Until then, Goodall said, the industry only received money from wagering.

The ballot measure earmarked 7 percent of slot revenue for the state's horse racing purse account, an annual boon of tens of millions of dollars that encouraged owners and breeders nationwide to believe Maryland — which once ranked among the top three states for foal production — might again compete.

After casinos began operating in 2010, purses at Maryland tracks swelled from about $160,000 a day to nearly $300,000.

While most of the new slots revenue went to purses, 11 percent was set aside for "bred funds" — money meant to motivate breeders to remain in the state.

Until this month's agreement, that only paid for the 17.5 percent bonuses, which compared so poorly to the regional standard of 30 percent that many breeders and trainers had little choice but to leave the state, said Pons, co-owner of Country Life Farm in Harford County and Merryland in Baltimore County.

Pons said it was likely he and others in his situation would have had to sell their land — probably to developers — and relocate to states with more racing-friendly rules.

"I think almost every breeding farm in Maryland would have lost out to the competitive disadvantage we were facing," Pons said. "It was sort of like running a restaurant that didn't have a liquor license. You could have great food and take care of your patrons with world-class service, but you still couldn't compete.

"It is not a stretch to say that every breeding farm in Maryland would have gone extinct," he said.

Industry leaders discussed increasing the bonus for years, but it wasn't until 2012, when O'Malley asked the racing commission to set up the task force, that a push began in earnest.

Everyone, Pons said, agreed the bonus disparity was the key factor. During more than 100 hours of meetings, the group developed a number of formulas and ideas, taking them to the horse breeders' and horsemen's associations and the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, for input.

A rift emerged between the breeders' and horsemen's organizations, largely because Maryland's horsemen — mainly trainers and owners — already were paying half the cost of building new stalls at Maryland tracks and had agreed to buy more racing dates with money from the purse account.

Linda Gaudet, a longtime owner and breeder in Prince George's County, mainly sided with the horsemen and still finds herself frustrated with the new deal. She doesn't understand why the parties agreed to granting 30 percent bonuses to breeders right away while phasing it in for owners.

"My question is, why couldn't we wait until all the casinos were up and running, then have the 30 percent for everyone? Or at least, until then, divvy it up 20 percent for breeders, 20 for owners, to keep it fair," she said.

With so many stakeholders, Pons said, it's hard to please everyone.

Pons, who just attended the Keeneland Auction in Kentucky, a national auction of yearlings, said friends from around the country told him they were excited about Maryland's new prospects and might bring their business back to the state.

Next weekend marks the Fasig-Tipton Fall Yearlings Auction at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, a major regional event. More than 80 Maryland-bred horses will be auctioned, and Pons said he expects the animals to fetch prices as much as 25 percent higher than last year.

Greentree Road's modest triumph netted less than $1,000 for breeder Glade Valley Horse Farms in Frederick. He brought in the 17.5 percent bonus, or $525, for owner Ben Mondello of New York.

Neither could be reached for comment Thursday, but to Pons, the payouts had the kind of meaning many a long-suffering Baltimore sports fan could relate to.

"We [in the industry] were a bit like the Orioles during their, what was it, 15 down years? We were getting used to losing," he said. "That's a hard thing to turn around, but they did it. It's hard for me to impart what this has done for morale."

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com