The Maryland Racing Commission passed a revised incentive program Tuesday meant to persuade thoroughbred breeders to operate in the state and owners of those horses to run on its tracks, but might have shattered the harmony achieved among the sports' stakeholders in recent months.
Breeders, who have pushed for a stronger program to reward Maryland horses, hailed the new measure as the final step in rejuvenating the state's horse racing industry. Purses at Maryland tracks have been bolstered by slots revenue — rising from about $160,000 a day to nearly $300,000 since casinos began operating in 2010 — and are again competitive with those in nearby states that legalized gambling earlier.
Now Maryland has revised its bonus system to ensure that a larger portion of that money stays in the state and flows to local farms and racing operations that could in turn create jobs and preserve farmland.
Starting this fall, a Maryland horse who finishes first, second or third in a race in the state will garner a bonus of 30 percent of the purse for the breeder and 20 percent for the owner. By 2015, owners and breeders will receive 30 percent.
Tom Chuckas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, supported the measure, not because it would improve his bottom line but because he believes legislators will try to limit the amount of slots revenue diverted to horse racing unless the sport can show it has had a positive economic impact in the state.
Representatives for the state's horsemen — mostly made up of trainers and owners — strongly objected to the new bonus plan, which had been in the works for months but was announced in its final form Tuesday. Alan Foreman, lawyer for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said he feared the commission's insistence on passing it without presenting it to his client would fracture the relationship.
Commission chairman Bruce Quade said a task force he convened had met with the horsemen's association and adopted many of the revisions it suggested to previous plans, including delaying full institution of the bonus structure until 2015.
Foreman said the new plan, which diverts about $1.2 million next year from the purse account, places undue strain on the horsemen; they are already paying half the cost of building new stalls at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park and have agreed to buy racing dates with money from the purse account.
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