frustrated by the condition book and racing days issues. But despite repeated efforts to address these issues by the MTHA, the problems persist – the issues are complex. Racing a year round schedule with the economic constraints of the purse account levels, the reduced horse population, both nationally and in Maryland, and the competition with neighboring states are all realities that directly affect these issues. Progress has been made; racing days have been added and the condition book process has been revised. But the current MTHA Board recognizes we must continue to work on these issues.

As for the claiming rules, I consider Mr. Magee’s view that “we should be able to run horses wherever we want to run them. You put up the money and take the gamble” to be irresponsible and deaf to the need for respectful and prudent protection of our horses.

As Mr. Vespe has pointed out the current claiming rules were instituted by the Racing Commission in response to an alarming increase in equine fatalities. Does Mr. Magee and those who support changing the rules, believe that the marked decline in breakdowns that occurred after the Commission’s rules change was merely coincidence?

The current critics encourage the members to do research on the current board members and due diligence before “voting them in again.” I welcome that! But I also encourage the members to do the same on those who, in my opinion, would return us to the chaos and problems of the past. Mr. Vespe posits the choice as between people “who seem to inhabit different worlds altogether.” I view it differently. It is a choice between continuing a vibrant future direction vs. a return to a place in the past where we were all failing.

R. Larry Johnson is a current member of the MTHA board of directors. He stands two stallions, Despite the Odds and Street Magician, at Maryland’s Heritage Stallions. 

Other board candidates who wish to contribute their opinions should email [email protected]