The Pimlico Special (gr. I) returns as part of the 2008 stakes schedule after a one year hiatus.

The Pimlico Special (gr. I) returns as part of the 2008 stakes schedule after a one year hiatus.

Jimmy McCue

Pimlico Sets Stakes; 'Special' Returns

Pimlico Race Course will offer a $3.46-million stakes schedule this spring.

Pimlico Race Course, home of the grade I Preakness Stakes, will offer a $3.46-million stakes schedule during a 31-day spring meet that runs from April 17-June 7. In a major change, the grade I Pimlico Special is back.

The Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico, reached an agreement on the stakes schedule with the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Maryland Horse Breeders Association. The schedule was approved by the Maryland Racing Commission March 18.

The headline event of the eight-week meet is the 133rd running of the $1-million Preakness, second leg of the Triple Crown, May 17. The marquee meet of the Maryland racing season will feature 27 stakes; 16 of them are scheduled for Preakness week. The first Saturday of the meet, April 19, features four stakes, including the Federico Tesio, a local Preakness prep.

Back after a one-year absence is the grade I Pimlico Special, which will be run May 16 along with the grade II Black-Eyed Susan and four other stakes. The Special last year wasn’t run for financial reasons; this year, the purse will be cut in half.

“I think it is a very important part of Preakness weekend,” MJC president and general manager Chris Dragone said in a statement. “In a perfect world, we I would love for it to be a half-million dollar race as it was two years ago. But right now, we are in a position where we need to take small steps and play the hand we are dealt. That means a $250,000 purse.”

With the Pimlico Special returning to the stakes slate, racing officials have decided not to card the grade III William Donald Schaefer Handicap in 2008. The $100,000 test for older horses at  1 1/8 miles has been a staple on the Preakness undercard since 1991, but its conditions are too similar to the Pimlico Special this year.

In addition, Pimlico racing secretary Georganne Hale moved the Allaire duPont Distaff (gr. II) to the Preakness undercard, one day later than usual.

“We are always thrilled to go back to Pimlico in the spring —  it is our signature meet of the year,” Dragone said. “Pimlico is a special place with a tremendous amount of history as the second oldest racetrack in the country. We are excited about the potential of the meet moving forward. It could end up being similar to Del Mar and Saratoga.”

First post for 27 days of the meet will be 1:10 p.m. EDT, with adjustments on Preakness (10:30 a.m.), Pimlico Special/Black-Eyed Susan (12:15 p.m.), Kentucky Derby (12:45 p.m.), and Belmont Stakes (12:45 p.m.) days.

Laurel Park, currently open for its winter/spring meet, will close April 13.