Mounted on Bodexpress #9, jockey John Velazquez comes out of the saddle during the start of the 144th Running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 18, 2019
Originally scheduled for Saturday, May 16 but postponed due to the Coronavirus, the 145th Preakness Stakes could still be run on one of three dates this summer or fall – sometime in July or August, or October 3. According to a report by the Associated Press (AP) on Wednesday, the Maryland Jockey Club and NBC Sports have set aside three possible dates. The information was relayed to the AP by a person with knowledge of negotiations on condition of anonymity as the date is still unconfirmed.
Earlier on Wednesday, WBAL-TV11, The NBC affiliate in Baltimore reported the Preakness will be run Oct. 3. Immediately following that report, The Stronach Group (TSG) and Maryland Jockey Club (MJC) issued a statement on Twitter.
“The Stronach Group/Maryland Jockey Club is aware that a potential date for Preakness 145 has been announced. At this point, there is no definitive date set and we continue to explore options. Once a date for Preakness 145 has been finalized, an official announcement will be made.”
Soon after, the Baltimore Sun reporter Childs Walker Tweeted “A source told me two dates in addition to Oct. 3 are still under consideration for the Preakness, including one in July and one in August.”
In a statement to TDN published May 5, Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA) President also alluded to an October run date. “I haven’t had that discussion,” said Keefe, who speculated that the Preakness may be rescheduled for October. “There may be talk of that among the horsemen; I know there has been some discussion about that. We would listen to whatever The Stronach Group proposes and, hopefully, will make the right decision.”
Maryland Jockey Club president Sal Sinatra stated officials are still working with NBC Sports on rescheduling the race, which was postponed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Track officials subsequently cancelled InfieldFest on April 3. The infield usually makes up the lion’s share of attendance at the race, which last year drew 131,256 fans and took in a track-record handle of $99,852,653. Although many who participate in InfieldFest do not necessarily wager on races their ticket purchase does increase Preakness profits.
With the Kentucky Derby rescheduled from May 2 to Sept. 5, the Belmont Stakes, scheduled for June 6, like the Preakness, still doesn’t have a new date yet. Spokesman Pat McKenna said the New York Racing Association “is in the process of working with state and local officials to safely resume live racing at Belmont Park. A determination about the timing of the 2020 Belmont Stakes will be made only after we have clarity on the opening of the Belmont spring/summer meet.”
Currently, NYRA officials are working with New York state officials on a plan to reopen Belmont Park, and to hold the Saratoga Summer meet scheduled from July 16 to September 7, both tentatively without fans.
The timing of the Preakness could have ripple effects on the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup, which is set for Nov. 6-7 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. It’s possible the Triple Crown races could be run out of order and at different distances depending on the calendar. It’s also possible that the purse structure could see adjustments with no live racing handle to supplement purses.
In Maryland, the industry relies on casino funding for 70% of purse funding with parimutuel wagering making up the difference. With all casinos in Maryland currently closed and only $3.2 million surplus in the purse account, MJC must determine where to begin distribution of those monies.
“The thought behind that is the purse monies we do have we want to get it into the hands of the Marylanders, the guys that are here and have supported Maryland racing and are struggling. To us, that makes the most sense,” Tim Keefe said.
In January, the Maryland Jockey Club had announced a robust stakes schedule for the first half of the year culminating with the $1.5 million G1 Preakness Stakes. A total of 38 stakes, 11 graded, worth $6.325 million in purses were scheduled through mid-May 2020 at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course.
Before the Coronavirus shut down live racing, MJC was able to get in a healthy chunk of stakes at Laurel Park. Jan. 18 they held four stakes for 4-year-olds worth $350,000 in purses led by the $100,000 Fire Plug and $100,000 What a Summer, the latter for fillies and mares, both lengthened from six to 6 ½ furlongs. Also on the card were two $75,000 stakes for Maryland-bred/sired horses going one mile, the Jennings and the Geisha for fillies and mares.
Five stakes worth $800,000 in purses were run on Feb. 15 highlighted by the $250,000 General George (G3) for 4-year-olds and up and $250,000 Barbara Fritchie (G3) for fillies and mares 4 and older. They were joined on the card by a pair of $100,000 stakes for sophomores – the Wide Country for fillies and Miracle Wood – and $100,000 John B. Campbell for older horses.
On March 14, MJC was able to get in just under the wire a quartet of stakes worth $400,000 led by the $100,000 Private Terms for 3-year-olds and $100,000 Beyond the Wire for 3-year-old fillies, each at one mile. For older horses, the one-mile $100,000 Nellie Morse for fillies and mares and the $100,000 Harrison Johnson Memorial.
