Off to the races

October 10, 2003

MARYLAND horsebreeders who gather in Laurel tomorrow for the annual Maryland Million rivalry of thoroughbreds sired by the state's star stallions will be celebrating the arrival of an exciting addition to their ranks.

A new partnership that links a prestigious Kentucky-based operation with local investors to create the Maryland Stallion Station near Sagamore Farm in the historic horse country of Baltimore County's Worthington Valley promises to give a boost to the entire state racing and breeding industry at a time when it sorely needs one.

Some suspect that the 30 or so investors in the project are betting on the likelihood that the Maryland legislature will authorize slot machine gambling next year and that the horse industry will benefit - directly or indirectly - from a share of profits. Certainly the odds are high that slots will be added elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic region, which the new stud farm sees as its market.

What's most encouraging, though, is that the project is being launched in any case and with the heft of an alliance with Lane's End Farm in Kentucky, which is considered one of the world's best horse farms. Lane's End's owner, William S. Farish, is U.S. ambassador to Great Britain and a quail-hunting buddy of the first President Bush.

Don Litz, the Maryland breeder who put the deal together, said his Kentucky partners see enormous potential for their business in this region, driven in part by increased television coverage of horseracing that is expected to build enthusiasm.

Economic returns to the state from a 10-stall stallion barn may not be on par with a major manufacturing plant. But breeders are the foundation of Maryland's racing and recreational horse industry, estimated to be worth up to $2 billion a year, and play a vital role in preserving rural landscapes. Any vote of confidence in their future is welcome.

Maryland Million Day is a great occasion to celebrate. The Sun's Tom Keyser describes it as an annual time-out when local horse people put all their cares aside and just savor the pure joy of their sport. Competing farms match colt against colt, filly against filly, 2-year-olds and veterans, on the turf and on the flat, to see which of the state's great stallions produce the most successful offspring.

Second only to the Preakness in crowd draw and hoopla for a day at the races, the Maryland Million is much more a showcase of local talent. No matter who crosses the finish line first, Marylanders win.

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