Revamped Pimlico picks up pace

Eight-week meet to feature increased purses and more turf races

Horse Racing

April 20, 2006|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

For nearly three months this winter, Pimlico Race Course was filled with sad and scared horsemen, as the track coped with an outbreak of the equine herpes virus. But the disease has been dispatched. Spring is in the air. And the horsemen at Pimlico are ready to lead their horses onto the track today for the eight-week stand that includes the 131st running of the Preakness Stakes.

At his Westminster farm, Charles Frock, whose horses won twice in the past two weeks at Laurel Park, marking the first wins by his stable since before the herpes outbreak, said he is delighted to be back at Pimlico. And, Frock said, he is delighted by what track officials are doing to make the sport here more competitive with surrounding states.

"They're going to run more turf races and they're raising the purse money," Frock said. "I love coming back to Pimlico and being able to walk out of my stable door and have the races be right there and I love that we're going to be running up to three turf races a day.

"You know babies are born on the grass, they run, frolic and kick on the turf. ... Sometimes a cheap horse on dirt could be an allowance horse on the grass. We should take advantage of it. They did it at Laurel, and I think you'll see more trainers staying at Pimlico instead of shipping out to other tracks."

Lou Raffetto, the Maryland Jockey Club president and chief operating officer, said there are always about 12 turf races a week during the Pimlico meeting, but because this meet has been shortened from five to four days a week, those 12 races will show up as two or three a day.

"We're trying to run 10 races a day instead of nine, and that extra race will be on grass during the week," Raffetto said.

Dirt track races will pay $4,000 more than in the past and overall, on a daily basis purse moneys will increase from $173,000 a day to about $220,000, making the average purse approximately $22,000.

"We're able to make the increase because we've reduced the number of racing days this year from 200 to 180 and business has been so much stronger, especially out-of-state business on the turf course last fall and spring," Raffetto said.

Tim Hooper, another trainer who stables his horses at Pimlico, said: "The purse increases make us very competitive with Delaware now. I think it can encourage trainers not to ship. Instead of deciding to ship, they can look at the schedule and say, `I can just wait a couple days. I don't have to ship.' "

And Hooper, too, is happy to not have to take his horses even as far as Laurel Park.

"It's nice to be back at Pimlico," he said. "It's easier on the help, easier on the horses and easier on me."

The meet will feature 27 stakes races, including nine on Preakness day, with purses totaling $4.455 million.

Saturday will feature The Spring Festival of Racing. With five six-figure stakes on the card for Maryland Million-nominated or Maryland-bred horses, the day adds up to being the fifth biggest day of racing in the state.

smm2me@aol.com

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