The scene in Massachusetts racing has been making some key developments over the last few months, with races and purses being added to the state’s top tracks. However, there is now a strong lean for standardbreds after a recent change in fund allocation. The previous split of 75-25 that strongly preferred thoroughbred horse men will now see a 55-45 split that goes in the direction of standardbreds.
The decision was made by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which overseas the dispersion of the multimillion dollar Race Horse Development Fund. The verdict was unanimous at 5-0 and will be applied retroactively to January 1st, 2016 and remain in play for the foreseeable future.
Gayle Cameron, who sits on both the MGC and the Horse Racing Commission made a frank statement concerning the news. “The members of the committee read all of the reports submitted by the attorneys for each group. Look, [the Standardbreds] have the bulk of the business now and all of the numbers have flipped as far as live handle, employment, and ancillary jobs outside of the track. The only numbers that haven’t changed would be the simulcast handle on Thoroughbred racing, even at Plainridge, and that was a plus for the Thoroughbreds,” said Cameron. “The Standardbred people made a pretty compelling case.”
Dr. Anthony Zizza also commented on the financial challenges facing thoroughbred horses in the state. “When anyone breeds a Thoroughbred, there is a major investment involved. We all know it can take three to four years before your foal gets to the races,” said Zizza. “It is our mission to advance Thoroughbred breeding in Massachusetts and we are concerned by the lack of permanence and stability in an environment can change from year to year. Investors require a multiyear, and multigenerational, commitment.
“Another important part of this is we need people willing to invest the money to bring stallions and mares into the state and to buy farms to support breeding. No smart investor is going to put money into a market that has the current inherent volatility,” Zizza expressed. “In the very short time that we have had the RHDF, there has been substantial and positive activity with new owners coming in and buying, claiming and racing Mass-breds. Now everything that they based their business plan on is gone. I know one potential owner who was planning a big investment in Massachusetts has already pulled back because of this change in the splits. Everything has already been turned upside down.”
It’s not a dead fight for thoroughbred racing, nor does the increased support of standardbred racing and harnessed horses indicate a softened push for either side. The MGC has already greenlit a number of meets for Suffolk Downs and other tracks in the state of Massachusetts. If the thoroughbred horse men want to levy the scales back in their favor, they now have an immense number of hoops to jump through.
All of this will be a positive if the state can gain some financial footing as it attempts to compete for the attention of horse men nationwide, who are otherwise committed to tracks in Kentucky, California, Maryland, Louisiana, Arkansas and New York.