Anne M. Eberhardt

Preakness Could Move to Sundays in Future

Maryland Jockey Club is in final year of contract for NBC to televise the classic.

The operator of Pimlico Race Course is considering moving the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) to Sunday from its traditional Saturday spot in the future as a way to attract more fans for the annual two-day affair that includes the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II).

Under such a scenario, the present Friday card that features the Black-Eyed Susan, Pimlico Special Stakes (gr. III), and supporting stakes would be run Saturday as a lead-up to the Preakness the following day.

"It's something we've been looking at for awhile," said Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group that operates the Maryland Jockey Club, the parent of Pimlico and Laurel Park.

The middle leg of America's Triple Crown, the $1.5 million Preakness will be renewed for the 140th time May 16. On a beautiful day in Baltimore, the 2014 Preakness drew a record crowd of 123,469.

Ritvo said The Stronach Group believes running such a fixture as the Preakness on Sunday and having the Black-Eyed Susan the previous day could have a positive effect on the two-day numbers when compared with the present Friday-Saturday schedule because more locals would be able to attend without having to miss work on Friday.

Also, the track operator believes a Sunday Preakness would have greater appeal to families.

Ritvo said the concept of running the best races on Sunday is modeled after the traditional model in France and sometimes in California. Del Mar's Pacific Classic (gr. I) and other premier races are contested on Sundays.

In addition, Ritvo said the Sunday date might be more appealing to the NBC Network that will televise this year's race as well as the June 6 Belmont Stakes (gr. I). NBC recently renewed its contract to televise the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) through 2025, but the Preakness and Belmont are both in the final year of their respective contracts with the network.

"It might be something that would work for them," Ritvo said, adding that NBC has not been approached with the idea.

Running a track's featured event on Sunday is not new to The Stronach Group which once moved Gulfstream Park's Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) to Sunday. Ritvo said that decision resulted in increased attendance for the race, but turned out to be ineffective because in some years it conflicted with Easter Sunday and Palm Sunday, days in which some tracks that take simulcasts of the Florida Derby are dark.

Also under consideration for the Preakness and Black-Eyed Susan days are having the featured races as the final race of the day rather than having one or two additional races to allow fans something to do while traffic subsides.

Rather than the extra races, Ritvo said The Stronach Group would stage concerts to entertain fans until they are ready to leave, again another concept that has worked at Gulfstream Park.

Ritvo said that a Saturday-Sunday Black-Eyed Susan-Preakness format would mean that out-of-state horsemen, owners, jockeys, and fans would travel to and from Baltimore on a Friday-Monday routine rather than the present Thursday-Monday schedule employed by most.