Pimlico Trims Meet, Suspends 'Special'
Photo: courtesy of Pimlico

The on-again-off-again grade I Pimlico Special is off again for this year. And so are 11 days of racing originally scheduled for 2009.

According to a 2009 spring stakes schedule for Pimlico Race Course in Maryland, the Pimlico Special won’t be held this year. The race for older horses wasn’t run in 2007 for financial reasons, but returned in 2008 with a reduced purse of $250,000.

The 2009 schedule lists 21 stakes worth about $2.6 million, down from $3.4 million for the spring session last year. The highlight remains the $1-million Preakness Stakes (gr. I), second leg of the Triple Crown.

On March 10, the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico under parent company Magna Entertainment Corp., announced the Pimlico spring meet would be 20 days instead of 31. A release said the decision was made "at a meeting late last month" by the MJC and Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. The dates cut wasn't previously released.

The MJC said the reduction is necessary to maintain average daily overnight purses of $160,000. The industry faces an almost $2-million shortfall in the purse account during the current Laurel Park winter/spring meet.

The Maryland Racing Commission approved the change. Live racing at Pimlico will begin April 18 instead of April 15, and end May 23 instead of June 6. That leaves about a three-week gap before Colonial Downs, which relies heavily on Maryland-based horses, begins its Thoroughbred meet.

The 59-day Laurel meet ends April 11. Laurel is scheduled to hold a "brief" meet in August, and a 16-week fall meet after Labor Day. The Maryland State Fair at Timonium runs from late August through Labor Day.

“This decision (to cut dates) had nothing to do with last week’s Chapter 11 filing,” MJC president and chief operating officer Tom Chuckas said in a statement. (MEC filed for bankruptcy protection March 5.). “We felt it was best to address the situation sooner rather than later in the year.

"We would like to thank the Maryland THA for working with us for the best solution as this gives us an opportunity to compete with surrounding states within our purse structure. We are looking forward to the Pimlico meet, especially Preakness week when the best Thoroughbreds in the country come to Baltimore.”

The MJC said the 2009 Pimlico stakes schedule would be announced at the March 17 MRC meeting, though the schedule is posted on the track's Web site.

“Our racing secretary, Georganne Hale, has done a terrific job of maintaining an attractive stakes program, especially Preakness week,” Chuckas said. “We are in a difficult period, and the battle becomes more challenging each day.”

According to the posted schedule, most of the stakes will be run the week of the Preakness, which is set for May 16. Nine stakes will be run Preakness day, including the $150,000 Allaire DuPont Distaff Stakes (gr. II), $150,000 Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT), $100,000 Maryland Sprint Handicap (gr. III), Hirsch Jacobs Stakes (gr. III), Gallorette Handicap (gr. IIIT), William Donald Schaefer Stakes (gr. III), $50,000 Woodlawn Stakes, and $35,000 Deputed Testamony Starter Handicap.

The Schaefer is back after a one-year suspension. It was dropped from the 2008 slate because the Pimlico Special was run under similar conditions.

Gone is the $100,000 Barbaro Stakes, formerly the Sir Barton Stakes. The $100,000 Baltimore City Turf Sprint has become the Jim McKay Turf Sprint, but the $75,000 Jim McKay Breeders’ Cup Stakes, one of four stakes held the first Saturday of last year, has been dropped.

The May 15 program is headed by the grade II Black-Eyed Susan Stakes and grade III Adena Stallions’ Miss Preakness Stakes. Other Preakness-eve stakes are the $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint, $50,000 Skipat Stakes, $50,000 Hilltop Stakes on the turf, and the $35,000 Kattegat’s Pride Starter Handicap.

The Federico Tesio Stakes, which last year kicked off the Pimlico meet, has been moved to May 2, Kentucky Derby (gr. I) day. The purse for the 3-year-old event has been slashed from $150,000 to $75,000.

Cuts in stakes purses aren’t new at Pimlico and sister track Laurel Park. The MJC and horsemen have worked together to preserve the tracks’ overnight purse structure in the face of declining revenue.

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