The unveiling of the spring schedule at a meeting of the Maryland Racing Commission on Tuesday came with good news and bad, as the state's horse racing industry continues to struggle for financial stability.
More than $2.4 million will be up for grabs in 18 stakes races during the spring meet at Pimlico Race Course, but the Grade I Pimlico Special, which dates to War Admiral's 1937 victory and for years has been the second-most important race in Maryland after the Grade I Preakness, will not be among the scheduled events.
The Special and the Grade II Allaire duPont Distaff have been put on a one-year hiatus because of, once more, a purse shortage. It is the fourth time in the past nine years the Pimlico Special has been canceled because of a lack of money. The last time was in 2007, after the 2006 racewas the last Special run as a $500,000 event. The Special came back in 2008 with a $250,000 purse.
Tom Chuckas, Maryland Jockey Club president and chief operating officer, said it has been difficult to find good horses whose owners are willing to run them for the quarter-million-dollar purse.
"We have tried hard to recruit Grade I winners to run in the Special," Chuckas said. "Unfortunately, a $250,000 purse is just not good enough to persuade connections, so we have decided to suspend the race this year."
Still, there was no request for a reduction in race dates and no request for purse reductions. Currently, Laurel Park is giving away an average of $170,000 a day and no reduction request is anticipated, officials said. The Laurel meet will conclude its 15-week run April 10.
Purse money for the 18 scheduled spring stakes totals $2,435,000. They will be run over a six-week period at Pimlico from April 17 through May 22. But the biggest share of those funds, $2.2 million, will be handed out during Preakness weekend, when 15 of the 18 stakes are scheduled.
The main draw will, of course, be the 135th running of the $1 million Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, on May 15.
"Springtime at Pimlico brings out the best in us," Chuckas said. "It is important to keep the stakes schedule strong during Preakness weekend when some of the nation's finest thoroughbreds come to town."
One stakes race will have a name change as the Woodlawn Stakes will become the James W. Murphy Stakes. Murphy, who died in June, saddled nearly 1,400 winners for earnings of more than $24 million. He had a banner Preakness week in 1994, winning both the Pimlico Distaff and the Miss Preakness Stakes, with Double Sixes and Foolish Kisses, respectively.