11/07/2008 1:00AM

Slots help finally on way


Maryland horsemen breathed a huge sigh of relief on Tuesday evening when Question 2 on the state's ballot, the constitutional amendment authorizing slot machines to fund education, as well as support the Maryland racing industry, passed. And it wasn't even close, with 59 percent of Marylanders voting for the amendment, which will allow a total of 15,000 video lottery terminals to be placed at five locations in the state.

The consensus of those operating the state's leading breeding farms is one of renewed hope.

Maryland breeders took a major hit with competition from Pennsylvania, whose purses and breeders' fund has grown in massive proportions since slot money began rolling in two years ago.

The Pennsylvania breeding industry is expanding every year, with more than 20 new stallions already reported to be taking up residence for the 2009 season. The Jockey Club's 2008 Report of Mares Bred numbers released a little more than a week ago bears out the trend, as Pennsylvania stallions covered more mares than Maryland stallions for the first time.

A total of 89 stallions standing in Pennsylvania this year covered 1,237 mares, compared with the 1,195 mares bred to 45 Maryland stallions. On the bright side for Maryland stallion owners, the average book size for Maryland stallions remains the highest in the region, and second only to Kentucky, with 26.5 mares per stallion. Pennsylvania's average stallion book was 13.9.

Twenty-five of the Maryland stallions stood at four farms - Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City, Maryland Stallion Station in Glyndon, Murmur Farm in Darlington, and Country Life Farm in Bel Air. They accounted for 90 percent of the mares bred in the state.

Northview Stallion Station once again led the way, with nine stallions covering 509 mares, topped by the 96 bred to Dance With Ravens, whose first crop comes to the races in 2009. But this year, two from the Maryland roster, including Medallist, who was bred to 50 mares this year, are taking up residence at the farm's new offshoot, Northview PA in Peach Bottom, Pa. Northview has also announced that first-year stallion Fairbanks, a son of Giant's Causeway, is going to Pennsylvania.

With the passage of the slots referendum, Northview co-founder and managing partner Richard Golden said: "I do not expect a much more positive attitude immediately as much as I believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel for everyone in the Thoroughbred industry now that we can see a brighter future. As time goes by that light will get brighter and brighter."

Northview's options to adding a new stallion to the Maryland roster all depends on finding the right horse, added Golden. Currently it has no new prospects.

Maryland Stallion Station's eight stallions covered 373 mares this year, with the region's second-leading sire, Outflanker, covering 74.

"This past year, approximately half of our clients were Maryland breeders and half out of state," said Maryland Stallion Station partner David DiPietro.

He added that the slots passage may give breeders "more confidence that they can actually recoup their investments in stud fees due a larger pool of breeder bonus dollars and higher purses. The breeder making a mating decision for 2009 can reasonably expect that some portion of those funds will be in place when those offspring first run in 2012. The good thing about the increased breeder incentive funds is that the greatest benefit is to the middle market breeders who are struggling to make ends meet and who are in some cases not even breeding all of their mares because the economics are so challenging. I also expect that this could stem the bleeding of mares moving out of state or local breeders selling their mares."

The only major farm with a new stallion for 2009 is Allen and Audrey Murray's Murmur Farm, which added graded stakes winner Rush Bay.

"We've booked four mares in the last two days," said Audrey Murray. "It could be because of slots."

The sale of 2-year-old Jose Adan, a son of Murmur stallion Crypto Star, to Godolphin has also created interest.