Maryland's horse racing industry sees new life

Anyone driving along Butler Road or Shawan Road east of Glyndon knows this is horse country.

Most prominent is the vast thoroughbred spread known as Sagamore Farm, restored to its prior glory by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank.

To celebrate the Preakness Stakes 11 days ago, Plank erected a gigantic tent alongside his corporate training center mansion on the hill overlooking Sagamore's 530 acres and much of the Worthington Valley. He threw a party there and also at Pimlico's biggest corporate tent.

It was a clear signal that Maryland's horse racing industry is making a comeback.

Sagamore's revival is emblematic of what's happening in thoroughbred racing locally. The industry's slice of revenue from Maryland's burgeoning casinos is raising purse awards at Pimlico and Laurel, which in turn gives the state's breeding industry a much-needed jump-start.

If this trend is allowed to continue - a big if - the Sport of Kings could get back on its feet after decades of decline.

The importance of a thriving racing industry is under-appreciated by this state's politicians. What they ignore is that much is at risk if racing fails.

The state horse industry encompasses 587,000 acres - 10 percent of Maryland's land and a huge component in keeping this state environmentally green.

The governor's office reports that horse industry assets total $5.6 billion. The horses are valued at $714 million. The farms employ 28,000 people.

Here's a surprising fact: Maryland contains twice as many horses per square mile as Virginia, Texas, California or Kentucky.

After a long swoon, racing finally is starting to recover, thanks to those casino payments.

Most encouraging has been the breeding uptick in Central Maryland at Sagamore Farm in Baltimore County, Bonita Farm and Country Life Farm in Harford County, the Rooney family's Shamrock Farm in Carroll County and Northview Stallion Station in Cecil County.

At its worst point, the state lost 80 percent of its stallions, mares and foals because of the poor business climate for horse racing. Now there is a distinct change.

But danger lurks. Many politicians don't appreciate the value of a strong racing industry.

Only in the past year have the tracks seen a major boost in purses thanks to the success of Maryland Live! Casino at Arundel Mills.

After the Horseshoe Casino opens this fall in downtown Baltimore, more slots dollars will flow into racing purses. When the MGM Grand Casino opens in about two years at National Harbor, still more revenue will come racing's way.

But politicians already are talking about grabbing that money and diverting it for other purposes. Not only would this break a commitment made by state officials with the racing industry, it would be counter-productive and destructive.

Maryland needs to encourage the creation of more horse farms. It saves green space from development, especially between Glyndon and Hunt Valley.

A prosperous racing industry is a decided plus, one politicians need to encourage, not discourage.

Barry Rascovar's political blog can be found at He can be reached at