Preakness Date Change Discussions Still Ongoing

Preakness Date Change Discussions Still Ongoing
Preakness Date Change Discussions Still Ongoing

A potential change to a later spring date for the Preakness Stakes (G1), the second leg of the American Triple Crown, remains under consideration by track officials, Maryland Jockey Club acting president Mike Rogers told members of the Maryland Racing Commission during a meeting Sept. 5.

Pressed by a commissioner, who noted the New York Racing Association’s apparent opposition to a change to the timing of the Triple Crown, Rogers said discussions with NYRA are “ongoing and no final decision has been made. It’s still on the table.”

The Preakness and other topics, including some related to the future of Maryland racing, were discussed at length at times in the Tuesday meeting.

The Preakness has traditionally been run on the third Saturday in May at Pimlico Race Course, two weeks after the Kentucky Derby (G1), the first leg of the Triple Crown at Churchill Downs. The Belmont Stakes (G1) then comes three weeks after the Preakness Stakes—though its venue is expected to move from Belmont Park to Saratoga Race Course in 2024-25 due to ongoing construction at Belmont.

The five-week turnaround from the Derby to the Belmont leaves the date of the Belmont Stakes favorably positioned for drawing participants to NYRA’s races, both for the Belmont and their supporting stakes lineup. In contrast, many horsemen are reluctant to start their horses on two weeks’ rest—Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mage was the only runner from the Run for the Roses to return in the Preakness this year.

Stakes horses more often raced on shorter rest during prior eras.

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The start of the 2022 Preakness Stakes, won by Early Voting #5
Photo: Chad B. Harmon

Asked if the commission would be notified of a date change to the Preakness by Oct. 31 for its scheduled meeting to assign dates for the remainder of 2024, Rogers replied, “Yes, I’d say that is realistic.”

2018 OwnerView Conference Mike Rogers
Photo: Suzie Oldham

The MJC is owned and operated by 1/ST Racing, a division of The Stronach Group.

Later, Rogers clarified to another commissioner that there are no plans to move the Preakness from Pimlico to Laurel Park, where the MJC conducts most of its racing.

In discussing summer business at Laurel, Rogers reported the track lost money and had a 7% drop in handle, consistent with recent trends seen in other markets. He said one horse was euthanized after racing during the 33-day meet.

The Maryland State Fair at Timonium, meanwhile, saw improved business during its recently concluded seven-day meet, though it had more room for growth. Wagering rose 11% to more than $7.8 million, according to a release issued from the MSF.

There were no racing fatalities during the meet, and MSF board member Bill Reightler mentioned only one significant soft-tissue injury from about 400 starters.

“The Maryland State Fair is proud to be part of Maryland racing,” he said. “You know what the most asked question (of us) is: ‘When are you going to run more days?'”

Frayed nerves were apparent among several speakers during the public comment portion of the meeting when discussing the future of Maryland racing.

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April Smith of Friends of Pimlico, a group that seeks to preserve racing at the historic Baltimore track, criticized the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the MRC, arguing that “All one has to do is look back a few years at so many racing commission meetings where the management of the tracks and the association became practically one and the same.” She encouraged the MRC to “take back the reins.”

Alan Foreman, general counsel for the MTHA, took issue with some of her remarks, saying he felt “ambushed” by her comments during a couple of MRC meetings. He noted the work the MTHA and other groups have done to sustain racing in Maryland, including subsidizing racing operations for the past decade in a state that does not have lucrative gaming options at tracks.

“We’ve paid $90-some million to keep this industry going, and unfortunately at the end of last year, The Stronach Group wanted to renegotiate that agreement, and they wanted more money to continue and we had two choices—do nothing or do something,” he said. “If we did nothing, then probably one or both of these tracks would shut down for a period of time. And then wherever the horsemen who complain that they’re being moved—where would they go?

“So we have tried to do what we can to maintain this business here, maintain it for two facilities, and try to find a future for our industry. Through the redevelopment plan through the authority, we believe we will make that happen.”

Alan Foreman
Photo: Maryland Jockey Club

Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, reiterated Foreman’s comments.

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“Not only does money come out of the purse account to support the extensions, but part of the $90 million that we have paid the Maryland Jockey Club comes out of the Maryland-bred fund,” she told commissioners. “So we have an already non-competitive Maryland-bred fund in the region, basically, as far as compared to Pennsylvania and now Virginia. And then we have been supporting a company that needs to start making money, or help us make money. The industry is not going to survive long term without revenue.”

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