04/14/2010 11:00PM

Countdown to Preakness begins


Live racing returns to Pimlico for six weeks starting Saturday with a fan-friendly program that features a ceremony honoring former general manager Chick Lang, who died last month; the $70,000 Henry Clark Stakes; and a concert by country music star Steve Azar during an extended break between the fifth and sixth races.

Most of the action, however, will be crammed into a two-day period in conjunction with the 135th running of the Preakness. All but three of the 18 stakes worth a collective $2.4 million at the 20-day meet will be contested on Preakness weekend.

The card Friday, May 14, will feature seven stakes, highlighted by the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan for 3-year-old fillies.

That day's program is also devoted to raising money for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world's largest breast cancer organization. Pimlico has pledged to raise a minimum of $100,000 for Komen for the Cure.

There will be a parimutuel race showcasing retired female riders and the second annual $50,000 Pimlico Jockey Challenge, in which eight of the nation's top jockeys will compete in four races.

The Lady Legends for the Cure race includes the only two female jockeys who have ridden in the Preakness, Patricia Cooksey (Tajawa, 1985) and Andrea Seefeldt (Looming, 1994); Barbara Jo Rubin, the first woman to win in a parimutuel race in the U.S., at Charles Town on Feb. 22, 1969; and Mary Russ, who became the first female rider to win a Grade 1 race when she won the Widener Handicap at Hialeah on Feb. 27, 1982, aboard Lord Darnley. The other riders are Gwen Jocson, Jennifer Rowland, Cheryl White, and Mary Wiley.

The Pimlico Jockey Challenge features Eclipse Award winners Kent Desormeaux, Garrett Gomez, John Velazquez, and Julien Leparoux, who will square off against Javier Castellano, Ramon Dominguez, Jeremy Rose, and Anna Napravnik for a top prize of $14,000.

The $1 million Preakness headlines the Saturday, May 15 program, with eight added-money events, including six graded races.

Gone from the schedule are the Grade 1 Pimlico Special and the Grade 2 Allaire duPont Distaff, victims of a purse shortage.

The meet will feature a new wager - an all-turf pick three - on the last three races each day. The wager will not be offered on the Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness cards.

The opening-day feature, the $70,000 Henry Clark at one mile on turf, drew a field of nine older horses. The contenders include Brickell, who upset last year's Clark at 50-1 but is winless in seven subsequent starts; Baltimore Bob, who exits back-to-back third-place finishes in Grade 3 stakes; and Rockaby Bay, a seven-time winner on turf who won last summer's Kitten's Joy at Colonial Downs.

Pimlico and its sister track, Laurel Park, were scheduled to be auctioned off earlier this year, but the track's bankrupt parent company, Magna Entertainment Corp., canceled the auction March 23 in favor of a plan to transfer the tracks to MI Developments, Magna's largest creditor. The asset-transfer plan is part of a larger reorganization plan Magna submitted to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware in late March. The court has not yet ruled on whether it will approve the plan.