Horse Racing

Pimlico Special Is Canceled; Industry Leaders Make Plea

The second running of the Pimlico Special in 1938 featured the famed race when Seabiscuit upset War Admiral.
The second running of the Pimlico Special in 1938 featured the famed race when Seabiscuit upset War Admiral. (AP Photo File)
Friday, January 26, 2007

On a day when the Maryland Jockey Club canceled the second-most prestigious race on its calendar for 2007, leaders of the Maryland racing industry went before the state Senate Finance Committee to plead for help from the legislature for their ailing sport.

The Maryland Jockey Club announced yesterday it had scrapped the Grade I $500,000 Pimlico Special, a handicap race run the day before the Preakness Stakes, to reallocate its money to the daily purse fund for bread-and-butter races.

The Special is one of the most historic races in the country. Last year's winner, Invasor, was named Horse of the Year this week at the Eclipse Awards. Seabiscuit won it in 1938, defeating Triple Crown winner War Admiral in a famed match race. The event was not run in 2002 for similar reasons.

"The $500,000 purse for the Pimlico Special, while it means a lot to the industry, doesn't necessarily put money in [local horsemen's] pockets," said Lou Raffetto, president and chief operating officer of Laurel Park and Pimlico.

Raffetto said the canceling of the Special was "not a prelude to the Preakness moving."

Representatives from the Maryland Racing Commission, track ownership, breeders, horsemen and harness interests painted a dire picture of an industry desperately seeking a level playing field to compete with racetracks in surrounding states that fuel their purses with revenue from on-site slot machines. Of particular concern was Philadelphia Park in Bensalem, Pa., which reaped $175.2 million in wagering in its first three weeks of slot machine operations beginning Dec. 18, according to the Blood-Horse, a racing industry publication.

"Philadelphia is where we used to send our three-legged horses," racing commission member John Franzone said. "Philadelphia Park 10 years ago ran for $100,000 a day. This year, [Maryland tracks are] going to run for $210,000 a day. They'll be running for $400,000. It's over."

Purse and bred funds in Pennsylvania receive 12 percent of the money bet on slot machines, while the host racetrack gets 45 percent and the state 34 percent. While Pennsylvania ramps up its racing product with slots money, Maryland tracks cut stakes races, such as the Pimlico Special, and trim racing dates to keep purse levels stable.

"We've been very creative here, but we can't compete without our partner, the state of Maryland," said Alan Foreman, general counsel to the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "When you go to 100, 120 days [of live racing], you're no longer a year-round business. The fundamental question is, do you want to have a racing state?"

Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Democrat from Baltimore, questioned whether slots were the answer for the tracks.

"To sit there and say again that the only way we can help make it is slot machines doesn't help thoroughbred racing," he said.

-- John Scheinman

© 2007 The Washington Post Company