Pimlico Handle Increases Slightly; Gill Wins Owner's Title

Buoyed by record-handle on the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) program, all-sources handle for the Pimlico spring meet totaled $266.2 million, which was a slight increase over last year's total handle of $265 million.

Handle on Pimlico's live product was up slightly from $22.2 million to $24.4 million. Import handle fell 18% from $91 million to $73 million, which resulted in total in-state handle falling 15.5% from $115.2 million to $97.4 million. According to a Maryland Jockey Club press release, the reason for the in-state downturn was because MJC tracks and Rosecroft Raceway (a Standardbred track) are no longer pooling net revenue in accordance with the terms of a now-expired revenue sharing and operations agreement.

A record crowd of 112,668 packed Pimlico for the May 15 Preakness. It was the largest crowd to ever witness a sporting event in the state. Preakness day wagering finished at $87.9 million, more than 36% ahead of last year's Preakness day handle of $64.4 million and smashing the record of $71.4 million set in 2002. A pool of $59.5 million was bet on the Preakness.

Average daily total handle for 48 days of live racing and 21 days of simulcasts was $4.92 million, a 0.7% increase from last year's daily average of $4.89 million for 48 live programs and 17 simulcast days.

The meet ended with Steve Hamilton, Dale Capuano and Michael Gill winning individual titles. Live racing shifts to Colonial Downs near Richmond for the next seven weeks.

The battle for the top jockey was see-saw affair as five riders held the top spot during the meet. In the last five weeks either Hamilton or Ryan Fogelsonger sat atop the standings. Hamilton visited the winners' circle seven times in the last three days to edge Fogelsonger, who had a winner each day this week, 49 to 46.

It is the first riding title for Hamilton, who re-joined the colony in January after a four-year absence. The 30-year old was a top five rider in Maryland five times during the 1990's before leaving to work on the oil fields in his native Oklahoma. In 1997 and 1998 he ranked behind only Edgar Prado, Mark Johnston and Mario Pino, the three winningest riders in Maryland racing history.

"It is an unexplainable feeling," said Hamilton. "I owe a lot to my agent (former rider Ben Feliciano Sr.) and the people I ride for who gave us a chance when we came back. It was a great race with the top spot on the line on the last day of the meet. Ryan had some unfortunate luck yesterday by losing a couple photos and having the saddle slip on Water Cannon in the stake, but that's racing. I never thought we'd do this well when we returned. I don't have words to hit it in the head, but it is a great feeling.<=>

Abel Castellano, Jr. finished third in the standings with 40 wins, while Jozbin Santana (36) and Ramon Dominguez (27) rounded out the top five. All three topped the standings earlier in the meet.

Dale Capuano captured his eighth straight meet at Pimlico, dating back to 2000, saddling 25 winners, 11 more than Jerry Robb. The title is the 25th meet won by the 41-year old at Pimlico and Laurel Park.

Once again Michael Gill dominated the owner standings, winning 31 races, including four on May 14. The familiar blue colors visited the winners' circle with four different trainers: Mark Shuman (13), Robb (nine), Phil Schoenthal (seven) and Gamaliel Vazquez (two).

The Maryland Jockey Club also honored the trainers with the highest starts per stall ratio with a $500 bonus. The winners were Tim Salzman (36 or more stalls), Hamilton Smith (26-34), Tim Tullock (16-25), Holly Robinson (8-15) and Joseph Eff (3-7).