09/14/2016 10:46AM

Pennsylvania breeders await change in law to restore bonus money

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The month of September in Pennsylvania racing began with a visit by Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia, who dominated the newly created Princess of Sylmar Stakes at Parx. Later this month, the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby is expected to get a purse hike as it draws Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist and Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator.

But even as Pennsylvania racing makes headlines with the national-level stars being drawn there, the home team is struggling, as a bill signed this year to put racing under a new commission has affected statebred incentives being paid out to Pennsylvania Thoroughbred breeders. And thus, perhaps the most important event on the state’s Thoroughbred calendar this month will occur when the state’s government reconvenes.

In February, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed HB941, which put the oversight of Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing under one body, rather than the separate commissions that previously existed for each breed.

“Racing today is incredibly different than it was decades ago,” Wolf said. “We had to change with the times. The previous system left the Commonwealth with a framework under which we lacked the resources to ensure the sport’s integrity. The system was broken, and we were facing a structural deficit in the state’s racing fund, which jeopardized our ability to oversee the industry and protect the wagering public. This new commission and the other reforms enacted, with the support of the General Assembly, puts us in a much better position to ensure the future of racing in Pennsylvania.”

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However, language in HB941 had the effect of changing the qualifications for breeder incentive awards in the state – a change that was unintentional, according to lawmakers.

Previously, Pennsylvania breeders received 30 percent in awards for top-three finishes by horses by registered Pennsylvania sires and foaled in the state; statebred foals by out-of-state sires earned 20 percent. Last year, $11 million was paid out in breeder and stallion awards, $6 million in owner bonuses, and $14 million in restricted overnight and stakes races, according to the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association.

HB941 contained language that eliminated the 20 percent awards for horses sired by out-of-state stallions. Checks were distributed in May for qualifying races that took place before the bill was signed in May, but no awards in that category have been distributed since.

“The resulting, lengthy halt in breeder awards has crippled the Thoroughbred breeding industry in Pennsylvania and promoted a growing exodus of investors, breeders, and skilled workers from the Commonwealth,” the PHBA stated in a letter, signed by its president, Roger Legg, that was sent to Wolf in July.

“Just as an example, one of our association’s board members, recently speaking to a Maryland stallion manager, asked what he thought was a major contributor to his stallion’s recent success. The quick and easy answer was that ‘We’re getting business from Pennsylvania because breeders there are tired of hearing bad news almost every day.’ … Replies like the above are becoming so commonplace in our industry that they are undermining our place in Pennsylvania agriculture, which, as you know, overall contributes more to the economy of Pennsylvania than any other business. Hundreds of breeders are now waiting for $3 to $4 million in held up awards. And the total grows each week as their produce compete and succeed on Pennsylvania’s racetracks.”

Senate Bill 1229 was introduced in Pennsylvania to restore the previous language regarding the breeding fund, but did not clear both chambers of the state government before it adjourned in July. The House will reconvene Monday, with the Senate back in session Sept. 26.