Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, which is the parent company of the Maryland Jockey Club, addressed the ongoing question of the Preakness Stakes possibly moving from Pimlico to Laurel Park during an informal news conference at Pimlico during Preakness Day May 19.
Ritvo implied his preference was for Laurel Park, about 30 minutes south of the city, to be the site for the Preakness, although there are still efforts regarding the possibility of renovating or rebuilding Pimlico.
The MJC owns Pimlico, Laurel and the Preakness Stakes and has been investing in improvements at Laurel. The Maryland Jockey Club is also making a bid to land a Breeders' Cup for Laurel.
The Maryland Stadium Authority is preparing a second report on the feasibility of replacing the aging Pimlico, a project likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The prospect of who would pay for such an upgrade is murky.
It is highly unlikely the Maryland Jockey Club would pay for such a project, but if public money can finance the project, it's not out of the question the race could stay at Pimlico.
A move to Laurel would mean smaller attendance figures for the Preakness, as the emphasis would be on more premium seating as opposed to filling an infield with massive crowds as has been the case at Pimlico. Last year, the announced attendance was more than 140,000.
The 2019 Preakness is currently scheduled to be run at Pimlico.
This year's wet weather hurt the handle and attendance at the track for Maryland's biggest weekend of racing, the Black-Eyed Susan May 18 and the Preakness May 19.
Last year, Pimlico set records for attendance and handle for the weekend.
This year, the announced attendance for Preakness Day was 134,487. That was down 4.2 percent from last year's record attendance of 140,327. The drop was not unexpected considering the threatening weather. The crowd was the third-largest in Preakness history.
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News And Notes:
One of the few races scheduled to be run on the turf that was actually run on the grass was the $150,000 Gallorette Stakes, a Grade III race for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up.
Ultra Brat, a 5-year-old mare ridden by Jose Ortiz, destroyed the six-horse field, winning by a commanding 10 1/4 lengths in 1:53.72 and paying $5.40 to win. Ultra Brat stalked the pace through much of the race but took the lead going two wide in the far turn. From that point on, she was running by herself.
The Gallorette Stakes win came one day after Ortiz had won the Pimlico Special aboard Irish War Cry during Black-Eyed Susan Day. In both the Pimlico Special and the Gallorette, the jockey-trainer pairing was Ortiz and trainer Graham Motion. Motion is based at Fair Hill, Md.
"I was worried about running on [the turf]. It's so tiring," Motion said of Ultra Brat's race. "I can't exactly imagine the difference running on this kind of turf and running on firm turf. None of us really knew how she would handle it, but obviously she handled it well. Jose did a great job."
Blessed Silence, with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard, was second in the Gallorette. Brooks House was third, with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons. The defending champion in the Gallorette, Cambodia, was scratched.
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The $150,000 Maryland Sprint, a 6-furlong race on the dirt for 3-year-olds and up, was won by Switzerland, a 4-year-old bay. Switzerland finished in 1:09.43 and hit the finish line 3 1/2 lengths ahead of second-place finisher Long Haul Bay. Switzerland was ridden by Santana and paid $7.80. Long Haul Bay had Manuel Franco aboard. Third place went to Lewisfield, with jockey Arnaldo Bocachica.
Ax Man easily won the $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race on the dirt for 3-year-olds, by 6 3/4 lengths in 1:42.53.
Featuring the jockey-trainer combination of Preakness winner Justify -- jockey Mike Smith and trainer Bob Baffert -- Ax Man paid $3.20 to win.
Finishing second was Title Ready, with Ortiz in the irons. Prince Lucky, ridden by Javier Castellano, was third.
In the $100,000 The Very One Stakes, a 5-furlong sprint on the dirt for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up, Girls Know Best was a 1 3/4-length winner, finishing in 57 seconds. A 4-year-old chestnut, Girls Know Best was ridden by Castellano and paid $4.00 to win. Pretty Perfection, with Ortiz riding, was second. Anna's Bandit, with Xavier Perez in the irons, finished third.
Photo Credit: Jon Kral/Maryland Jockey Club