Despite pandemic, Indiana approves $12.6 million budget for breed development in 2021

Indiana Sires Stakes program will feature $7.9 million in purses.

by James Platz

Last season, the Indiana Standardbred Breed Development Advisory Committee and Standardbred Advisory Board approved a $13.2 million budget for the 2020 racing campaign. That program never came to fruition due to the coronavirus pandemic, forcing the groups to settle on a trimmed-down $8.8 million plan, calling for a nearly 34 per cent across-the-board reduction to all line items on average. The entities met again Friday (Feb. 5), settling on a 2021 plan that, once gaining Indiana Horse Racing Commission (IHRC) approval, will look very similar to what was intended for last season, offering a $12.6 million budget.

“I think it’s a wonderful program, especially considering we are still in the middle of this pandemic, realizing that we were shut down for two and a half months last year, and we’re still able to come back with a really good program,” said Jessica Barnes, director of racing and breed development at the IHRC. “I think it offers the Indiana horses a lot of things, and we also have room to grow if numbers and operations start doing better than we expect.”

An Indiana Sires Stakes program featuring $7.9 million in purses headlines the proposed breed development plan. Last year, the program paid out close to $5.3 million in sires stakes purses. The plan calls for six legs for 2-year-old events, and eight legs for sophomores. Super Finals will feature $250,000 purses, and horses that finish sixth through 10th will receive $4,000 each. New for 2021, $25,000 consolations are added for each of the freshman and sophomore categories. Adjustments were made to the qualifying standards as well, with sophomore pacers set at 1:55 and trotters at 2:00. Standards for older sires stakes categories were also lowered to 1:54 for pacers and 1:59 for trotters.

With the estimated purse structure for each leg, a single division of 2-year-olds could race for $122,500, with two divisions estimated at $66,250 apiece and three divisions at $44,833 each. For 3-year-olds, the figures change to $87,968 for a single division, $48,960 each for two, and $33,322 for three. All estimates are based on 2019 data, and actual nominations for each category will drive purses for 2021.

A total of $2 million is allocated for Indiana sired overnight supplements and mini-series, a slight increase over 2020 expenditures. Under the conditions of this program, a standard for years in the Hoosier State, overnight races that fill with all Indiana Sired or Indiana Sired and Bred horses receive a 15 per cent purse increase.

The Indiana Sired Fair Circuit program will offer a proposed budget of $1.4 million. One of the notable adjustments in the program is a purse increase in the championship races held at the Indiana State Fair. The purses move from $20,000 per division to $25,000. The consolation races also increase from $8,000 each to $10,000. These increases were planned for 2020 before trimming the breed development program out of necessity. The fair program’s second series is augmented so that only non-winners of $10,000 are allowed to compete in events following the championships. Previously, the threshold was set at $12,000. Barnes said this change was also slated for 2020 before the group shelved it for one year. The idea is to preserve fair racing opportunities for those that need them, while directing other horses to the pari-mutuel circuit at a time Hoosier Park can use the additional entries.

“Hopefully, we’ll meet the needs of the people who still need to race at the county fairs, but also try to fill races at the racetrack and give them the horses that they need,” said Barnes.

The most significant change in the breed development program for 2021 is the reduction of late closing series offered at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. Last year, $850,000 was originally budgeted before a reduction to $150,000. The 2021 plan calls for a continuation of the $150,000 allocation for late closers, with eight series retained and several discontinued in favor of Hoosier Park creating mini-series and overnight series with similar conditions.

“Last year, when we didn’t know what date the racetrack would open up, what the program would look like, what the purses and what the horse population would look like, we shifted a great deal of those late closers. We cancelled them in the sense that we required a payment for them, but we gave the race secretary the latitude to write those as mini-series. One, to help horsemen not have to shell out that money up front,” Barnes said. “We found that it worked really well, and it gave the race secretary latitude to change the conditions of those races and tailor them to the horses he had on the grounds so that they would fill well. We continue that same approach. We brought some late closers back that were cancelled last year, and those are the ones that have traditionally filled really well at the beginning of the meet.”

The proposal was drafted with projected slots revenue of $10.5 million and breed development kicking in $1.9 million from reserves. Barnes said the approach is conservative considering capacity at casinos is still limited and not 100 per cent.

“I think we’ve been very conservative. I’m very comfortable with the budget,” she said. “As always, I hope that my numbers are wrong. I hope that they are low and that this committee will be able to reconvene in three months and be able to say, ‘Wow, things got a whole lot better.’”

Currently, the casino revenue at Hoosier Park has declined when compared to pre-pandemic figures. Adjusted gross revenue for December 2020 was $12.5 million, down from the $17.86 reported one year earlier. With the addition of live table games, AGR surged to $19.7 million and $20.58 million in January and February of last year. Since reopening in June, the best month for the casino came in August when adjusted gross receipts totaled $16.94 million. A percentage of AGR from Hoosier Park’s casino is earmarked for standardbred breed development.

Barnes said that during the last IHRC meeting, commissioners delegated authority to approve the 2021 breed development program to executive director Deena Pitman. The proposal will be sent to Pitman for consideration Monday (Feb. 8).