LAUREL -- Maryland racing's only significant steppingstone to the Triple Crown is likely to undergo a major scheduling change this spring.
The Federico Tesio Stakes, traditionally a mid-March race, is being considered for the last Saturday in April, one week before the Kentucky Derby this year. The roster of pre-Derby races released by Triple Crown Productions Inc. last week and printed in yesterday's editions of The Sun has the Tesio scheduled at Pimlico Race Course on April 26.
"That's not set in stone because we haven't officially released our stakes schedule yet," said Tim Capps, Laurel/Pimlico vice president for racing. "But it is something we are giving high consideration to."
The aim, Capps said, would be to tailor the 1 1/8 -mile Tesio into more of a Preakness prep. "We felt that, where it was, it may not have been working particularly well," he said. "This way, it could conceivably attract more trainers on a national level, people who may not have a horse ready for the big boys in the Derby but might be looking at the Preakness. There's also the factor of a horse getting a race over the track at an ideal time [three weeks] before the Preakness."
Competing against rich races in Florida, California, New York and other racing centers, the Tesio only periodically has produced top Triple Crown contenders; Deputed Testamony (1983), Broad Brush (1986) and Private Terms (1988) are the only standout winners of the race. Its purse stood at $200,000 as late as 1989, but after being cut to $175,000 last year, the race will be worth only $125,000 this year, regardless of when it is run, said Capps.
"[The cut] is not directed at anyone," he said. "In line with the sizable cuts we made in the stakes schedule last year and the way business has been . . . we had to measure what the race meant against the amount of money we were offering."
Overall, 1991 stakes purses were cut more than 10 percent. Capps said a kinder cut is in store for 1992, although a precise figure has not been determined. Overnight night purses, meanwhile, have been slashed 6 percent for the current Jan. 1-Jan. 16 period.
NOTES: For the Queen, ridden by Larry Saumell, easily won yesterday's ninth-race Laurel feature. . . . Jockey Joe Rocco said yesterday that he may return to riding as soon as Thursday. Rocco was hospitalized briefly Saturday after he was spilled from a mount. "My leg's a little sore," he said. "I got real lucky it wasn't worse." . . . When Mike Luzzi returns from a 10-day suspension Thursday, he will have plenty of ground to make up on riding leader Edgar Prado, who won 3 more races yesterday to extend his lead over Luzzi to 93-81. . . . Due North, a winner of 18 races and $841,000 in a lengthy career, has been retired. The 10-year-old gelding injured a hind cannon bone recently.