Saving the thoroughbreds

a passion for horses

Cricket Goodall's mission is to preserve Maryland horse breeding

March 22, 2009|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,

After working in the horse industry for nearly three decades, Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association, is trying to navigate the 700-member organization through the most perilous of times for the state's thoroughbred interests.

With Magna Entertainment - the Canadian-based owner of Maryland's two racetracks and the Preakness Stakes - filing for bankruptcy protection this month, the state's thoroughbred horse farms face an uncertain future. If there is no viable racing outlet in Maryland, that will accelerate the exodus of farms and horses to nearby states such as Pennsylvania, where racing industries are already bolstered by slot machine revenues.

Goodall, who grew up in Ruxton, lives on a small farm in Butler. When Goodall was a girl, her mother died. She became an avid rider, and except for a brief fling with photography and film in art school, she has devoted most of her life to horses.

What is it about horses that infatuated you and has kept you working in this field?

When I was growing up and became interested in horses, it took my mind off issues of my mother dying young. It gave me an outlet and taught me how to take care of things 24/7. ... It teaches you responsibility and patience. All those things that your parents are supposed to teach you but an animal will do that. A horse is very good at that. They act like they love you, and they look for you every time they want to eat. You're outdoors, and they're beautiful and fun to be around.

In Maryland, how did we get from where horse racing was hugely important to where the sport is barely hanging on?

Unfortunately, it comes down to money and not being able to compete. Maryland for a long time had plenty of money for purses ... and was capable of maintaining its prominence. But over time, that has been chipped away. Starting with Delaware, when slots came ... [we saw] the purses change. That changed the focus. They really didn't form a breeding operation [in Delaware] because they don't have the land, and it wasn't their focus. But Maryland was so prominent, and that's what's so sad at the moment.

If you had a magic wand, what would you do to cure the ills facing the state's racing industry?

When ownership [of the racetracks] started consolidating and the tracks came under one ownership, then you're vulnerable to an owner that is not looking out for the best interests of your state - and that's what happened. When we had different owners of the tracks, we complained about that, too, but at least there was a competitive answer. If you didn't like one answer, you would go to the other. The Maryland Million [race day] was a good example of an event that prospered because we had two track owners who were interested in it and wanted to make it go.

Well, you don't have a magic wand and you can't go back in time, so what can be done?

I think racing in Maryland is at a crossroads as to whether it's going to survive. Without a live racing product of some sort in Maryland, there is the possibility that breeding will still survive - there's a lot of acreage devoted to breeding and people want to stay here - but you still have to have an outlet for those horses. As far as we're concerned, the MHBA, that's what we're going to focus on. How do we still encourage people to stay here and incentivize them to breed horses here? We may have to pay those horses to race in other states if we have no racing here, but we don't intend to get in bed and pull the covers over our heads.

Why should people who don't have an interest in horses care about whether racing or horse breeding survives in Maryland?

Maryland is such a small state and so much land is devoted to agriculture and a large component of that is devoted to horses. If they're not horse farms, they're farmers who produce hay and grain that go to horse farms. And I have a terrible vision of Maryland being all highways and concrete and asphalt parking lots. I grew up here, and I came up Route 83 as a child going north and all of the land that is now Mays Chapel [housing developments] ... was all horse farms or at least farms. ... Hunt Valley wasn't there. And I can see that happening. It upsets me, and it should upset Marylanders.

You've said that if the thoroughbred industry is going to make it, it will be because of the intrinsic qualities found in Maryland. What do you mean?

The topography, the climate, the soils, a lot of limestone soils, sort of like Kentucky but even better, I would say. And it drew people who were ingrained in horse sports, people came down from Long Island ... so what has happened is that you have a strong infrastructure of people who are good horsemen. They understand horses, they understand how to take care of them and that's something you don't go to college for, you're raised in it. If Maryland is going to survive, that's the reason why.

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