Pension Program Grows Contribution to $900,000

Retirement benefits for backstretch workers are a reality in Maryland, thanks to a program started by the MTHA in 1988. The Backstretch Pension Fund is derived from monies deducted from the Purse Account. Participants do not make individual contributions into the plan.

The Board of Directors of the MTHA annually allocates funds to support this program. The contribution has been significantly increased to $900,000 this year, pending MRC approval, up from $750,000 last year, which is distributed among all participants.

Sign-ups for the Pension Program are conducted each spring at Laurel Park and Pimlico and for the second year in a row at Fair Hill Training Center. At that time, employees must register to receive benefits based on the previous year.

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Tickets On Sale Now For Maryland Renaissance Awards

The third Maryland Thoroughbred Industry Renaissance Awards, which recognize equine and human excellence in the state in 2019, will be presented Feb. 11 at the Guinness Open Gate Brewery located at 5001 Washington Boulevard in Halethorpe.

The Renaissance Awards were created to recognize the best of Maryland racing and breeding from the previous year and are a cooperative effort between the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Maryland Horse Breeders Association and Maryland Jockey Club. 

Invitations to the Renaissance Awards have recently been mailed, and tickets may be purchased at MarylandThoroughbred.com. Tickets are $125 per person. 

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Racehorse retirement: Sometimes it means a job on the backstretch

The Beyond The Wire aftercare program has become a vital component of the Maryland Thoroughbred racing industry, having retired and facilitated placement of more than 225 racehorses since its launch in June 2017.

There is, however, much more to the local aftercare effort—Maryland horsemen and breeders for many years have kept and transitioned their retirees for jobs at the racetrack or farm. One example is the Laurel Park stable of Team Gaudet, where a 13-year-old who raced for trainer Lacey Gaudet is teaching a retired 7-year-old how to pony his stablemates.

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MATCH Series returns with expanded schedule in 2020

The highly popular and critically acclaimed Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships Series (MATCH) has been renewed for 2020, with an expanded schedule and an increase in owner, trainer and breeder bonus money thanks to new partner racetracks, horsemen’s groups and breeder associations.

The series, which returned in 2018 after a 16-year hiatus, is set for its best season ever. This year’s slate, which grows to 35 stakes at eight tracks, is the result of a commitment by Mid-Atlantic stakeholders to not only link regional stakes, enhance competition, and grow racing’s popularity, but also work toward the larger goal of coordination in a region with the largest concentration of daily racing in the United States.

Recognizing the popularity and success of the series, Colonial Downs and Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, both of which were part of the MATCH Series during its initial run from 1997-2001, have rejoined the series, as have the Virginia and Charles Town HBPAs.

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Trainer 'Hammy' Smith collects 2,000th victory

Longtime Maryland-based trainer Hamilton "Hammy" Smith won his 2,000th race Jan. 10 at Laurel Park—appropriately with a South Carolina-bred filly owned and bred by his brother, Franklin.

Smith had two horses in to race on the Friday program in the first and second races, and Sweet Home Dixie won the second event, a starter allowance test for fillies and mares at one mile. The filly by Done Talking rallied four-wide at the head of the stretch under leading rider Trevor McCarthy and pulled away in midstretch to win.

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Urizar Velazquez: Pimlico Backstretch Employee for 2019

Urizar "Uri" Velazquez, who assists trainer Brandon McFarlane with his shedrow, has been selected the MTHA Backstretch Employee of the Year at Pimlico Race Course for 2019.

Velazquez, a 27-year-old native of Mexico, began working with Thoroughbreds for Mark Casse in Ocala, Fla., as a teenager and landed his first exercise-riding job with top consignor Eddie Woods in Ocala. He later worked as an exercise rider for Sagamore Farm and then trainer Dane Kobiskie in Maryland.

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