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Task force recommends reserving more slots money for Md. horses

Maryland's aggressive maneuvering to regain horse racing business lost to neighboring states moved forward Tuesday with a proposal to restructure purse allocations and divert more money to local horses.

A task force that has studied the state's ailing breeding industry suggested reform that would create a racing program mirroring one implemented by Pennsylvania, which has used slot revenues to lure breeders and trainers with incentives for horses bred in the state. Under the proposal, money would be shifted from the overall purse account and the existing Maryland-bred fund to provide $6.4 million to augment payouts given to the owners of Maryland horses and help fund bonuses that would go to the breeders of those horses that finish in the top three in a race. The plan was presented as part of a three-hour meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission.

Tom Bowman, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, said the proposal would ensure that increased purses made possible by slots would have their intended effect of revitalizing the thoroughbred industry across the state. He recalled supporters of slots legislation traveling to tracks in nearby states to count the number of Maryland license plates in the parking lot to show that money was leaving the state. Now, he said, it is imperative the industry show that gaming revenue is staying in the state.

"We believe this goes quite a way to answering the public call," he said.

Maryland Racing Commission chairman Bruce Quade asked the task force to take its recommendation to the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the breeders' association and the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, for their input. While he hopes the commission will be able to vote on the proposal at the March meeting, it is likely to face scrutiny from the horsemen.

"There's got to be an understanding of the overall economics of the situation and the strain already placed on the purse account," said Alan Foreman, lawyer for the horsemen's association. "If anybody thinks there's a big pot of gold there, they're kidding themselves. That isn't to say there isn't a solution, it just needs to be worked out."

Commission members also gave preliminary support to a change to a groundbreaking drug regulation program that has been proposed for all Mid-Atlantic states. Industry insiders have long pushed for uniform rules across jurisdictions, and this proposal marks the most concerted move toward that goal to date.

chris.korman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/chriskorman

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