Perspective is important when evaluating the Ontario Sires Stakes program
Examine where Ontario compares to countries like Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Indiana and others.
by Dave Briggs
It always baffles me when people complain about the Ontario Sires Stakes (OSS) program. The OSS has long been one of the premier breed development programs in the sport with proof of the quality of the Standardbreds Ontario produces today compared to 30 years ago. As an example, Ontario bred horses have won the Meadowlands Pace in each of the past three years – Best In Show in 2019, Tall Dark Stranger in 2020 and Lawless Shadow in 2021 (although that result is under appeal) .
There is no doubt that the OSS is the most important factor in the upliftment of the Ontario breed.
Add to that extremely low keep and start costs, a plethora of opportunities to run for OSS handbags at different levels and locations thanks to the 12 province harness tracks and the big kicker, over 14.5 million Canadian dollars (approximately US $ 11.5 million) in total scholarships in 2021. This puts OSS at the top of the list compared to US jurisdictions, even taking conversion rates into account. This year, the Ontario program also includes an additional $ 2.6 million in total breeding rewards, bringing the total value of the province’s Standardbred Improvement Program (SIP) to over $ 18 million ( approximately US $ 14.3 million).
Recently, there have been grunts on social media from OSS participants about 11 fields of horses and the distribution of scholarships between the Gold and Grassroots series – which is the perennial argument between those who think that excellence should be rewarded and those with a more socialist spread. the sight of wealth.
Perhaps this growl is the product of a pandemic hangover and the desperation to earn as much as possible in a year shortened by the lockdown; which would be understandable.
While most don’t complain about total scholarships, it’s never a bad idea to assess the value of programs for a certain prospect.
A number of US jurisdictions also offer a huge amount of bull scholarships and breed development funds, making many areas of considerable value to the horse owner.
What I mean is that Ontario is certainly still among the best of them, despite the additional challenges for American riders due to the situation across an international border.
The comparison to the main jurisdictions is as follows (and keep in mind that there have been recent fluctuations in most regions due to the closure of casinos, races, or both by COVID-19. Most breed development programs are financed by revenues from casinos or by mutual betting impacted by pandemic closures):
By most measures, Pennsylvania is the primary jurisdiction. In 2020, more than $ 18.4 million in scholarships went exclusively to the relationships of Pennsylvania standardbreds who participated in state-restricted events. This includes more than $ 1.9 million in scholarships for the Pennsylvania fairs. In 2020, Pennsylvania also had a ranchers’ rewards program worth about $ 2 million – about half of what it was in previous years – bringing the total value of the Rancher’s Development program. Commonwealth standardbred breed for 2020 at over $ 20 million.
Ohio has one of the most popular bull stakes programs on the continent. In 2020, the total value of the state’s breed development scholarships for the Ohio breeds was over $ 18.1 million, with the largest pots coming from the Ohio Sires Stakes (nearly $ 7 million dollars), the Ohio County Fair Circuit (just under $ 5.5 million) and the Buckeye Stallion series (over $ 3.3 million). A number of other high-stakes events reserved for Ohio purebred stallions including the Next Generation and Ohio Breeders Championships etc. also received program funding.
The Total New York Sires Stakes (NYSS) scholarships for the year will not be finalized until the end of August, as its Excelsior and County Fair races are dependent on the number of horses entered and the divisions required. However, it is estimated that the NYSS will have total scholarships of around $ 10.2 million this year. It’s down because of COVID-19. Normally, the NYSS scholarship total averages between $ 14 million and $ 15 million per year. The total value of the New York program in 2021 – including breeder awards and a contribution to the Empire Breeders Class stakes scholarship – is estimated at $ 11.65 million.
Indiana has significantly increased its bull stakes in recent years. It includes total Indiana Sires Stakes scholarships of approximately $ 7.9 million in 2021 and a total breed development program of $ 12.6 million.
It should also be noted that the Kentucky and Massachusetts programs have grown rapidly in recent years due to the introduction of dual eligibility programs. In addition, the New Jersey program has rebounded well in recent years and has just announced that it will increase scholarships by 20% for 2022.
