Hope for horse racing in Maryland [commentary]

April 04, 2013|Editorial from The Aegis

That the Orioles could be turned around and have a winning season in 2012 and then open the 2013 season with a victory possibly is reason to hope that other Maryland sporting traditions can be revived.

Three cross country horse races that constitute what is informally known as Maryland's Triple Crown of steeplechase racing get their start this weekend and next in Harford County with the decades old traditions surrounding the Elkridge-Harford Point to Point and the My Lady's Manor races, to be followed by the Hunt Cup a few miles to the west in Baltimore County.

These races continue to draw crowds, though not massive ones. And there's a measure of excitement about the running of seasoned Thoroughbreds on courses through Maryland's fox hunt country, territory that bears more than a passing resemblance to the agricultural tracts of the Old World.

Garnering more attention over the next few weeks will be a select group of 3-year-old Thoroughbreds, those with the potential to lead the pack in horse racing's true Triple Crown, the one that begins with the Kentucky Derby and also includes Maryland's Preakness Stakes.

As often is the case, Harford County has ties to a Derby contender, a horse named Orb whose sire stood for a time at Country Life Farm under the direction of local horse racing royals, the Pons family.

The excitement of the spring season and a tie, however tenuous, to a strong young horse belie a harsh reality about the state of horse racing: it has been a weakening tradition in Maryland for many years. There even has been talk of moving the Preakness Stakes from its home at Pimlico.

There should be reason for a glimmer of hope. A key impetus for establishing slot machine and casino style table gambling in Maryland was to secure a steady stream of money to subsidize the horse racing business.

It's a worthwhile use of taxpayer money. The horse farms that give parts of rural Maryland that regal, Old World look don't have that look by accident. Take away the horse race business, and the farms are likely to fade into memory. Such a change would be an unfortunate loss for the state.

To date, though, relatively little has been accomplished to benefit horses, even as slots parlors have become part of Maryland's night life reality and table games have been available, at least in Perryville, for several weeks.

Hopefully, more will be accomplished to help the horse racing business in Maryland. It's a sporting tradition that has the potential, with a little bit of a makeover, to attract a wider audience than it does. It goes a long way to preserve a modern agrarian enterprise with a distinctly old time look. And it employs a fair number of people.

If the Orioles can do it, maybe the horses can, too.

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