The MATCH Series in thoroughbred horse racing returns this weekend. It coincides with the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, home of the second leg of the Triple Crown.
The MATCH (Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships) Series, which has been an on-again, off-again event held at leading race tracks in the region, will run through Dec. 26 at Laurel Park and will feature 24 stakes—20 of them in Maryland and four at Colonial Downs in Virginia—valued at $2,750,000. There will be four divisions, all of them on dirt, and $282,000 in bonus money.
There will be six races in each of four divisions:
- 3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint—Dirt; Fillies and Mares
- 3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint—Dirt
- 3-Year-Olds and Up Long—Dirt; and Fillies and Mares
- 3-Year-Olds and Up Long—Dirt
The minimum purse of all stakes is $100,000. Owners and trainers will compete for $63,000 in divisional bonuses, and the overall series champion will net $30,000 in bonuses for their owner and trainer.
Two stakes races each will be held on each day (May 14 and 15) at Pimlico, including the $250,000 Grade 3 Pimlico Special and the $150,000 Grade 3 Allaire Dupont Stakes on May 14, and the $150,000 Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap on May 15. The full schedule is here.
Additionally, there will be three days when stakes in all four divisions will run on the same program: Aug. 23 at Colonial Downs, Sept. 18 at Laurel Park and Dec. 26 at Laurel. The July 4 and 31 programs at Laurel will each have three MATCH Series races.
“This creates one big day of racing at these tracks,” said Tom LaMarra, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association communications and special projects coordinator.
MATCH Series history
The MATCH Series, the first regional championship series of its kind in horse racing, launched in 1997 and ran through 2001 before going on hiatus.
It returned to the calendar in 2018 and had its most successful year in 2019, when each of the five partner tracks—Delaware Park, Penn National, Parx Casino and Racing, Laurel Park and Monmouth Park—agreed to run all divisional events on one day.
LaMarra said consideration was given to creating Pick-4 wagering for these events in 2019, running the races in the afternoon, sequentially. He said that year, some participating tracks dropped their takeout for the races to 15%.
“The horse racing industry has been in a difficult economic stretch during the pandemic, and we realize this,” said MATCH creator Alan Foreman, chairman and chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which represents 20,000 owners and trainers throughout the United States.
“All of racing’s stakeholders have been financially challenged. Our event is a luxury. It requires financial support from the tracks and horsemen’s organizations to make this event happen. While the regional plan was to wait until we come out of the pandemic and return to normalcy, the Maryland and Virginia horsemen offered to run the series this year, and the tracks willingly accepted. This was unexpected, but it keeps the MATCH brand alive. And it’s great for the region and racing in general this year.”
Competing with the Triple Crown
Opening up on Preakness weekend has its plusses and minuses.
“On the one hand, it will be on the card on days with big handles because of the Preakness and Black-Eyed Susan stakes,” LaMarra said. “And getting that kind of exposure is good. On the other, our races will not be the focus that day.”
Another plus is that Preakness weekend potentially increases the chance that big-name jockeys will run in MATCH races that day because they’ll be at the track for the Preakness.
In 2019, top jockeys Jose Ortiz, Joe Bravo, Robbie Albarado, Paco Lopez, Kendrick Carmouche and Luis Saez took mounts. Trainers with entries included Chad Brown, Steve Asmussen, Christophe Clement, Graham Motion, Linda Rice, Michael Stidham, Bill Mott and Brad Cox.
The MATCH Series presents awards and prize money for overall horse, trainer and owner winners. Horses earn points based on how they finish, and entering multiple races in the series is beneficial. A well-known national jockey who races May 14-15 will likely be a one-and-done overall.