A comparable situation exists now in Maryland, where $5,000 claimers now compete for a purse of $17,500. Though horsemen will balk, of course, the Commission wants Maryland to emulate New York and reduce the ratio of the purse size to the claiming price.
It is encouraging that the Commission took the lead on this issue and handled it so thoughtfully. Maryland racing faces a slew of other problems, but the track’s management and its horsemen have such a long history of hostility that they can rarely agree on anything.
Since Quade became chairman last year, the Commission might play the role of a neutral arbiter. Unlike many of his predecessors, Quade is not a horse owner and has no stake in the game, except when he bets. He has been a racing fan since he started sneaking into Bowie Race Course as a teenager. He goes to the track two or three times a week, mostly at the Ocean Downs simulcasting facility. So he is well aware of Maryland’s problems, and he wants the Commission to get more involved in solving them.
One of his top priorities: “We need to do something to stimulate the state’s breeding industry.” Quade has made the controversial proposal that some of the money allotted to purses be paid as awards to owners of Maryland-bred horses. (Trainers aren’t thrilled with this idea, because it would reduce their cut from a winning purse.)
The health of the breeding industry is important to the entire sport. When Maryland’s thoroughbred farms were thriving, they provided many of the horses that gave the state a solid racing product. In 1991, more than 1,700 thoroughbreds were foaled in Maryland; by 2011, the number had dropped to 388. That’s one of the reasons that the quality of racing at Laurel has been so poor, with so many small fields and so many bottom-level claiming horses.
When it was suggested to Quade that the issue of breeder awards was not within the purview of the racing commission, he objected: “Hell, yes, it’s in the interest of the Racing Commission to look at everything that affects this industry.”
If that’s his philosophy, he won’t have any shortage of controversial projects to tackle.
For more columns by Andrew Beyer, visit washingtonpost.com/beyer.