A growing number of people believe Maryland's thoroughbred breeding fund is distributed inequitably and is out of sync with the times.
Criticism from several different quarters is surfacing concerning the approximate $4 million subsidy program that is funded by the state's bettors and distributed by the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association in Timonium.
A total of 1.1 percent of every betting dollar is contributed by state law to the breeding incentive program.
Last week, the Maryland Racing Commission approved the establishment of a special committee to review how the money is collected, distributed and why it costs so much -- from $200,000 to $300,000 annually, according to commissioner C. Frank Hopkins -- to administer the fund. During the past few years, the decrease in Maryland horse breeding roughly has paralleled the 30 percent decline in the nation's foal crop.
Hopkins, who will chair the committee, said he feels the commission should be more involved in the process and wants a six-member group, comprised of horse breeders as well as a lawyer and an accountant -- to study the fund. He plans to hold hearings to gather testimony from a wide assortment of concerned parties.
"It could be that no changes need to be made," Hopkins said. "But we've got to get competitive with other states such as New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania, for example, has a very lucrative program and distributes its money quicker."
Rick Abbott, a leading bloodstock agent selling yearlings at the Timonium sales last year, said his most attractive prospects are "Pennsylvania-breds that are eligible for the Maryland Million [Maryland-sired but not foaled in the state]."
A variety of people, such as Pimlico/Laurel operator Joe De Francis, prominent Chesapeake City breeder Robert Levy, various board members of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, Pimlico/Laurel vice president of racing Lenny Hale and a number of breeders themselves say changes need to be made.
Among the suggestions:
* Eliminate owners' awards, which were created to entice people to buy Maryland-breds, but haven't had a noticeable affect: "They've done nothing. It's a waste of money which could be put to better use in the form of breeders and stallion bonuses," said Snowden Carter, the longtime former MHBA executive director who administered the fund since its inception in 1962 through the mid 1980s.
* Halve the value of the Maryland-bred stakes races currently being offered, but double the number of races being carded: "That way, we'd spread the money around, and we wouldn't have five- or six-horse fields running every once in a while for a $100,000 purse," said racing official Hale.
Carter, who has the perspective of seeing the whole fund picture from its birth to current status, said that the prevailing thinking at the MHBA has been "to avoid rewarding mediocrity at all costs. The program is geared to taking care of the better horses. But now that's rather outdated. With the current horse shortage, we need the cheaper horses to fill the races. What worked at one point doesn't necessarily work now. We need now to take care of the little guys."
Katy Voss, a director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, said the program is reviewed every year by the Maryland Fund Advisory Committee and is set to be discussed by the group next month.
Turf Festival show
When the revamped International Turf Festival is held at Laurel Race Course next month (Oct. 23-24), there will be an added attraction.
Laurel will play host to its first horse fair and trade show, similar to the one held by the New York Racing Association during Belmont Stakes Week.
Timothy Capps, vice president of communications at Pimlico/Laurel, is in charge of the event and has contacted Phoebe Hayes, who organizes the Belmont event, to help out.
The trade show, including booths selling and exhibiting all sorts of equine items from art to tack supplies, will be held in the paddock park adjacent to the Laurel racing office.
The horse events will include exhibitions in dressage, trick riding, mounted police, show jumping, carriage driving, jousting, parading of a local pack of foxhounds and the showing of an assortment of other horse breeds.
"The long-range goal is to tie the International Turf Festival into all of the other horse events taking place in the early fall such as the Maryland Million, the International Gold Cup steeplechase races [in The Plains, Va.] and the Washington International Horse Show at the [USAir Arena]," Capps said.
Capps added that starting-gate and horse-shoeing demonstrations also might be held.
Maryland horse-country tour
Maryland Million festivities start in two weeks with the third Maryland horse country farm tour on Sept. 25 and 26. Several thoroughbred farms in Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties will be open to the public.
The Maryland Million is being held at Laurel Race Course on Oct. 9.
More information about the farm tour and related activities can be obtained by calling the Maryland Million office in Timonium at (410) 252-2100.
Backstretch Appreciation Day
The Maryland Million "Breakfast of Champions" has been replaced by a new Maryland Million activity planned by the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.
The MTHA will throw a large party during "Maryland Thoroughbred Week" for all backstretch personnel on Monday, Oct. 4, from 1 to 5 p.m. at Laurel.
The party, which includes an elaborate barbecue, a live band and a number of giveaways, is free for all grooms, hot walkers, exercise personnel, trainers and owners.
Pimlico owner Ted Mudge has offered to donate a bus to !B transport Pimlico backstretch personnel to Laurel free of charge.
When Asserche won the $25,000 Loser Weeper Stakes at Pimlico on Friday, it was the first 1993 Maryland stakes win for his owner-trainer John Alecci, who is vying with Vinnie Blengs and Dale Capuano for the leading trainers' title at the current Pimlico meet. "I just put him in to get a prep for the Maryland Million Starter Handicap," Alecci said. But, he explained that the horse likes soft turf "and when an overnight thunderstorm hit Pimlico the night before, it really helped our chances." Asserche will face Mea Culpa Stables' Gay Dacquare in the $50,000 Maryland Million race on Oct. 9. . . . Trainer Ross Pearce has moved his stable from Delaware Park to Pimlico and plans to start training in Maryland on a year-round basis. . . . Frank and Ginny Wright have now split their racing stable with a variety of trainers that includes Katy Voss, Frannie Campitelli and Billy Boniface. . . . Florida-based trainer Marty Wolfson has nominated Country Coy to the Sept. 25 Governor's Cup at Pimlico at 9 furlong s on the turf. . . . The Virginia Racing Commission meets in Richmond on Wednesday to consider what amendments it will allow for track licensing applications that are due Oct. 1. . . . De Francis is planning to hold a brunch at the Middleburg (Va.) Training Center to discuss his plans to build a track in the Old Dominion with the local horsemen.