There are races that may or may not be rescheduled or could be run with reduced purses. A pair of Maryland-bred/sired events that shifted from their previous March spots on the calendar to April 4 are left unrun – the $75,000 Conniver for fillies and mares and $75,000 Not For Love, both sprinting seven furlongs. Tim Keefe said “Bonus payments for Maryland-breds may be temporarily discontinued once the meet resumes.” That could effect if these particular races are at all rescheduled.
Still left to run is the last Preakness prep race and “Win and You’re In” the $200,000 Tesio Stakes and the $125,000 Weber City Miss, a ‘Win and In’ race for the Black-Eyed Susan. Both were originally scheduled to run April 18.
Two Preakness ‘Win and In’ slots have already been filled. On April 11 Allied Racing Stable’s Mr. Big News (Giant’s Causeway) won the Oaklawn Stakes for trainer Bret Calhoun at Oaklawn Park. Bob Baffert won a spot in the Preakness on February 15 when Azul Coast (Super Saver), owned by Karl Watson, Michael E. Pegram and Paul Weitman, hit the wire first in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate (Yes, Bob has another fabulous 3-year-old. Check his latest works.)
Also scheduled for April 18 were the $100,000 Maryland Racing Media Stakes usually run in February, the $100,000 Henry S. Clark for 3-year-olds, the $100,000 Dahlia and the $100,000 King T. Leatherbury. The Leatherbury and Dahlia were to both help launch the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship (MATCH) Series for 2020 which was cancelled.
Then there is the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes, the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan and the robust undercards on both days. A program of 10 stakes worth $2.75 million were scheduled that included the $250,000 Dixie (G2), $200,000 Chick Lang (G3), $150,000 Gallorette (G3) and $150,000 Maryland Sprint (G3).
If either race had been promoted to Grade 2 status for 2020 by the Graded Stakes Committee, the Chick Lang for 3-year-olds sprinting six furlongs would have seen its purse increased to $250,000, while the Gallorette for fillies and mares 3 and up going 1 1/16 miles on grass would have gotten a purse boost to $200,000.
The $100,000 Skipat for females 3 and older sprinting six furlongs was moved from its spot on the Black-Eyed Susan Day program to join the Preakness undercard stakes roster along with the $100,000 Sir Barton for 3-year-olds and a trio of turf stakes – the $100,000 James W. Murphy for 3-year-olds and $100,000 The Very One and the $100,000 Searching at 1 ½ miles, both for fillies and mares 3 and up.
Friday, May 15 was to feature the 96th running of the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/8 miles, topping a card of seven stakes, four graded, worth $1.15 million in purses. The historic $300,000 Pimlico Special (G3) for 3-year-olds and up and four other stakes for females – the $150,000 Adena Springs Miss Preakness (G3), $150,000 Allaire duPont Distaff (G3), $100,000 Hilltop and inaugural $100,000 Milkmaid, the latter at 1 1/16 miles for non-winners of an open sweepstakes.
Currently, there is a bill pending Maryland Governor Hogan’s decision regarding the future of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park. The Racing and Community Development Act (HB1056/SB987) would authorize the Maryland Stadium Authority – with approval from the state Board of Public Works – to issue up to $375 million in bonds to support the complete revamping of both Laurel and Pimlico. There was no mention of the bill, the Preakness or Maryland racing in Gov. Hogan’s Wednesday afternoon press conference.
Reopening Racing and Scheduling the Preakness
State and local authorities, racing officials and TV executives are expected to make the determination on the Preakness date based on the health and safety situation as it develops. Gov. Hogan announced today that he was lifting restrictions to reopen state parks and beaches and other outdoor areas in time for the Mother’s Day weekend. He stressed the importance of continuing social protocol.
Depending on statistics, Maryland could resume live horse racing without spectators sometime in mid- to late May. Gov. Hogan stated if data confirms a decline in spread of COVID-19 he will activate the first stage of recovery within the next 14 days.
The Governor’s Three-Stages of Maryland’s Road to Recovery plan are low-, medium- and high-risk activities. Racing industry leaders believe live racing is very likely to be included in the low-risk stage under COVID-19 specific health and safety protocol and with only essential personnel permitted access.
Laurel Park in mid-March offered three racing programs under those conditions, and more recently the MTHA, MJC and MedStar Health have added protocols to a plan that will be submitted to the Hogan administration. As the plan progresses, the restrictions for racing operations would be modified accordingly.
In preparation for a possible opening MJC is preparing to release a new Spring Condition Book for Laurel Park. It is unsure if any of the unrun stakes races will be rescheduled later in the year. Tim Keefe did comment to TDN that there likely will be no stakes on the immediate schedule. Other adjustments will be made until casinos are reopened and the purse account is replenished.
The Preakness date will not be in the Laurel Condition Book. For more info on the 145th Preakness visit https://www.preakness.com
Photo Credit:Mitch Stringer, USA Today Sports