Want to fix the Preakness? Fix Pimlico first

May 14, 2011|Peter Schmuck

If it's the middle of May, you can bet that somebody somewhere is talking about what can be done to fix the Preakness Stakes.

So, count me as not surprised when a story surfaced Monday in the Thoroughbred Times quoting MI Developments (MID) executive Mike Rogers saying that it might be a good idea at some point to move the second jewel of the Triple Crown from Saturday to Sunday.

I guess we should just be relieved that Frank Stronach's right-hand man wasn't talking about moving it from Maryland to Florida.

Here's the rationale: The same thing was done at Gulfstream with the Florida Derby this year and it helped juice up the Gulfstream Park Oaks that runs the day before. Theoretically, moving the Preakness to Sunday would do the same for the Black-eyed Susan Stakes and give Pimlico two major weekend racing cards instead of one.

Here's my take: The Preakness doesn't need fixing. The Preakness is just fine. If MID and Penn National Gaming want to do something to enhance the Preakness experience for race fans, we should be talking about a significant upgrade at one of the nation's most historic racetracks, which would have a positive impact beyond just the third Saturday in May.

The possibility of moving the race to Sunday next year or in 2013 is just in the brainstorming stage. In fact, the Maryland Jockey Club is so busy gearing up for Preakness Week right now that president Tom Chukas isn't ready to look that far ahead.

"From my perspective, I haven't had time to really analyze the possibility of running the Preakness on Sunday,'' Chukas said. "Based on the state of thoroughbred racing and the interests of the Maryland Jockey Club, I think all things are on the table. It's always good business to analyze and investigate, but I couldn't tell you right now if it's a good idea."

Neither can I, of course, but I'm just going to assume it's a bad idea because I'm a hidebound traditionalist and the Preakness has been run on Saturday since Gallant Fox raced through Baltimore on a Friday in 1930 on his way to becoming the second horse to win the Triple Crown.

They apparently didn't care what day it was run before that because — prior to 1931 — the Preakness was run on Tuesday 14 times, Friday 13 times, Monday six times, Wednesday five times and Thursday four times. The only day of the week this race has never been run over its 136-year history is, interestingly enough, on Sunday.

For the record, I also hate interleague play, don't want the NFL to go to an 18-game regular season, think the dunk ruined basketball and wish Tiger Woods would start multi-dating again, just so you know where I'm coming from.

There are all sorts of logistical issues involved in such a switch. Lots of out-of-town race fans come in on Friday and travel home on Sunday and — believe it or not — a good percentage of those crazy miscreants who party from morning to night on the infield actually are gainfully employed and need a day to clear their heads before going back to work on Monday.

The big media rights holders also might have reservations, and don't get me started on the religious issues associated with worshipping Kegasus on a Sunday.

The only thing I don't like about the Preakness as currently presented is the state of Old Hilltop, though as a traditionalist I probably should like the fact that it still has the same plumbing as it did when Sir Barton became the first Triple Crown winner in 1919.

Okay, that's a gross exaggeration, but I think you get my drift. The introduction of legal slot machine gambling was supposed to lift Maryland's horseracing industry by raising millions of dollars for track improvements, but a lot of the money earmarked for upgrades has been diverted to support the day-to-day operations of the Maryland Jockey Club for the next two years.

The happy news this week is that the Preakness apparently has recovered from the public relations hit the event took two years ago when the Maryland Jockey Club ended the long-standing tradition of allowing fans to bring their own beverages to the infield party. Attendance rebounded in 2010 and — as of Wednesday — advance ticket sales were up 17 percent this year.

The sad news is that the long-term future of Maryland's biggest single-day sporting event will continue to be debated as long as the current ownership views it as an underperforming asset and it's historic home continues to age ungracefully.

"If the Preakness is to remain at Pimlico," Chukas said, "it's incumbent upon ownership to upgrade Pimlico, improve and increase the amenities and — based on what I see this year — add more inventory, which means more seats and spaces for the public."

What he said.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on "The Week in Review" on Friday's at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and WBAL.com.

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