With slots debate raging, Pimlico meet opens today

Horse Racing

March 31, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Racing returns to Pimlico Race Course today for the state's marquee meet, but racing's eyes are elsewhere. People involved in racing are consumed by what's happening in Annapolis with legislation authorizing slot machines.

"It's all anybody's thinking about right now," said Linda Albert, a trainer based at Bowie.

Albert joined many of her colleagues at a rally yesterday in Annapolis, where they expressed support for slots as a boost to racing. She said she has already lost horses because their owners moved them to states where purses are subsidized by slot machines.

"The owners live in Maryland, and they want to race here," Albert said. "But they see what's happening to purses at Charles Town and Delaware Park. I guess without slots Maryland racing would keep muddling along, but it's going to be hard for many of us to stay if we keep racing for less and less money."

The state's thoroughbred tracks have cut purses and slashed stakes, but the Pimlico spring meet represents the best of what remains of Maryland racing. The 10-week meet features 26 stakes races worth $3,825,000, including two of the state's Grade I stakes: the $500,000 Pimlico Special and the $1 million Preakness, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

Half of the 26 stakes will take place on two days - five on May 14, Pimlico Special day, and eight on May 15, Preakness day. The Pimlico Special is expected to showcase Funny Cide, winner of last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

The Pimlico meet is also expected to feature the return of the Laurel-based Magic Weisner, runner-up in the 2002 Preakness. Nancy Alberts, his trainer, owner, breeder and exercise rider, said the 5-year-old gelding, sidelined by a near-fatal case of West Nile virus, is a workout or two away from a race.

For the first time, Preakness tickets are available online at www.ticketmaster.com. Today, patrons won't need tickets, as opening day features free admission, free Pimlico programs and $1 selected concessions. After today, Wednesday and Thursday admissions will be half price ($1.50).

On Saturday, the first 4,000 patrons will receive a Pimlico hat. Two weeks later, on April 17, the inaugural $150,000 Jim McKay Breeders' Cup Handicap will take place along with the $100,000 Federico Tesio Stakes. The Tesio is expected to feature the Albert-trained Water Cannon, who has won four straight races after losing his first six. The Tesio would be a steppingstone to the Preakness.

"I hope he's good enough," Albert said. "We'll find out in the next couple of weeks."

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