Early reports from the Maryland Jockey Club the afternoon of May 16 indicated business was strong for this year's Xpressbet.com Preakness Stakes (gr. I) program and related infield activities.
MJC vice president and general manager Sal Sinatra couldn't provide an estimated attendance figure because, he said, people were still entering the Baltimore facility at about 3 p.m. EDT.
"Everything is going great," Sinatra said. "We're already ahead of last year (in terms of pari-mutuel handle), but the Preakness is the big number. I've been out to the infield and it's packed."
MJC officials were, however, working to fix a problem that developed mid-afternoon: plumbing in the Pimlico facility. There was no running water in restrooms and other areas; the scope of the problem wasn't immediately known but it was triggered by a broken water pipe about two miles from the track.
During an impromptu press conference at Pimlico Race Course, Sinatra again discussed the options for Maryland racing going forward. Though officials with The Stronach Group, which owns Laurel Park and Pimlico, are looking at having only one facility for the state's almost year-round racing schedule, Sinatra indicated it could remain a two-track system.
"You'll probably see something when we sit down as a group in June or July," Sinatra said. "My real goal now is to get this business back into a good position. If we can do it with Pimlico and Laurel (operating), I want to do that."
State and local government officials would like the Preakness to stay put as well. And some sort of financial incentives aren't out of the question.
"I think all parties do," Sinatra said of keeping Pimlico and Laurel in the mix. "I think (Frank Stronach) wants to keep the Preakness here. I think if we keep the Preakness here and run a Keeneland-style meet, say 18 days, it's a win-win for everyone.
"Frank wants to do something grand in Maryland. The direction of Maryland racing is now the focus (for The Stronach Group). And that's a good thing."
As for moving the Preakness from Saturday to Sunday, Sinatra said it's under discussion, and if it happens, it could be as early as next year. He envisions a three-day racing festival that would include Friday should the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II) program move to Saturday.
The Friday card May 15 registered large gains in attendance and total handle, which jumped from about $11 million last year to $18 million, thanks in part to excellent weather that kept scratches to a minimum.
"We did really well yesterday," Sinatra said. "That was a very (strong) card, but that card could do even more than that."