Over The Line - By Evan Hammonds

Surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were called on in the 1760s to resolve a border dispute involving Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Little did they know the impact they would have on American history, politics, and culture.

A century later the Mason-Dixon Line informally became the border between the North and South during our country’s Civil War. In the first week of February 2020, the Mason-Dixon Line marks a stark contrast between the thought processes of two state governments and the way they perceive the Thoroughbred

The week began with great news out of Maryland’s capital of Annapolis, where state lawmakers introduced legislation that would get the ball rolling with The Stronach Group and the city of Baltimore on a $375-million plan to rebuild Pimlico, which is located in the blighted Park Heights section of the city, and to refurbish Laurel Race Course, which is close to Washington, D.C. Pimlico, of course, is home of the Preakness Stakes (G1), and the crumbling facility has been a sore spot for years.

The legislation is a shot in the arm, not only for Maryland horsemen but also for the state’s breeding industry, which is beginning to show signs of life after teetering on the brink just a few short years ago.

Meanwhile, north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf delivered a surprise uppercut to the state’s breeding industry in his budget address. Tone deaf to the economic impact the Thoroughbred industry has on the Keystone State, Wolf proposed ending all Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund payments to purses and breeders funds and redirecting the more than $204 million to college scholarships.

While we have hope beyond hope the state’s general assembly won’t move the initiative forward, the damage might already have been done, at least for 2020.

“It’s definitely going to affect the breeding season. We felt like we were stabbed in the back,” said Paul O’Loughlin, the bloodstock manager for Northview Stallion Station. Richard Golden’s Northview is a market leader in the Midlantic region with stallion operations in Pennsylvania and Maryland. “I’d say we could lose about 20% of our business this year because the result won’t come down until June or July, and by then the breeding season is over. People are hesitant, especially those from out of state.”

It’s a tough blow for the state’s breeding industry, which appeared to have been gaining traction over the last few years. The number of mares bred in the state dwindled to 554 in 2016 but has since seen growth to 681 in 2017, 682 in 2018, and 814 in 2019. The foal crop, too, has been on the rise.

“It’s a shame for the breeding industry, no matter what happens, because it was really taking off,” said Pennsylvania-based trainer John Servis. “The last couple of years the foal crop was up significantly. The breeding industry is on a big-time upswing.

“Making announcements like that scares everybody to death, and they wonder if they want to keep breeding in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Servis is the trainer of Pennsylvania’s own Smarty Jones, whose wins in the 2004 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness helped the state usher in the slots program that fuels not only the Development Fund but also generates a lot of money for the state’s general coffers.

Servis, who spoke to the state’s house and senate to help get slots rolling more than 15 years ago, knows there’s a lot more that needs to be done beyond slot revenue. He also doesn’t see why the tracks aren’t more aggressive or unabashed about making money.

“We need to be successful,” he said. “Whether it’s dropping the takeout or changing breakage, or offering more gimmick wagers for people to bet on, you have to keep trying and innovating,” he said.

And industry insiders need to draw their own line in statehouses across the country.

“We have to keep hammering,” he said. “The big thing is I don’t know if he’s (Gov. Wolf) considering how many jobs the horse racing industry provides. It’s not just with the horses. It trickles down a long, long way. They need to take that into consideration.”

Another thing to consider is the stubbornness of most people in our industry.

“There are a lot of livelihoods on the line…we’re not going to run away,” O’Loughlin said.

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