Racing officials from the Triple Crown tracks in Maryland, Kentucky and New York are considering adding financial bonuses to deter horses from bypassing the series in the future, a Pimlico spokesman said yesterday.
Chick Lang Jr., director of publicity and media relations for the track in Baltimore, said directors of Pimlico, Churchill Downs and the New York Racing Association have discussed the possibility of paying bonuses of about $5 million to a horse for winning the Triple Crown and $2 million to the winner of two of the three races in the Kentucky Derby-Preakness-Belmont Stakes series.
Gerard J. McKeon, New York Racing Association president, said informal talks began in February, after the successful inaugural run of the Breeders' Cup series in 1984.
"The Breeders' Cup capitalized on the sport," McKeon said. "Shame on us for not capitalizing on a time-tested product."
Talks resumed after Kentucky Derby winner Spend A Buck was routed away from the May 18 Preakness, the Triple Crown's second leg run at Pimlico, in favor of the May 27 Jersey Derby at Garden State Park. Spend A Buck would earn a $2 million bonus offered by Garden State owner Robert Brennan plus a $600,000 purse for winning the Jersey Derby. The Preakness winner will earn about $300,000.
"The odds are pretty good that we'll do something before next year's Triple Crown," said Lang, the son of Pimlico's general manager. "One of the things we've learned is that you just have to cover yourself. We're not going to sit idly. We're going to have to take a good, hard look at whether to put bonuses on (the races). The logical time to do it is during the Breeders' Cup (Nov. 2 at Aqueduct).
"Who's to say that if we do something like that, Brennan won't make the Jersey Derby worth $10 million? Regardless, we can't make a hasty decision just because of this incident."
Prominent horsemen were largely negative about Spend A Buck being kept from the Preakness.
"If my horse was in that situation, I would have gone to the Preakness," said John Veitch, trainer of rival 3-year-old Proud Truth. "The value of the horse in the long run would be more beneficial. They're going for the quick returns."
Bert Holleran, owner of the talented Maryland-based colt Roo Art, said, "I felt sure they would be going to the Preakness. Any time you have a chance for a Triple Crown, you go for it. I think the older owners would have gone for the Preakness."
According to Lang, the absence of Spend A Buck is likely to increase the Preakness field "from six or seven horses to eight to 10." He does not expect Pimlico's attendance or handle to decline.
Chick Lang Sr. was not available to comment yesterday.
Since 1959, one other Kentucky Derby winner skipped the Preakness: Gato del Sol in 1982.
"There are no real hard feelings between us and the Spend A Buck people," Lang Jr. said. "You don't know what the situation is with their horse. But I'd be a liar if I said I wouldn't like to have the Derby winner."