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New program aims to boost thoroughbreds in Virginia, equine economy

The newly refurbished track at Middleburg Training Track, one facility to benefit from the Virginia Thoroughbred Certified Program. Courtesy Photo
Historically, Virginia has a great tradition of breeding thoroughbred horses. However, there's been a steady decline over the last few decades in the numbers of thoroughbred horses being bred, broken in, or trained in the state.

Debbie Easter is executive director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association and president of Virginia Equine Alliance. She has a few theories as to why thoroughbred horses aren't as readily found in the state as they once were. One reason is the decline in the number of farms. Another is a lack of interest among young people if they didn't grow up around horses.

“When I was growing up there were so many horses on the TV, in cowboy or Indian shows. Kids don't see that any more,” Easter said. It's partially lifestyle too, there's been a move toward urban rather than agricultural.”

According to Easter, there are business and cultural reasons too. In other states such as New York, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, large numbers of racetracks are run by casino owners. A percentage of money from slot machines at racetracks is filtered back into the horse industry and encourages trainers to train and board horses in those states.

But this could be about to change. The Virginia Thoroughbred Association this month launched a new incentive program to bring horses to the state for training and to board.

Easter explained to the Times-Mirror how the certified program will work.

“We still have wagers here in Virginia. People wager on computers, and there is off-track racing bets. Some of the money goes into a breeders fund, we are keeping it in the hands of the industry,” Easter said.

“If a horse is brought from New York to Virginia to train and board for six months and it returns to New York to race, if it wins the race and the the prize fund was, say $10,000, the Virginia Thoroughbred Certified Program would give an additional $2,500, because the horse had spent time in Virginia,” she said.

The program is modeled on a similar program found in Delaware. The Virginia Thoroughbred Certified Program is different as it stretches over multiple state regions. Horses trained in Delaware will only qualify for a bonus if they win a race in that state.

Those who choose to bring their thoroughbred horses to Virginia qualify for a 25 percent bonus if their horse wins a race in another state provided the horse has stayed in Virginia for six months.

Stakeholders hope the incentive will provide a boost to the local economy. Easter sees the newly refurbished Middleburg Training Track as one possible beneficiary.

“Boarding 100 horses would potentially generate 30 new jobs,” Easter said.

Chuck Kuhn, the founder and CEO of JK Movers, recently purchased the 150-acre Middleburg training center for $1.5 million from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. Kuhn said the new program will help stimulate the equine business in Loudoun and the rest of Virginia. He's excited to have his facility taking part.

“We have moved forward to get the Middleburg Training Center certified to participate in the new Thoroughbred Certified Residential Program,” Kuhn said. “It will create more jobs, more opportunities and help training centers in the state.”

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