Several of the Maryland horse racing regulators who have been winning breeders’ bonuses from an account they manage also have been winning lucrative state-subsidized purses as owners of top-performing thoroughbreds.
The Maryland Racing Commission supervises state-funded accounts that reward breeders and owners of Maryland-bred horses when they win, place or show, primarily at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course. Thoroughbred breeders in 2017 won about $4.7 million in bonuses from the Maryland Bred Race Fund, while owners earned $1.1 million, according to the commission’s annual report. A smaller account reserved for harness-racing, or standardbred, horses paid out $116,212 in breeding bonuses.
The Baltimore Sun reported last week that six commissioners own or breed racehorses despite a state law that allows no more than four of the nine commission members to hold financial interests in the industry. All of those commissioners have won or have been eligible to win bonuses, the size of which they determine, a situation critics call a conflict of interest.
Additional analysis by The Sun shows that several of the commissioners have won lucrative purses for the Maryland-bred horses that they own in addition to the breeder bonuses.
It remains unclear if they also have won owner-bonuses because the “Commission does not track individual awards,” according to a spokesperson for the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which oversees the horse racing panel appointed by the governor’s office and confirmed by the Senate. The owner bonuses are included in the total purse that owners win in races and are not broken out separately like breeder bonuses are, the spokesperson said.
Commissioner R. Thomas Bowman, one of the state’s top breeders and first appointed to the commission in 2015, won $98,000 in purse awards as an owner of thoroughbreds with various partners, according to Equibase, the racing industry’s primary data clearinghouse. The Chestertown veterinarian’s winnings are in addition to the $1 million in breeding bonuses Bowman and partners won over the past five years with various partners.
Commissioner David Hayden’s Dark Hollow Farm in Baltimore County has earned nearly $1.3 million on horses that his company co-owned since 2009, the year he was appointed to the commission. About half of those earnings were won with multiple partners, according to Equibase. Those winnings are in addition to the $471,000 in breeder bonuses he earned with partners over the same period, according to data from the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.
And commissioner Konrad Wayson, a Calvert County businessman appointed in 2016, earned about $103,000 in purses between 2015 and 2018 with a partner, according to Equibase.
Bowman, Hayden, Wayson and commissioner Tammy Lafferty are counted among the four commissioners permitted to have financial interests in racing.
Hayden said state officials, not the commissioners, should be monitoring the commission’s composition to make sure it abides by the limits.
“Most people on the commission are not aware of the number of people who are allowed to own horses,” he said.
Most people do not understand just how expensive it is to raise horses that do not generate any racing revenue until they turn two or three years old, Hayden added. Then, any potential profits depend on the horse’s success.
“We could have well over $150,000 in a horse before it hits the racetrack,” Hayden said. “It’s a lot of money.”
Wayson could not be reached for comment. Bowman declined to comment after saying The Sun’s investigation was “politically slanted.”
Bonuses set by the commissioners are primarily funded by slot machine revenues earmarked for the racing industry. In fiscal year 2018, slots generated $5.4 million for the Maryland Bred Race Fund and nearly $45 million to boost thoroughbred purses, according racing commission statistics. Slots also provided nearly $11 million to harness-racing purses at Ocean Downs and Rosecroft Raceway and $1.3 million for standardbred breeder bonuses, the data shows.
Bonuses for owners of Maryland-bred horses are awarded out of the Maryland Thoroughbred Purse Account managed by the Maryland Jockey Club, owner of Pimlico, Laurel and Rosecroft.
The added slots revenue since 2010 has led to a steady increase in average purses from a two-decade low of $20,000 in 2010 to $37,000 last year, according to the national Jockey Club’s statistics.
The state’s program has helped to achieve its goal of improving Maryland’s horse industry. Hayden said in a prior interview that “40% of horses running in Maryland right now are Maryland-bred.” That’s up from 30% a few years ago, he added. And in-state horses won 66% of total earnings last year, up from half in 2014, data show.
Three other commissioners — Thomas Winebrener, Clarissa Coughlin and Lafferty — also have won money from horses they breed, primarily in harness-racing. Chairman Michael Algeo and commissioner Ernest Grecco have no industry ties, and the commission’s ninth member resigned in April.
That means six out of the current eight commissioners are financially involved in the industry, while state law says that no more than four member can have a "financial interest.”
State officials initially said the board is adhering to state law because “financial interest” applies only to horse owners, not breeders. The four commissioners identified by the state as owning horses were Bowman, Hayden, Wayson and Lafferty. But Winebrener is both a breeder and an owner. State officials then said that governors of both parties have for years appointed a panel with at least five members who are owners or breeders, and the Maryland Senate has confirmed them.