Nearly 650 mares were bred in Maryland this year, a 13 percent increase over 2012, and a surge in state slots gambling revenue could help raise the number again next year, according to the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.
The gambling revenue has deepened racing purses and the pot of bonuses available for horses bred and sired in the state, driving the rebound from years of decline in the horse breeding and racing industries, officials said.
The industries have launched an advertising campaign to promote the growth and encourage more of it.
"Breed local, buy local, raise local," a voice booms amid the clip-clopping of hoofs on radio ads that will air around the region, unveiled at an event Friday near M&T Bank Stadium. "Thanks to you, in Maryland, the colts are back."
The portion of the state's slots revenue dedicated to racing purses and bonuses reached $36.7 million for racing purses through November this year, 39 percent more than the $26.4 million raised in all of 2012. That money has helped maximize a revised incentive program the Maryland Racing Commission approved in May.
State breeders pushed for the program, which keeps a larger portion of purse money in the state, flowing to local farms and racing operations. Since this fall, a Maryland horse that finishes first, second or third in a race in the state gets 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.
"To preserve the farms, it requires some stimulus," Josh Pons, owner of Country Life and Merryland farms in Bel Air and president of the state breeders association, said at the event. "This is a sport and a business that is integral to the state of Maryland."
Breeders said they are already seeing an impact from the incentives, spurring decisions that could lead to more activity in the state. The increase in breeding is one sign, reversing a trend of decline in the state. Nearly 1,400 mares were bred in Maryland in 2007, according to the Maryland Jockey Club
Meanwhile, mares bred in Pennsylvania jumped from 976 to 1,650 between 2001 and 2010, an increase of about 69 percent.
Another sign of growth in Maryland is a new stallion farm in Chesapeake City that the breeders association says is the state's first in a decade: Heritage Stallions Inc., founded by Brooke Bowman and Louis Merryman. The addition of new, desirable stallions, along with the purse incentives, will help draw more mares to the state, breeders said.
Other farms have grown. Since Kevin Plank bought Sagamore Farm in Glyndon in 2007, the farm's staff has grown from a single person to a crew of 26 to 30, said Tom Mullikin, the farm's general manager. Plank has said he aims for the farm to produce the first Maryland-bred Preakness winner since Deputed Testamony in 1983.
"It's certainly a much-needed shot in the arm and a boost for everyone's spirit and morale," said Don Miller Jr., the jockey who rode Deputed Testamony in the Preakness, of the added slots revenue.
The added revenue doesn't just help wealthy horse owners, the breeders added. The state's horse industry is estimated to support 14,000 jobs.
"The guy selling the tractor is better off because of horse racing," said Tom Bowman, past president of the breeders association and a veterinarian and farm owner.
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