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In May, the Maryland Racing Commission approved recommendations from its Breeding Industry Task Force addressing bonuses for breeders, owners and stallions – all aimed at bolstering the state’s Thoroughbred breeding industry.

If finalized and adopted, the program will include (starting in September):
• A 30-percent bonus, paid by the Maryland Bred Fund, to the breeders of Maryland-bred horses which finish first, second or third in open races at Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course and Timonium.
• A 10-percent bonus, paid by the Maryland Bred Fund, to the owners of sires who produce Maryland-bred horses which finish first, second or third in open races at the three tracks.
• A 20-percent bonus, paid through the track purse account, to the owners of Maryland-bred horses which finish first, second or third in open races at the three tracks. The owners’ enhancement is slated to increase to 30 percent in 2015.

Maryland Horse Breeders Association President Tom Bowman answered some questions on what the changes will do for the state’s breeding industry, which has weathered massive decreases in mares bred, foal crops and the stallion rosters over the past decade.

What were the goals of the task force in addressing the breeding industry?

We had three objectives – make the breeding program strong, change the structure to reward more people and use it to help strengthen racing. Within that, we knew we wanted to increase the breeders’ incentives, change the current regulation (which only awards winners) to pay back to third place and maintain or increase owners’ bonuses.

How did the task force go about crafting the recommendations?

From the beginning we wanted to find the facts and offer solutions. We spent a lot of time on it. We mailed out questionnaires, we asked for comments, we talked with the groups involved – the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the Maryland Jockey Club. We looked at Maryland’s regional competition, and national competition. We tried to look at why certain regions were thriving and asked how we could change the patterns in Maryland to reflect those areas of the country that were being successful. We didn’t want to just copy them, but we wanted to see how we could use what worked best in other states and make them better if we could.

How important are increased bonuses for breeders?

Right now, we’re offering 17.5 percent to winners only and we believe it isn’t enough to encourage people to come here, own a mare or stay here with mares. States around us are offering nearly two times that much and we felt that 30 percent was the minimum of what it was going to take to make a difference. When Bruce Quade became chairman of the racing commission, his first priority was getting the long-term agreement between the racetracks, the horsemen and the breeders. Step two was to do something to help the breeding industry. It’s a three-legged stool – the racetracks, the breeding industry and the owners and trainers at the track – and the proper balance is when every one of those organizations is successful and in sync with the others.

What kind of impact do you envision?

I’ve already seen a number of people, even this late in the year, tell me they’re going to breed their mares – because of the 30 percent. I think there are going to be opportunities to get back in the broodmare business in Maryland because it’s going to be financially viable. We were caught in a perfect storm – progress in other states, downspin in the economy and a lack of momentum here. We bottomed out a year or two ago. We’re going to see a slow, but very strong, increase in the number of mares producing Maryland-breds. I think breeders will be more and more tempted to stay at home and breed at home. If everything happens the way the task force has drawn it up, an owner/breeder will get a 60-percent bonus which is a nice kick and further encourages people to breed and race in the state. In a five-year span, that will be reflected in great participation of Maryland-breds in Maryland racing.

What about stallion bonuses?

Stallions are an integral part of the whole deal, because if we’re going to try to get people to keep mares here we’re going to have to attract stallions too. But just an increase in the stallion bonus isn’t going to make the difference in someone relocating a stallion here. What really matters to stallion owners are mare pools, and progeny earnings. The breeders’ bonus will help the mare pool and the earnings are affected by the purses at the track, which have increased. We suggested stallion bonuses be 10 percent and that future consideration be given to other programs that might affect stallions. It has to build from the bottom up. It’s not a major change from the stallion bonuses Maryland offers now, but we think the breeders’ bonuses will have an effect on stallions too by putting more mares in the state.

Owners’ bonuses used to be paid through the Maryland Bred Fund. Why recommend shifting that to the purse account?

The MHBA is charged with doing whatever it can to encourage breeding, and the task force was created to find ways to enhance breeding, but in asking people on our board and on the MTHA board, no one wanted to see owners’ bonuses go away. They are an important part of the program. The more we worked on it, and came to the conclusion that breeders’ bonuses were going to need to be 30 percent, it became clear that owner enhancements were going to have to come from a different source. We can no longer fund that and still fund increased breeder bonuses. The purse account became the logical solution, though we realize it’s a new concept in Maryland and we’re stepping into the unknown a little bit.

What do these changes mean for Maryland’s racing industry politically?

You’d have to have your head in the sand to think that the money we’re receiving from slots isn’t going to be under intense scrutiny. The more we can demonstrate that the money is going to programs that will strengthen the state of Maryland, overall, that Maryland horses are winning races and that Maryland owners and trainers are buying Maryland horses the better we will be. The industry has been put on notice. We’ve been given this for a certain amount of time, and we’re expected to demonstrate responsible use of the funds. This puts us on the right course. I think the future is bright, really bright. R

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