Anne M. Eberhardt

Pimlico Officially Unveils Stakes Slate

The Pimlico Special has been officially suspended for this year, the MJC announced.

The Maryland Jockey Club March 17 officially unveiled a 2009 spring stakes schedule at Pimlico Race Course that’s down about $1 million from last year and doesn’t include the grade I Pimlico Special.

The stakes schedule was approved by the Maryland Racing Commission after the MJC, Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and Maryland Horse Breeders Association struck an agreement.

The MJC earlier in March announced that the Pimlico spring meet would be reduced from 31 to 20 days. An early version of the stakes schedule reflected loss of the Pimlico Special for this year.

The Pimlico meet as usual is highlighted by the $1-million Preakness Stakes (gr. I), second leg of the Triple Crown, May 16. Preakness weekend alone features 16 stakes worth $2.3 million, which is most of the $2.6-million stakes allotment.

The Special will be suspended for the third time this decade; it also wasn’t held in 2002 or 2007 because of financial considerations and a need to funnel money to overnight purses. The MJC said it hopes overnight purses during the 20-day Pimlico meet average $160,000 per program.

It has been a rough year thus far for the MJC. In February, the company’s bid for a slot-machine license at Laurel Park was rejected, and in early March, parent company Magna Entertainment Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The MJC has appealed the slots ruling, while MEC has been granted bridge funding to pay bills during its legal proceedings.

The Preakness is the primary money-driver for Maryland racing each year, is significant to the state historically, and has major economic impact on the state. On March 17, Maryland Senate President Thomas "Mike" Miller told the Associated Press the state should build a track and take over the Preakness should MEC attempt to sell the race separately from Pimlico.

Miller told the media he believes MEC would set a price on the Preakness, and would have to give the state the first option to purchase the race to keep it in Maryland.

“We are always thrilled to go back to Pimlico in the spring,” MJC president and chief operating officer Tom Chuckas said in a statement accompanying the stakes release. “Despite the current climate, we felt it was important to keep the stakes schedule strong, especially Preakness weekend when the best of the best come to town.”

First post at Pimlico will be 1:10 p.m. EDT, with adjustments for Preakness day (10:15 a.m.), May 15 (12:15 p.m.), and May 2 (12:45 p.m.). The meet runs from April 18-May 23.

The Pimlico stable area will reopen April 1 and close June 6, officials said.