Keystone Case - By Russell B. Jones, Jr.

(Originally published in the Sept 11, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)  

It has been 35 years since the Pennsylvania Breeding Fund Program became law, and in its first full year of operation $64,000 of incentive awards were distributed. Not a princely sum, but a beginning.

In 2009 the total dollars available to breeders, owners, and stallion owners of Pennsylvania-breds was just short of $19 million. We expect that number to approach $22 million in 2010. And while the debate regarding the long-term impact of slots as a source of funding to a beleaguered racing industry goes on, the immediate impact here in Pennsylvania has been nothing short of phenomenal. Purses have nearly tripled, and with more than 500 racing programs in the state per year, nearly $115 million will be available in 2010.

Pennsylvania has become a big-time player on the national Thoroughbred stage.

A deep racing history exists in Pennsylvania. The horses bred here have made their mark nationally and internationally beginning with Iroquois’ victory in the Derby at Epsom in 1881 through Smarty Jones’ almost sweep of the 2004 Triple Crown. Pennsylvania has been the birthplace of champions and classic winners that have taken their places in the pedigrees of many top horses worldwide.

When our breeding fund was authorized by statute, its purpose was to produce competitive horses to support live racing in the state. At that time, three tracks offered nearly 550 live racing programs and their entry boxes needed all the support they could generate. To accomplish this goal, the program incentivized breeders and stallion owners with award payments based upon purse shares earned by the top three finishers in every race run in the state—30% to the breeders of state-sired runners, 20% to non-state-sired runners, and 10% to the owners of the Pennsylvania stallion. These award percentages are mandated by statute, with the thought being that purse schedules (high for the top-class horses; lower for lesser-classes) would provide the proper proportionality to the different award payment amounts.

Our foal crop has grown dramatically in recent years. The Jockey Club records show 984 registered Pennsylvania-breds in 2004. By 2008 the number had grown to 1,392 state-bred foals, and the number will continue growing. Pennsylvania breeders reported 1,737 mares bred in 2009, up from 1,412 the previous year. As the number of Pennsylvania-breds increases, so does the amount of purse money earned by state-bred horses, which in turn has put a greater demand on the amount of fund money used for breeder and stallion owner awards. This increased demand has created a decrease in the amount of money available for Pennsylvania-bred purses and bonuses. Local horsemen, many of whom are also breeders, have recognized the integral value of the Pennsylvania-bred program to the state industry as a whole. They have addressed this need by enthusiastically backing the concept of supporting purses for Pennsylvania-bred races with general purse fund money to ensure continuity, and even expansion, of Pennsylvania-bred racing opportunities. More than $4 million will be spent from general purse accounts to enhance state-bred purses in 2010.

From the beginning, the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association was charged by statute with the responsibility for administering, developing, and promoting the breeding fund program, and as a consequence we became an integral part of the state’s horse industry. We gained the respect of horsemen and track management with a sensible and oftentimes compromising approach to the many issues facing the industry as a whole. We spent considerable time in the halls of the state capitol in Harrisburg educating our legislators, many of whom had only urban exposure. Over the years we have been effective with this approach, achieving successful legislative initiatives for telephone account wagering (1983), interstate simulcasting (1986), offtrack wagering (1988), full-card simulcasting (1993), and slot machines at tracks (2005, thanks in part to Smarty Jones).

Each of these accomplishments took heavy lifting by all parts of the industry working together, and each has helped lay the groundwork for the favorable position Pennsylvania finds itself in today.

Russell B. Jones, Jr. is a Pennsylvania horseman and a former owner of Walnut Green Bloodstock Agency.

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