Maryland Horsemen Question Wisdom of Preakness Purse Payment

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Tim Keefe | Maryland Jockey Club photo

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Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association President Tim Keefe said it may be “unrealistic” for the local purse account to pay for the $1.5-million Preakness and the several stakes that are held in support of the Preakness.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Keefe said he has become increasingly concerned about the amount of purse money that is available for racing at Pimlico and Laurel. There has been no racing in Maryland since Mar. 15, but the bigger problem is that the state’s casinos also shut down on that date. According to Keefe, nearly 70% of Maryland’s purse money comes from casino revenues.

The horsemen have said they have been hoping that a resumption of racing would mean that the purse account would get a boost from betting handle, but, so far, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has not given the go-ahead for the tracks to reopen. Hogan appeared on national television Saturday to announce that the GI Preakness S. would be run Oct. 3, but made no mention of when racing would resume.

The horsemen do have a cushion, a $3.2-million surplus in the purse account, that can be dipped into once racing resumes, but Keefe said he feared that the money will not last as it will be needed to keep purses near the levels they were at prior to Laurel shutting down.

In 2019, the Preakness purse was $1.5 million and eight other stakes on the card were worth $1.1 million. On the Friday before the Preakness, there were seven stakes worth a total of $1.15 million The majority of the purses from those stakes is normally won by non-Maryland trainers.

“Without the ability to replenish itself and generate additional revenue from live racing, it may be unrealistic for the Purse Account to fund the Preakness and its expensive supporting race card that benefits out-of-state horsemen to the exclusion of a struggling Maryland racing community,” Keefe said in the statement.

In a follow-up interview with the TDN, Keefe restated what he sees as a need to support local horsemen.

“We’ve all gone through a lot of hardships this year and it’s just implausible to think we’re going to have the amount of money we usually have around the time we run the Preakness and the rest of those big stakes,” he said. “Who knows what is going to happen? I can’t predict that. But it has been a difficult time for all of us in Maryland, as it has been everywhere. My opinion is we need to concentrate on those Maryland horsemen who have been struggling. The casinos aren’t open and we are not realizing any revenue. We have the $3.2 million in there now to get us going, but the casinos certainly aren’t going to be up and running at full capacity like they were before the shutdown. There are a lot of unknowns.”

The Maryland Jockey Club has yet to announce the purse for this year’s Preakness or what the lineup of supporting stakes may look like. Also faced with a loss of casino revenues, NYRA cut the purse for this year’s GI Belmont S. from $1.5 million to $1 million. It also cut the purses of most stakes on the Belmont spring schedule, which was announced Tuesday.

When asked if the horsemen had any control over how purses are allotted at Laurel and Pimlico or whether or not they had any say over how purses are distributed for Preakness week stakes, Keefe declined to comment.

In anticipation of reopening, Laurel has issued a condition book. There are no stakes scheduled and only slight cuts to overnight purses.

For now, Keefe said he was hoping for a quick resumption of racing, which could ease fears about the dwindling purse account.

“We were hoping we were going to be up and running by middle of this month,” he said. “There were other jurisdictions that hadn’t opened yet and the ones who were running were realizing huge handles. When we didn’t run the 15th, 16th and 17th, we thought we’d be open for the Memorial Day weekend and would have a big weekend. That isn’t going to happen. We need to get open and running ASAP. We can’t figure out what the delay is.”

Keefe added that there are expectations that Hogan may make an announcement regarding racing next week.

“He’s apparently supposed to say something Wednesday as to what the next steps are,” Keefe said. “We’re hopeful he will announce something then. But we were hoping for that last Wednesday and, instead, this just keeps dragging on and on.”

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