(Originally published in the April 10, 2010 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
There are two races in the condition book for Monmouth Park’s opening day, May 22, for maiden special weights, 3-year-olds and up. One is open company; the other restricted to horses bred in New Jersey. The purses are the same: $75,000. A race for state-bred non-winners of a race other than carries an $80,000 purse.
Much has been written about Monmouth’s gutsy move to offer $1 million a day during the upcoming meet that runs through Labor Day (Sept. 6). In particular, it is a boon for owners of New Jersey-breds, a big pie to be divided among not that many participants. There were 286 Thoroughbreds bred in New Jersey in 2008; 395 in 2007; 329 in 2006.
A former editor of this publication wrote many times about the proliferation and growth of state incentive funds. It was Kent Hollingsworth’s belief that these restrictive programs did nothing but promote mediocrity.
In a December 1980 column on the subject, Hollingsworth wrote: “…If the breeding stock in a state is upgraded, the state breeding industry can be improved. The thought here has always been, however, that to exclude a nice filly from a race she could win, solely because she was foaled out of state, will not improve Thoroughbred breeding anywhere; that to provide purse money to a lesser horse by excluding a possibly better horse from the race, solely along state lines, is contrary to the very essence of horse racing.”
That essence is that the best horse should win the best race and earn the most money. Not only money, but since the early 1970s, black-type and graded status. Only about 2.5% of foals go on to win a graded stakes, which signifies excellence in the Thoroughbred and has always been an important factor in assessing racing class in both stallions and broodmares.
Most tracks have had purse structures that reward the best horses, but in Monmouth’s case, the winner of an open race and the winner of a restricted race receive the same amount.
Indiana is currently debating the objective of its program and whether more money should be awarded to state-bred horses that win in open company, something that is done in some other jurisdictions.
The Indiana Horse Racing Commission supports increased rewards for Indiana-breds that win in open company; members of the Indiana Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association do not, arguing more money for state-bred races encourages more breeding in the state.
Information supplied by Equibase shows that 29 states in 2009 offered a percentage of purses for state-bred races, the notable exception being Kentucky. If the goal of state-bred programs has been to encourage more breeding within state borders, it has been an unequivocal success. If the goal has been to upgrade breeding stock within those states, then the debate rages on.
Indiana is certainly one of those states that pays a sizeable amount of its purse money to state-bred horses; of its $20.8 million in purses last year, $9.9 million, or 47.6%, was available for state-breds. Only one state had a larger percentage for state-breds, that being New Mexico, with almost $16.5 million of $31.4 million, or 52.5% available for horses bred there. Ranking third in that category was another state with slots that have enriched its state-bred program, Louisiana, which offered 41% of its purse money, $36.7 million of $89.5 million, to state-breds.
California has the largest purse structure in the country, by far, at $174.4 million. Of that amount, 6.8%, about $11.8 million, is for state-breds.
In addition to Kentucky, five states offered stakes purses of more than $10 million in 2009. Of those five, New York offers the highest percentage to state-breds, $6.3 million of $43.7 million, or 14.6%.
State breeding programs are big business, adding money to purses and in many cases paying breeder, stallion, and broodmare awards. But despite that, Hollingsworth probably had it right, that the best horse should always be able to compete anywhere and be rewarded for doing so.