By comparison, the total number of bulls invested in Ontario stock exchanges – even converted to U.S. dollars – likely ranks third at some $ 11.5 million, behind Pennsylvania ($ 18.4 million) and Ohio. ($ 18.1 million).
Considering that most OSS scholarships are funded by a 3% reduction in betting in Ontario – not government donations or casino revenues – this is quite impressive, especially if you add that in recent years the distribution of these betting dollars are 55/45 in favor of thoroughbreds. A few years ago Thoroughbred interests were successful in pushing for a higher reduction in the total Ontario Horse Improvement Program (HIP) that comes from betting as more betting is being done in the province. on thoroughbred races.
This OSS scholarship total in 2021 has remained almost at the same level as the past few years in the post-Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP) era that funded it is a minor miracle given that total horse racing bets in Ontario fell $ 200 million in 2020 mainly due to COVID-19 lockdowns that interrupted races. This meant a total deficit of around $ 6 million for 2021 for HIP which is shared between standardbreds, thoroughbreds and quarter horses.
“HIP is primarily funded by betting, so if betting is off that creates a challenge for the program… Fortunately we had a bit of a reserve and there are also other reserve funds that we could tap into, we We therefore only reduced the scholarships a little. this year in the Sires Stakes, ”said Jamie Martin, Director of Race Operations for Grand River Raceway. Martin sits on the Ontario Racing Standardbred Horse Improvement Administration Committee, which sets the structure of the OSS and Ontario breed development programs. President Bill O’Donnell, as well as Mark Horner, Jessica Buckley and Walter Parkinson are also on the committee.
Trainer John Bax has long been an advocate for the OSS program and has served for countless years on committees that have helped shape its structure.
“I think we’re very lucky that they’ve been able to keep the Sires Stakes whole this year,” Bax said, adding that there was talk of removing the Grassroots scholarship. Instead, the divisions regularly cost between $ 21,000 and $ 22,000, which is comparable to 2020. “They were able to get the money back and get it back. I don’t know what’s going to happen for next year, but we hear this all the time.
While even longer lockdowns in 2021 are expected to result in a drop in total bets this year, which in theory will reduce OSS scholarships for 2022, Martin said he expects Fathers of the Year scholarships. next remain at the same level as this year.
“I am quite optimistic that we will be able to maintain these exchanges next year,” said Martin, adding that he believes that it is possible to find money elsewhere and that the bets will rebound somewhat this year. despite stopping shopping for most of the time. first semester 2021.
As for the more frequent appearance of some 11-horse fields in OSS events, which has been rare in the past, Martin said he believes it was more a matter of bad luck than anything else in terms of numbers. of entries that a conscious effort to save money by loading OSS races with more horses – i.e. 22 horses entered and Woodbine Mohawk Park finds it better to have two fields of 11 rather than three fields with two fields of seven horses and one with eight horses.
“The other thing you look at is how many night horses you have in the box, because the more Sires Stakes they run, the fewer nights they run. It’s also about making other people run, ”said Martin. “If you have a ton of Sires Stakes horses in the box and you have a ton of nights in the box, then you can’t handle short Sires Stakes fields.
“It’s a balance, but I think it’s just a bad race and the numbers weren’t very good for the participants. More precisely, it is a basic problem. For Golds, there’s no real difference in cost because it’s so much per event and if it splits into two, three, or four ways then it just splits the stock market. It’s still $ 190,000 in total (per Gold event).
“The Grassroots is different, so the Grassroots is per event, so the more races there are the more money it costs us from the Sires Stakes program, so if there is sensitivity there is probably more sensitivity. to divide Grassroots too small as this creates more stroke and therefore more expensive.
Regarding funding for Gold and Grassroots, Martin said the committee has been careful to make equal cuts on both sides of the program this year, in part because the question of where the money should be allocated is debated for many years.
“There are a lot more people racing in the Grassroots than in the Gold, so if it’s a vote the Grassroots always wins. It’s a challenge, but do we want to have a program of excellence? Breeders have a point of view and these racehorses obviously have a point of view and it also depends on what type of horse you are racing, ”said Martin.
One thing most breeders and participants in Ontario should agree on is that, despite the imperfections, they are lucky to have such a strong sire stakes program and they should never forget the importance to be customer-oriented by providing a betable product to help boost strong OSS betting.