Jockey Club insists Pimlico Special will be run

With, without state help, race is a go, Raffetto says

Horse Racing

February 11, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Despite money woes and uncertainty in Annapolis, the Pimlico Special, one of the state's marquee races, will take place as scheduled May 14, the day before the Preakness, a Maryland Jockey Club executive said yesterday.

Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the MJC, told members of the Maryland Racing Commission that the race would go on even without funding from the horsemen's purse account or help from the General Assembly in the form of slot machines or purse subsidies.

Raffetto has said all along that he hoped to run the race, but this was the first time he has said publicly that it would take place no matter what.

A Grade I stakes for older horses, the Pimlico Special helped propel last year's winner, Mineshaft, to Horse of the Year honors. Such greats as Seabiscuit, Citation and Cigar have won the Special. The race was canceled in 2002 because of a lack of purse money.

A portion of money wagered goes into an account that funds purses for races, including stakes. Wayne Wright, executive secretary of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said the account faces a $2 million shortfall this year.

Not funding the Pimlico Special, even with its purse reduced from $600,000 last year to $500,000 this year, would be a big first step toward eliminating the shortfall, he said.

"It's not that we don't want to run the race," Wright said. "It's just that we can't afford it."

However, if the General Assembly authorizes slot machines at tracks or some sort of purse enhancement, then the purse account will fund the Special. The horsemen's association and track management had already agreed to that.

Otherwise, track management will offer a plan for financing the race, Raffetto told commissioners. After the meeting at Laurel Park, he declined to say what the plan would be.

Raffetto also told commissioners the MJC and its parent company, Magna Entertainment Corp., would add $2.5 million to an escrow account that will pay for ongoing track improvements.

Under an agreement with the commission, the MJC was to have spent $10 million by Dec. 31 for upgrades, primarily in the stables. Raffetto said the track has spent about $5.2 million so far but plans to spend more than $45 million this year to rebuild the Laurel barn area.

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