For the Love of Horse Racing

By Ashley Valis, Intergovernmental Affairs (and “lover of all things equestrian”)

(reprinted from the Governor of Maryland’s website and written prior to this year’s Preakness Stakes)

As Preakness Day draws closer, the excitement in Baltimore and, more specifically, around Pimlico Race Course is revving up. From college kids excited about their first trip to the infield, to women shopping for that perfect Preakness hat, Baltimore is abuzz with anticipation over the running of the 2nd leg of the Triple Crown here in our own backyard.

As a “lover of all things equestrian” and a member of the Governor’s team, I wanted to remind Marylanders about why our State’s horse industry is so important.

For many people, a day at Old Hilltop brings back memories of when they used to visit as a kid.  I grew up going to Pimlico with my dad, and today we will continue our family tradition of gathering for the afternoon at Old Hilltop for the Black Eyed Susan Stakes with many other Maryland families.

These memories, and my love for riding at Olney Farm, one of Maryland’s most historic barns, remind me of how thankful I am that we have such a strong horse industry in Maryland, and a Governor that sees the value in protecting it. The economic impact of the Preakness Stakes and the horse industry in general is substantial. The Preakness Stakes is the largest one-day sporting event in Maryland. Last year 107,398 fans attended the race at Pimlico, helping to generate about $40 million in economic impact for Baltimore City and the State of Maryland. Overall, the horse industry supports more than 28,000 jobs in Maryland and it has an annual economic impact of over $1.5 billion.

As important as the economics of a healthy racing industry are to Maryland, it is equally important to recognize and appreciate the men and women who have dedicated their lives to Maryland racing. Maryland’s horsemen are hardworking folks who value Maryland’s rich equine heritage, value the farm land that we have invested to protect, and value the storied history of Maryland’s own racing champions like Native Dancer from Sagamore Farm. Whether it is the Boniface family at Bonita Farm in Harford County, where the oldest living Preakness winner, Deputed Testamony, stands at the age of 32, or Michael Matz, the Kentucky Derby winning trainer who is based at one of the finest training facilities in the country, Fair Hill in Cecil County, Maryland’s horse professionals are first class and deserve a healthy, thriving industry in which to grow.

That is why I am proud of Governor O’Malley’s record to protect the livelihood of these men and women. Under his leadership, we’ve permanently preserved over 88,000 acres of farmland devoted strictly to horses, we’ve established the Touch of Class Awards to honor equestrian activities and we’ve continued to support the racing industry.

This time last year, Governor O’Malley and I visited the Fair Hill Training Center as Maryland trainer Graham Motion prepared Animal Kingdom for his valiant effort in the Preakness. Standing there on the postcard perfect 350-acre grounds watching a magnificent Derby champion breeze by in perfect stride is an experience I will never forget.

As long as we continue to help the Maryland horse industry thrive, the Preakness in Baltimore will be the centerpiece of a Maryland industry that gives us all something to be proud of. It is a unique Maryland tradition that holds memories that last a lifetime for many of us–including myself. Good luck to all, but I will be rooting for one of our Maryland-connected colts, Went The Day Well, to run away with the Woodlawn Vase on Saturday.


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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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