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More Betting on Pa. Breeders

Payout Potential From Keystone State's Slots Lures Horses From Md.

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 8, 2005; Page B01


He was all wobbly legs and dark gray fuzz, like a storm cloud on stilts.

But the colt that arrived at Glenn and Rebecca Brok's Diamond B farm less than 12 hours earlier carried traces of ancient thoroughbred champions in his blood. And he came with a relatively new competitive advantage, too: a Pennsylvania pedigree.

Glenn Brok
Glenn Brok
Rob Lynch, Sarah Brok and Becky Brok attend to a colt 12 hours after the mare, Mystical Tricks, gave birth at Diamond B farm in Pennsylvania. (Katherine Frey - The Washington Post)

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Up and down the stalls of the Diamond B farm, dozens of mares waited to give birth, their out-of-state owners all hoping to claim the same birthright. Business, for the Diamond B and other Pennsylvania breeders, has been good this foaling season.

The reason? The imminent arrival of slot machine gambling and, with it, richer racing payouts, particularly for horses bred in Pennsylvania, they said.

Seventy-five miles south, just over the Maryland line, the people who train and breed horses at Bonita Farm in Darlington say Pennsylvania's good fortune has already come at their expense, a trend that could worsen.

This year, one regular client, Ronald Sapp, moved three brood mares that had foaled at Bonita Farm to the Diamond B. And unlike past years, when Bonita Farm had so many horses that some mares would be put in the care of a neighbor, this year there was none to spare, said William K. Boniface, owner of Bonita Farm and president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.

The reason? Also slots -- namely the continuing deadlock in Annapolis over whether to expand gambling, Boniface said.

Although Pennsylvania has yet to install a single slot machine at its racetracks since approving a plan last summer, racehorse owners and breeders say the business is shifting to the Keystone State to take advantage of the coming windfall: Pennsylvania expects to more than double its racing payouts with revenue generated by slot machines and direct much of that largess to local horses.

"I think it's at least doubled or tripled our business," Becky Brok said.

Maryland slots supporters, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), point to the lost foals as more reason to push through a plan before the General Assembly adjourns Monday.

"I cannot tell you how many breeding operations, veterinarians, farms, industry we will lose if we wait two additional years to save our horse racing industry and our horse farms," Ehrlich said at a news conference Wednesday.

But opponents say the problems facing Maryland's horse racing industry are far more complex and began long before the state legislature in Harrisburg approved slots.

It's not just Pennsylvania that is benefiting at Maryland's expense. The owners and employees of Maryland's horse farms -- whether engaged in raising thoroughbreds, which race with jockeys on their backs, or standardbred horses, which run on harness-racing circuits -- say a steady exodus of racehorses to neighboring states that have slots, such as West Virginia and Delaware, has already begun.

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