By J.N. Campbell

Lone Star Thoroughbreds Rise: An Interview with TTA's Mary Ruyle

By J.N. Campbell
Mary Ruyle is the Executive Director of the Texas Thoroughbred Association. With over 30 years of devotion to the organization, she talks with J.N. Campbell about a myriad of subjects pertaining to the sport of horse racing in Texas.
Mary Ruyle is the Executive Director of the Texas Thoroughbred Association. With over 30 years of devotion to the organization, she talks with J.N. Campbell about a myriad of subjects pertaining to the sport of horse racing in Texas.

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After a year where much went wrong for horse racing, there were flashes of the proverbial “silver lining.” Whereas states like New Mexico have been continually ravaged by closures and the jeopardizing of its breeding operations, neighboring Texas appears an anomaly. Thoroughbred investment by Austin and the community beyond is reaching new heights in an unprecedented renaissance.

As we race into 2021 with our eyes on the horizon, I wanted to find out about the “state of the industry.” So, I turned to Mary Ruyle, the Executive Director of the Texas Thoroughbred Association (TTA). A committed advocate for all-things “T-bred,” she has served this organization for over 30 years. Her experience, laser-sighted focus, and sheer passion for these magnificent animals that we love, is evident. Here is that she had to say…

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J.N. Campbell: Mary, thanks for joining me today, I greatly appreciate it!

Mary Ruyle: Happy to be with you.

J.N. Campbell: Can we begin by talking a little about the year 2020 in Thoroughbred racing. How did you, and the TTA, weather it through thick and thin?

Mary Ruyle: 2020 was a challenging year, but we were fortunate to have had some exceptional leadership here in Texas, both with our organization (the Texas Thoroughbred Association) and at the Texas tracks (Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie and Sam Houston Race Park). In 2019 we worked to accomplish a significant legislative success with the passage of House Bill 2463. This legislation reinvested $25 million per year in funds generated for the State by the horse industry back into the industry for purses, breeder’s awards, and incentives to grow the overall economic impact of the Texas horse industry.

In spite of COVID-19, which severely curtailed many races and equine events, the positive impact of this legislation was seen in such quantifiable ways. This included an increase in mares bred in the state, higher purses, increased breeder incentives, and Lone Star Park having one of the 10 greatest overall wagering handle increases of any track in the U.S.

(Some of the breeder incentives include: a breeder bonus paid for horses finishing 1, 2 or 3 in open company races in Texas (in addition to the regular ATB breeder awards) and a breeder bonus for horses placing 1, 2 or 3 in races outside of Texas in the US when there is not live racing in Texas, unless the out of state race is a stake worth $50,000 or more.) In 2021, we plan to implement an owner bonus for Texas-Sired Texas-breds racing in Texas.

J.N. Campbell: What were some of the highlights from the TTA perspective when it came to racing in the state of Texas during 2020?

Mary Ruyle: That’s easy. Increased purses and increased participation. The funds reinvested back into the Texas industry via House Bill 2463 truly had the positive impact we anticipated: larger field sizes, increased purses, and renewed enthusiasm throughout the Texas racing and breeding industry….for all breeds of horses that race here.

J.N. Campbell: As we head into this new year, what are some of the trends that you see developing from your vantage point? Were some of these "lessons learned," as COVID-19 has impacted the sport?

Mary Ruyle: We learned that flexibility and getting all stakeholders to work together is key to survival.  2020 really emphasized how important it is to make racing (and wagering on racing) as accessible as possible to people, regardless of where they live or whether they can (or are permitted to) attend the races in person.

J.N. Campbell: Can you talk about Texas' Thoroughbred breeding operations; what is your take on their strengths/room for improvement and ability to move forward into the near future?

Mary Ruyle: Purses drive the business. And as we are able to increase our purses (and breeders awards) there will be more of an economic justification for breeding horses here in Texas. A core group of horsemen and horsewomen are going to be involved every year regardless of the economic climate. But to truly grow the breeding industry, people have to see some hope for a return on their investment of time and capital.

In 2020, we began to see some renewed growth.  Now, with news of the benefits available through House Bill 2463, we are getting more calls from people who have been breeding and racing in other states. Growth is an incremental process. We can’t turn into Kentucky overnight. But we can grow and improve, and we will, both in the quantity and quality of Thoroughbreds bred, raised and raced here in Texas.

J.N. Campbell: The Sam Houston Race Park 2021 Season just began on Friday; how excited are you, and what are some of the aspects that you are looking forward to seeing?

Mary Ruyle: The Management Team at SHRP does a tremendous job, and horsemen are really supporting the meet with stronger stables. Both the dirt and turf course at Houston are really good and really safe. Purses are better than ever and the stakes program (particularly for Accredited Texas-Breds) is very strong. I think we will see some great horses run at SHRP this year, and fans and bettors across the country will see this as one of the premier Winter and early-Spring meets in the country.

J.N. Campbell: Mary, some excellent information and well-done on this progress report. It looks like Texas has much to look forward to. Thank you for your time.

Mary Ruyle: You are welcome. Enjoyed the discussion.  

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