Pimlico opens 10-week spring meet today

Preakness, 26 other stakes jewels of signature meet

Pimlico Special to return

Horse Racing

April 02, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

You won't get 13 innings and a blinding snowstorm, but at Baltimore's second opening day you'll get glistening thoroughbreds, flashy silks and the promise of Maryland's grandest sporting event lurking around the corner.

Pimlico opens today for its 10-week spring meet featuring 27 stakes races worth $4,235,000. The headliner, of course, is the $1 million Preakness Stakes on May 17, the second jewel of the Triple Crown that begins with the Kentucky Derby and concludes with the Belmont.

"The Pimlico spring meet is our signature meet," said Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club. "After we've just experienced one of the worst winters on record, everybody's looking for a change."

Change comes in switching tracks from Laurel Park to Pimlico, not in sweeping improvements to Pimlico, the aged track in Northwest Baltimore. In fact, Raffetto said, it will be "business as usual" as the General Assembly debates authorizing slot machines at Maryland tracks. Slots at Pimlico and Laurel Park would result in the demolition and rebuilding of both tracks - from barn to clubhouse, said Maryland Jockey Club officials.

"Everybody's sitting back waiting to see what happens with legislation," Raffetto said. "In the meantime, we're trying to do the best we can with what we've got to work with."

Fourteen of the meet's 27 stakes races will be held Preakness week. The highlight will be the Friday-Saturday combination of the Pimlico Special, Black-Eyed Susan and three other stakes Friday, May 16, and the Preakness and seven supporting stakes the next day.

The Pimlico Special returns after a hiatus of one year. Track officials and the horsemen agreed not to run the prestigious race last year because of a lack of purse money. The $600,000 event, one of the state's three Grade I races, usually attracts the top older horses in the country.

For the first time, Pimlico will offer head-to-head wagering on 11 of the 12 stakes May 16 and 17. Designed especially for the novice, the wager will pit one horse against another, and bettors select which horse they think will finish ahead of the other. The wager was inaugurated last fall at the Breeders' Cup at Arlington Park.

Also, Frank Stronach's Adena Springs farm in Kentucky will donate a 2004 breeding to the top three horses in the Pimlico Distaff Breeders' Cup on Black-Eyed Susan day. The stallions available are the Grade I winners Alphabet Soup, Golden Missile and Wild Rush.

Stronach is chairman of Magna Entertainment Corp., which bought a controlling interest last fall in the Maryland Jockey Club.

Opening-day admission is free, and patrons will receive a free Pimlico program. Selected food and drink items will be sold for $1. The meet's first stakes, the $75,000 Primonetta, will take place Saturday, and the first turf stakes, the $75,000 Henry S. Clark, will take place May 3, Kentucky Derby day.

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