Under slots' cloud, Pimlico opens meet 'Special', Preakness MATCH series highlight track's spring schedule

April 02, 1997|By Kent Baker and Tom Keyser | Kent Baker and Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The signature meeting of Maryland's thoroughbred racing season, the spring stand at Pimlico Race Course, begins today as the showcase for the year's biggest races and racing's newest innovation, the MATCH series.

With revenues and enthusiasm under assault from slot machines in Delaware and West Virginia, Maryland's most prosperous meet needs to prosper more than ever. Its highlights are the state's only two Grade I races: the $600,000 Pimlico Special on May 10 and the $500,000 Preakness Stakes on May 17.

"It's just a real pleasure to be here at Pimlico," said Jim Mango, chief executive officer of the Maryland Jockey Club. "It's the most important six weeks of the year. But it's also the most enjoyable six weeks of the year."

It's six weeks until Preakness Week, but the Pimlico spring meet runs through June 9. Mango said the meet's consistent schedule -- Mondays are simulcast only, Tuesdays are dark -- should eliminate any scheduling confusion.

"We think keeping a Wednesday-through-Sunday schedule will pay dividends," Mango said. "We're trying to adapt as best we can to the other tracks' [simulcast] schedules, as well."

Another highlight is the introduction of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships -- or MATCH. It's a series of 35 races in five divisions at tracks in four states (five if Virginia's Colonial Downs opens in September), offering $3.5 million in purses and $500,000 in bonuses.

The series debuts April 19 at Pimlico with the $200,000 Federico Tesio Stakes and concludes Oct. 4 with championship finales in each division. Twelve MATCH races will be televised on ESPN2, including the Tesio and the five finals.

Alan Foreman, executive director of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Associations, was a guiding force in the MATCH series, which he calls "a landmark event designed to provide additional financial rewards for owners and trainers and market our sport as never before."

The Tesio headlines the biggest stakes day before the Preakness -- the fourth annual Spring Breeders' Challenge. That April 19 program includes five stakes worth more than $500,000. The Grade III Tesio is expected to include Concerto, trained by Laurel-based John Tammaro III and bound for the Kentucky Derby and/or the Preakness.

Pimlico is also instituting the "premier player club," in which patrons betting on Maryland races earn points toward prizes ranging from concessions and merchandise to betting vouchers and tickets to VIP tents on Preakness Day.

Bettors can sign up this week at the "patron services booth" at Pimlico and Laurel Park.

In addition, Mango said, the Pimlico clubhouse and grandstand have been physically improved, and the horsemen's bathroom on the backstretch has been renovated.

NOTE: Pimlico will open at 10 a.m. tomorrow so patrons can wager on the $4 Dubai World Cup, postponed from Saturday. Post time will be 10: 35 a.m. Patrons also can place advance wagers today on the race.

Simulcast schedule

Today

Aqueduct 1 p.m.

Hialeah 1 p.m.

Oaklawn 1 p.m.

Santa Anita 3 p.m.

Sportsman's Park 1 p.m.

Turfway 7 p.m.

Tomorrow Aqueduct 1 p.m.

Garden State 7 p.m.

Hialeah 1 p.m.

Oaklawn 1 p.m.

Santa Anita 3 p.m.

Sportsman's Park 1 p.m.

Turfway 7 p.m.

Pub Date: 4/02/97

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