The highly popular Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships (MATCH) Series, which was forced to go on hiatus in 2020 because of regional COVID-19 restrictions, will return this year under a two-state schedule put together by horsemen and racetracks in Maryland and Virginia to bridge the gap until the full Series is restored in 2022.
The MATCH Series, the only one of its kind in racing, will run from May 14 at Pimlico Race Course 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 $2.75 million. There will be four divisions, all of them on dirt, and $282,000 in bonus money.
MATCH, which returned to the calendar in 2018 after 16 years on the shelf, had its most successful year in 2019 when each of the partner tracks agreed to run all divisional events on one day to create big-event days. The 2020 schedule, which would have added Colonial Downs and Charles Town, was shelved because of uncertainties caused by the pandemic, and similar concerns caused the region’s stakeholders to suspend planning for 2021. But the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Maryland Jockey Club offered to run a 2021 series at Laurel and Pimlico, and Colonial Downs and the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association offered to partner in the effort.
“This is a tremendous demonstration of support and cooperation by the Maryland and Virginia horsemen and racetracks, and I am deeply appreciative of their desire to maintain the MATCH brand through these difficult times for racing,” said MATCH creator Alan M. Foreman. “This should be a really fun and competitive series.”
“Maryland’s horsemen have always believed in the vision of MATCH and been enthusiastic supporters of the series from day one,” MTHA Executive Director David Richardson said. “We are thrilled to join with our friends in Virginia to renew this innovative concept for 2021 with the goal of a full rebirth in 2022.”
“We much appreciate the effort of the MTHA, Colonial Downs and the Virginia horsemen in keeping the series alive in 2021,” MJC President Sal Sinatra said. “COVID-19 forced our Mid-Atlantic partners to have to skip this year but we all felt it necessary to sustain the series. While we will miss all of our regional partners in 2021, we look forward to support from their horsemen in these races and look forward to continue building this tradition in 2022 with the whole Mid-Atlantic team. The series has been a major asset to the racing calendar in the Mid-Atlantic and has proven to be extremely competitive and fun to watch, wager upon and follow. There is nothing else like it in the industry.”
Colonial Downs, which was an original partner when the series debuted in 1997 and participated until it was discontinued in 2001, had signed onto the planned 2021 series. When the regional MATCH partners determined that the full series would be delayed until 2022, and the MTHA and MJC decided to run a Maryland-based Series, the Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, with Colonial’s support, offered to participate.
“We’re happy to join with the Maryland horsemen in preserving the Series for 2021 and taking a step toward bringing back the complete Series in 2022,” said Frank Petramalo, Executive Director of the Virginia HBPA.
“The 2021 MATCH Series with Pimlico, Laurel Park and Colonial Downs offers an excellent opportunity for horsemen from all over the country to participate in a complimentary schedule of quality stakes racing on the dirt,” said Jill Byrne, Director of Racing for Colonial Downs. “Colonial Downs has a phenomenal 1¼-mile main track that we look forward to showcasing through this collaboration with Maryland racing.”
There will be six races in each of the 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 MATCH Series champion will net $30,000 in bonuses for its owner and trainer. In addition, the Maryland Horse Breeders Association will pay a $3,000 bonus to the breeder of the top points-earning Maryland-bred and $3,000 for the top points-earning Maryland-sired horse. If the top points-earner is both Maryland-bred and -sired, the breeder would get $6,000.
There will be three days with all four division stakes on the same program: Aug. 23 at Colonial, Sept. 18 at Laurel Park and Dec. 26 at Laurel. The July 4 and July 31 programs at Laurel will each have three MATCH Series races. For the kickoff at Pimlico, there will be two stakes on both May 14 and May 15, Preakness weekend.