No horsing around: This is big-time

On Horse Racing

December 29, 1996|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The horse industry in the United States is roughly the same size -- in terms of value of goods and services produced -- as the clothes-manufacturing and motion-picture industries, according to a yearlong study by a Washington research firm.

Conducted by the Barents Group, an economics and fiscal consulting firm in Washington with no ties to the horse industry, the study determined that 7.1 million Americans are involved to varying degrees with the 6.9 million horses in this country.

The study "validates what we in the horse industry have long known," said James J. Hickey Jr., president of the American Horse Council. "The American horse industry is a huge and economically productive business that deserves the attention and appreciation of government, media and the public at large."

The American Horse Council is the national lobbying arm of the horse industry. It commissioned the study with help from several horse-racing organizations.

As the first comprehensive analysis of equine economics since 1987, the study will be presented to the federal commission now being formed to study gambling. Created by Congress and President Clinton, the commission is to conduct a two-year study of all aspects of gambling and its impact on American society.

The Barents Group analysis included specific looks at 11 major horse states, including Maryland. But those figures won't be released until at least mid-January.

Highlights of the national study:

Of the 6.9 million horses in the United States, more than 70 percent are for showing or recreation.

As owners, employees, volunteers and providers of horse-related services, 7.1 million Americans participate in the horse industry. That does not include those who merely bet on horse races.

The horse industry produces goods and services valued at $25.3 billion, on par with the clothes-manufacturing and motion-picture industries.

It provides the equivalent of 338,500 full-time jobs. Spending by suppliers and employees generates the equivalent of an additional 1.1 million full-time jobs.

The median annual income of horse-owning families is about $60,000. Thirty-eight percent earn less than $50,000, and 21 percent make more than $100,000.

The horse industry pays $1.9 billion in taxes.

Colonial Downs president

O. J. "Jim" Peterson III, the chief financial officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, has been named president of Colonial Downs, the horse track under construction in southern Virginia.

Peterson, 61, has worked for the Maryland Jockey Club since April 1994, driving from his home in Richmond, Va., a few days each week. From 1978 to 1994, he worked for Dominion Resources Inc., an electric utility holding company and parent company of Virginia Electric and Power Co. He served as those companies' chief financial officer.

He is to start his new job Thursday, he said, overseeing Colonial Downs' public stock offering of $35 million to help finance construction of the $62 million facility.

"Then what we'll do is try to make money for the stockholders," Peterson said.

Colonial Downs is scheduled to open June 29 for a 30-day thoroughbred meet through Aug. 15. A 50-day harness meet is to follow.

As part of a proposed Maryland-Virginia racing circuit, Pimlico and Laurel Park would offer no live racing while thoroughbreds competed at Colonial Downs. But through an arrangement with Colonial Downs' owners, the Maryland Jockey Club would manage its thoroughbred meet.

Peterson acknowledged that his biggest challenge is persuading Maryland trainers and owners to support the circuit.

"We're going to work real hard so the Maryland horsemen look forward to racing in Virginia," he said.

Colonial Downs officials plan to organize a visit by Maryland horsemen, perhaps next month, Peterson said. But no matter how hard they work to persuade the horsemen, he acknowledged, some will resist to the bitter end.

"I know it's difficult to change," Peterson said. "But as the world changes, you've got to be willing to change with it. I don't know any sport in the world where every game is a home game."

Although year-round racing has enabled horsemen to set down roots in Maryland, it has caused the product to go stale for customers, Peterson said.

"The fans get worn out with it," he said. "We want them to look forward to it, like they do the opening of any other sports season."

If all goes as Peterson hopes, Colonial Downs will award $150,000 in purses daily while the Maryland tracks stockpile money from simulcasts, resulting in a boost in Maryland purses when the horsemen return home in August.

But first, Colonial Downs must meet its tight construction schedule and open by July 1 or lose its license to operate OTBs and forfeit a $1 million performance bond. Peterson said track owners hope the Virginia legislature will extend that deadline if bad weather impedes construction.

Lillis strikes again

Bobby Lillis is at it again.

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