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.


A Simple Way to Get New Fans

The following piece appeared in the Oct. 8, 2011 edition of Thoroughbred Times and has been reprinted with their permission.

Racing needs to pay attention to P. T. Barnum


Mark Simon, editor of the Thoroughbred Times

Mark Simon, editor of the Thoroughbred Times

SOME racing executives or track owners believe the sport has to compete with lotteries. So they come up with bets that are difficult to win and are likely to produce a large payoff. That, they think, will draw attention to the sport, and result in more people coming to the track. It has not worked out that way. If racing wants to attract new fans, it is time to go back to the basics and keep things simple.

Bets such as the super high five, superfecta, and pick six can produce large payoffs, but they are not substitutes for lotteries or competition with lotteries. First, they appeal to two different audiences. Second, they are nothing alike.

Lotteries—and by the same token slot machines and video lottery terminals (VLTs)—require no skill or thought. The results are random. 

With super high fives, superfectas, and pick sixes, the results are not random. The horses with the better form, jockeys, trainers, class, post, distance proclivity, surface proclivity, et cetera, have a better chance of winning or finishing in the first four or five. Handicapping—skill—comes into play.

The large majority of those attracted to mindless lotteries and VLTs because they are mindless and random are poor candidates to ever be involved betting on races. First, they have to find themselves at the racetrack. Second, if they are at the track, how could they compete in a game of skill with no prior experience?

When that fan starts to look at each individual horse and why it could win, then you have someone who may move on to show or win betting.

In racing, those with more money, and who can cover more combinations, have a much greater chance of winning than someone who randomly plays a single ticket.

An advantage that lotteries have on racing is distribution, with countless stores and outlets, as opposed to racing, which has a brick-and-mortar facility, and maybe some off-track betting outlets. Lotteries reach millions of potential players daily, and they are well promoted through television and newspapers ads.

Racing has a difficult time promoting new bets, even to existing fans. The super high five was introduced in 2007, but has not gotten much traction. With a $1 minimum, it also is expensive, so not popular among those with little resources. In a ten-horse field, the super high five has 30,240 possible combinations.

Its unpopularity is evident on racing’s biggest day, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, when all the big bettors come out and play in earnest since all the pools are large.

Last year, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), the super high five pool was just $269,513. By comparison, the superfecta had a pool of $3,289,617, the trifecta a pool of $5,983,837, and the exacta a pool of $5,909,080.

Rather than try promoting an obscure bet with limited appeal, racing should introduce a simple wager easily understood by a novice. When a couple goes to the track and one knows a lot more about racing than the other, while one is betting superfectas and trifectas and exactas, the other can get their feet wet by betting an odd-even proposition, for example. If the race winner carries an odd-numbered saddle cloth, that is the bet winner, and if the winner carries an even-numbered saddle cloth, that is the bet winner. In a Breeders’ Cup race, that would give a novice bettor six or seven chances to win.

After a few races, someone making that bet may start to wonder why the payoffs between odd and even are not exactly the same, and you have the beginning of the education of a fan. When that fan starts to look at each individual horse and why it could win, then you have someone who may move on to show or win betting.

That process, of getting new fans started in the sport relatively simply so they are not intimidated to play or worried about looking foolish, is worth far more than the meager returns from an obscure, hard-to-win bet like the super high five.

P. T. Barnum had it figured out a century ago: No one ever got rich overestimating the intelligence of the American public. Do we need any more evidence today than slots, VLTs, and lotteries?

Let’s keep it simple, folks.

Mark Simon is editor of Thoroughbred Times. His e-mail address is

Internet Horseracing Wagering gets new Legislation

Congressman Chris Gibson from NYCongressman Chris Gibson (R-New York) has introduced legislation to clarify that online wagering on horse races remains legal in the United States.

 “This legislation will protect the domestic horse racing industry, preserving the foundation of many local communities. In the midst of another successful meet at Saratoga, I am proud to introduce this legislation in the United States House of Representatives,” explained Gibson.

Read the Thoroughbred Times article

Breeders’ Cup to Partner with Poker Pro | Poker Industry Upset

Poker Pro Vanessa Russo

Poker Pro Vanessa Russo

I couldn’t find anything about this on the NTRA or Breeders’ Cup websites, but the Thoroughbred Times is reporting that the Breeders’ Cup has established a sponsorship with poker superstar Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi, who is the youngest player on poker’s top 10 career money list with more than $11-million in career tournament earnings. Last year, “The Grinder” made the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event, finishing fifth to pocket over $2.3-million.

Breeders’ Cup believes the partnership will help introduce wagering and liquidity of the two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships to the poker world.

“We believe that there is a strong cross-over between poker and horse racing, which has not yet been realized”, said Peter Rotondo, vice president of media and entertainment for Breeders’ Cup.

I commend the Breeders’ Cup and Rotondo for trying this approach. It may not work as well as they hope since the crossover between poker players and handicappers is surprisingly low. I know this from having conducted surveys during my time at  Regardless, it is a worthwhile attempt by the industry.

Follow-up: A poker site just came out bashing The Grinder for his alignment with the racing industry. Read about the pushback here.