Spring brings renewal, and that was the feeling among some horsemen Wednesday, when the Maryland Jockey Club released a Pimlico spring stakes schedule that includes the return of the Grade III Allaire duPont Distaff on Preakness Day and a $100,000 boost to the purse for the day before's Grade II Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.
The MJC unveiled the stakes schedule after reaching agreement with the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and Maryland Horse Breeders Association. All that remains is for the Maryland Racing Commission to approve it Feb. 15 at its monthly meeting at Laurel Park.
"It certainly will be good for racing to get things back to at least where they were and perhaps a little ahead," said Chris Grove, who trained Silmaril to victory in the 2005 duPont Distaff. "That's all good. I'm not one of the trainers who will likely benefit from Preakness weekend stakes, but maybe it's a sign that the slots money, as it continues to come in, will begin benefiting the everyday races."
Pimlico Race Course's spring schedule, which begins April 1, the day after the conclusion of the Laurel Park meet, features 22 stakes races with purses totaling $2.9 million. Sixteen of those stakes, totaling $2.5 million, will run Preakness weekend, May 20-21. The 136th running of the $1 million Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, is the last day of the 29-day Pimlico meet.
"Having a strong stakes schedule during the Pimlico meet is vital for our success," MJC president Tom Chuckas said. "The Preakness weekend experience is strengthened with the return of the Distaff and the purse increase for the Black-Eyed Susan. We are working hard to increase the profile of the entire week, not just focusing on the third Saturday in May."
The May 20 card features seven stakes races, six for fillies and mares, highlighted by the Black-Eyed Susan for 3-year-old fillies. The purse for the race was increased to $250,000.
Preakness Day will feature nine added money races, including six graded events, and the return of the Distaff, which was put on a one-year hiatus because of a purse shortage.
The shortages were so bad, according to the MJC and its owners, that horsemen were threatened with the closing of Pimlico and Laurel Park last December. Now the horizon is brighter.
"Obviously, we're very pleased there is a season," trainer Dale Capuano said. "The Preakness helps support the rest of our racing program. And I think as more of the slots facilities begin operating, we'll start generating better purses for all of us."
Trainer Mike Trombetta pointed out just how far racing has come in just a few months.
"It's kind of an ironic turn," he said. "In December, we were at death's door. Now, with the second book in February, we have a purse increase [at Laurel Park], and now we see this. The return of the duPont is important because it couldn't be funded a year ago and now it can. It shows we have better funding for a better program. And the Preakness is our signature weekend. The better it is, the more attention it gets, the more improved the handle will be."