Racing dates cut at Pimlico

$2 million shortfall forces reduction from 31 to 20

March 11, 2009|By Bill Ordine | Bill Ordine,

Racing at Pimlico Race Course, the historic home of the Preakness Stakes, will be reduced to 20 dates this spring, the Maryland Jockey Club announced yesterday.

Falling revenues during Laurel Park's winter meet have created a $2 million shortfall in the purse account, the pool of money that is used to pay top finishers. As a result, the MJC and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association have agreed to trim race dates at Pimlico from the scheduled 31 days to 20, with the meet beginning April 18 and ending May 23. The Preakness, the second jewel in racing's Triple Crown, is May 16.

By reducing the number of race dates, the track and the horsemen hope to keep the purses at $160,000 a day, not including stakes races such as the Preakness.

The Maryland Racing Commission indicated its approval for the change in race dates in a telephone poll and is expected to give formal approval Tuesday at its next meeting, according to Mike Hopkins, the commission's executive director.

"It's a fact of life; it's a lack of revenues," Hopkins said. "If you want to keep the purse structure, you have to do something."

During the past decade, race dates in Maryland have declined steadily, from 225 in the late 1990s to an expected 153 this year. There were 200 scheduled race dates as recently as 2005.

Magna Entertainment Corp., the corporate parent of the Maryland Jockey Club, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week, but MJC president and chief operating officer Tom Chuckas said discussions with the horsemen about cutting race dates at Pimlico began before MEC's filing and that the two events were unrelated.

"It's not what we wanted to do," Chuckas said of the reduced racing at Pimlico. "But what we do want is to protect the [horsemen] and the ... purses."

Although the Preakness is a major moneymaker for state racing interests, Pimlico suffers from sharply declining wagering handles after the big day.

"The Pimlico meet, while a very good meet, after the Preakness the handle does fall off," said Richard Hoffberger, president of the horsemen's association. "So this is nothing against Pimlico, but if you're going to pick days [to eliminate], you might as well eliminate the bad days."

In addition to the problem of meager handles after the Preakness, Pimlico faces stiff competition for horse talent from thoroughbred tracks in neighboring states that run spring meets. Delaware Park, Philadelphia Park and Charles Town (West Virginia) - tracks whose purses are supplemented by revenue from slot machine casinos - have live racing at the same time of year.

After Pimlico closes, there is a 10-day mini-meet in August at Laurel Park. And the Anne Arundel County track has a 64-date meet from Sept. 9 to Dec. 31.

However, the dates for the fall meet at Laurel could be adjusted, depending on the status of the purse account.

racing dates

Year ............. *Dates

1997-1999 .......... 225

2000-2002 .......... 220

2003 .................... 210

2004-2005 .......... 200

2006 ................... 185

2007 ................... 180

2008 .................. 165

2009 ................. *153

* 2009 dates reflect adjustment for reduced racing at Pimlico. Other years might have had fewer actual dates because of weather-related cancellations.

Source: Maryland Jockey Club


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