Spring has sprung on the mid-Atlantic region, which means, among other things, the Pimlico spring meet is upon us. Good news for racing fans, indeed.
The Pimlico spring meet is Maryland’s marquee racing meet, a stakes-stuffed two-month stand which will, for a time, command the attention of the racing world. The Preakness (May 17), of course, is the second jewel of the Triple Crown and, with a $1,000,000 purse, the richest racing event in the state. The meet will also feature 26 other stakes, including nine graded events. The Grade I Pimlico Special returns from a one-year hiatus, with a reduced purse which the track funded from its own accounts (with help from a sponsor), to join such races as the Grade II Black Eyed Susan and the Grade II Dixie on the calendar.
More than 5,800 fans — which the Washington Post described as a “festive crowd” — turned out for yesterday’s opening day, highlighted by an upset winner in the Star De Naskra Stakes. This weekend’s racing features four Saturday stakes, including the Federico Tesio, Maryland’s traditional prep for the Preakness, to be shown live on ESPN. Among the Tesio starters to run well in the middle jewel are 1983 Preakness winner Deputed Testamony — the last Maryland-bred winner of the Preakness — and Preakness runners-up Oliver’s Twist (1995) and Magic Weisner (2002). The weekend also “features” — well, perhaps that’s a bit strong — That’s Amore runner Abbicadabra in a claimer on Sunday.
The bad news? For one thing, the numbers are back on Laurel’s winter meet. Running a reduced, four-day-a-week schedule, the track reported that total wagering dropped by 24 percent. Even worse, average daily handle, both at the track and via outside sources, declined significantly.
Maryland Jockey Club president Chris Dragone said that the MJC is planning a marketing push to bring more dollars into the coffers and trying to develop new modes of communicating with bettors. But, he added, “There are corporate restrictions out there. We’re not just the Maryland Jockey Club making decisions alone.”
“Corporate restrictions”? That, apparently, is a euphemism for whatever it is that Magna Entertainment is trying to accomplish with its Maryland properties. It’s pretty unusual for executives to step out and criticize, or question, Magna and chairman Frank Stronach. Which leads one to wonder whether Mr. Dragone will soon meet the fate of seemingly all Magna executives — the unemployment line.
Oh, and of course, there’s this little slots referendum thing hanging out there — and an aggressive, organized opposition that’s already mobilizing to defeat it.
As always in the Free State, it’s a mixed bag. Which leaves us no choice but to enjoy a sunny spring at Old Hilltop, and hope for the best.