MTHA board votes to assist Virginia, Maryland State Fair meet

Posted: July 4, 2017

The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association board of directors has approved requests to schedule several more Virginia-bred races at Laurel Park this year and to assist the Maryland State Fair at Timonium in increasing overnight purses during its seven-day meet.

Maryland has been hosting Virginia-bred stakes on its turf course to assist owners and breeders who have had no regular Thoroughbred meet since the closure of Colonial Downs. The MTHA board was asked to consider adding another five races that would be sprinkled over a six-month period at Laurel.

MTHA president Tim Keefe, during the organization’s June 23 board meeting, noted purses for Virginia-bred races are funded by the Virginia Equine Alliance and not the Maryland purse account.

“It doesn’t cost us anything to run the races, and we get the (revenue from pari-mutuel handle on the races),” Keefe said. “One thing it does cost us–maybe–are races for Maryland horses on those days. But there are plenty of Virginia horsemen who support us throughout the year.”

“There are people in Virginia who have Virginia-breds who really have nowhere to run their horses,” MTHA board member Ferris Allen said. “They want to hold some blue-collar races for them. Their first choice is to continue their partnership with Maryland, though there will be four races held at Charles Town this year. It’s a no-brainer for us because it doesn’t cost us anything.”

Even though Virginia has no racetrack—the VEA and Virginia Racing Commission are working to rectify that situation—the industry derives revenue from off-track betting and advance deposit wagering. Last year the Standardbred industry successfully hosted a 10-day harness meet in Woodstock and will do so again this year.

In a related matter, Virginia Thoroughbred interests are discussing a plan similar to the Delaware Certified Thoroughbred Program whereby horses that are domiciled in the state for a short period of time would quality for bonuses when they race.

Meanwhile, officials associated with racing at the Maryland State Fair asked the MTHA board to consider several things, including “purse parity” for the Timonium meet. The MTHA settled on a compromise that would increase average daily purses at the fair meet to $185,000 a day—last year the average was about $160,000—and add a stakes to the meet.

State fair officials soon after announced the name of the stakes—the Coalition, in honor of the groups that have worked together to re-energize Maryland racing. The purse for the stakes, for 3-year-olds and up at 6 1/2 furlongs, will be $75,000 with  another $25,000 will be offered for Maryland-bred or -sired entrants. Fasig-Tipton will offer a $10,000 to the winner if the horse is a Mid-Atlantic sale graduate.

The $20,000 trainer bonus for the Timonium meet also will continue this year.

Timonium “owns” the Maryland racing network for 10 days during which the Purse Dedication Account earns revenue from casino video lottery terminals. Live racing is scheduled for seven days: Aug. 25-27 and Sept. 1-4.

Bill Marlow, an attorney for the Maryland State Fair, discussed the history of the Timonium facility and how the fair attracts potential horseracing fans during its run.

“Only the quality of racing at Timonium will ensure the future of racing at Timonium,” Marlow said. “We want to fill our races.”

Bill Reightler, a member of the Maryland State Fair board, said an effort is underway to introduce more fair attendees to the grandstand on racing days as well as improve the overall racing experience.

“Timonium wants to be part of the renaissance we are seeing in Maryland and we want to be a good partner,” he said. “This is a great thing you’ve done (by increasing purses). We can take this back to the board and it will give us more ammunition to do things.”

(Timonium photo by Tom LaMarra)