01/26/2007 12:00AM

Horsemen ask for $30M in lieu of slots


Maryland's racing industry has asked the state legislature for a $30omillion enhancement to purses and breeders funds in each of the next two years, to soften the blow from competitive forces in surrounding states.

John B. Franzone, the Maryland Racing Commission member who serves as chairman of the commission's task force, known as KIM (Keep It In Maryland), made the request last Thursday at a briefing before the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles County).

Slots revenue is boosting the industry in each of the major racing states bordering Maryland. And "these states are building arsenals against us," Franzone warned.

Franzone told the committee that Maryland's breeders and horsemen have begun an exodus, and "once they leave in all likelihood they're not coming back."

Slots are not considered likely to gain approval in the 2007 session of the Maryland General Assembly, which continues until April 9. However, the state's new governor, Martin O'Malley, has declared himself in favor of slots to bolster the racing industry, and industry leaders are guardedly optimistic about positive action next year.

At last week's Senate briefing, representatives from the various industry groups, including tracks, breeders and horsemen, emphasized the urgency of the situation.

"We really are at a critical point," said Maryland Horse Breeders Association president James B. Steele, who pointed out that the weakening of Maryland's horse industry threatens the state's open spaces. "You can only lose money for so long. And once the farms are gone, the next best use for the land is houses."

The fact that Maryland's racing industry has remained viable in the face of competition from Delaware, West Virginia, and, increasingly, from Pennsylvania testifies to its quality, said Michael Pons, a co-owner of Country Life Farm in Bel Air, Md., and former breeders association president.

"Despite all the obstacles, we are continuing to make our mark nationally," said Pons. "And that is quite a feat."

Ah Day chosen state's top horse

Ah Day, the consistent campaigner bred, owned, and trained by King T. Leatherbury, will be honored by the Maryland Racing Media Association as Maryland-based horse of the year for 2006.

A Maryland-bred son of Malibu Moon, Ah Day won six stakes as a 3-year-old last year - the most by any Mid-Atlantic-bred.

He launched his 2007 campaign with an impressive victory in Laurel Park's Fire Plug Stakes last weekend, and is now aiming for the Grade 2 General George Breeders' Cup Handicap, a $300,000 seven-furlong race at Laurel on Feb. 19.

In 18 career starts, Ah Day has earned $519,160.

The presentation will take place on Feb. 24, in a ceremony preceding the Maryland Racing Media Association Handicap at Laurel.

First foals of two freshman sires

Two of Maryland's first-year stallions had foals born during the first two weeks of 2007.

Dance With Ravens's first foal, a colt out of the graded-stakes-placed Cherokee Run mare Pajamas, arrived on Jan. 11. The result of a test breeding, he is owned by Tom and Chris Bowman.

Dance With Ravens, a graded-winning son of A.P. Indy-Dance Smartly, by Danzig, stands at Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City.

The first foal from the initial crop of Gators N Bears is a filly born Jan. 12 at At Last Farm in Aquasco, Md. Bred by James Binder, the filly is out of Bet Me Now (by Frisk Me Now), who is a half-sister to the multiple-stakes-winning Maryland-bred Foxie G.

Gators N Bears, a multiple graded stakes winner by Stormy Atlantic-I'll Be Along, by Notebook, stands at Maryland Stallion Station in Glyndon.