04/17/2006 11:00PM

Four-day week stresses quality over quantity

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Live racing returns to Pimlico for an eight-week spring meeting on Thursday, with fewer racing days but bigger purses and a break for exotic bettors on a budget.

Purses have been boosted for 13 of the meet's 27 stakes and all overnight races on the main track.

In addition, Maryland will introduce 25-cent pick-six wagering at the meet, with a guaranteed net payoff of $5,000.

By going to a four-day race week, Thursday through Sunday, Pimlico will race just 31 days, compared with 39 a year ago. But this season's stakes will be worth a collective $4.4 million, up $455,000 from 2005, and daily overnight purses will average $215,000, an increase of 24.3 percent from last year's $173,200.

On opening day, $244,000 in purse money will be offered on a 10-race card that attracted 118 entries.

"We are headed back to Pimlico off the heels of a very good Laurel Park winter meet," said Lou Raffetto, president and chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel and Pimlico. "Not only will we be looking to produce another record-setting Preakness Day, but we are hoping to grow the daily business. We are raising purses on the dirt races considerably and hope it will improve the quality of racing."

To attract bigger fields on the main track, Pimlico has boosted purses for its dirt races from $2,000 to $6,000, depending on the class level. Maiden special weight races, for example, that were worth $26,000 a year ago will now carry a $30,000 purse. Races for $16,000 claimers rise from $18,000 to $24,000 and third-level allowance horses will compete for a $36,000 purse, up from $33,000 last year.

Pimlico hosts what is considered the marquee meet of the Maryland racing season because of major events such as the $1 million Preakness Stakes on May 20 and the $500,000 Pimlico Special on May 19. The Baltimore track will try to get things off to a fast start by offering five six-figure stakes this Saturday during its Spring Festival of Racing card.

The two open stakes on the card are the $200,000 Jim McKay Breeders' Cup Handicap, for 3-year-olds and up, and the $150,000 Federico Tesio Stakes for 3-year-olds.

The other three stakes, worth $125,000 apiece, will showcase Maryland Million-nominated or Maryland-bred runners.

Pick-six players with a limited bankroll should like the new 25-cent exotic bet that carries a $1 minimum total. The exotic wager will generally be offered on races 5 through 10.

"Our research has told us the small- to middle-size players are looking for a wager like this," Raffetto said. "We are excited about it. While it will not be earth-shattering, it will be a popular wager."

The opening-day feature is a six-furlong optional claimer for older males with a $38,000 purse. The nine-horse field includes Senor Cielo Two, last season's horse of the year at Philadelphia Park after winning eight races and $183,785 in 2005; Sarah's Prospect, winner of the Maryland Million Sprint last fall; and the 8-year-old The Deputy Is Home, who has won 5 of 6 starts since October.

At a glance

RACING SCHEDULE: 31 days, Thursday through June 10; Thursday through Sunday, plus Memorial Day, Monday, May 29.

POST TIME: 1:10 p.m. Eastern

ADMISSIONS: Grandstand and clubhouse, $3

PARKING: General, free (except Preakness Day); Clubhouse preferred (Maple and Belvedere Avenue), $2; valet, $3; Preferred (Hayward Avenue), $3

LOCATION: 5201 Park Heights Ave., Baltimore

SIMULCASTING: Daily

PHONE: (410) 542-9400

INTERNET: www.pimlico.com

2006 Spring stakes schedule

DATEEVENTCONDITIONSDISTANCEPURSE
Sat.,April 22Jim McKay BC Handicap3YO & Up1 1/8 miles$200,000
Sat.,April 22Federico Tesio3YO1 1/8 miles150,000
Sat.,April 22Maryland Stallion Station3YO6 furlongs125,000
Sat.,April 22Country Life Farm3YO F1 1/16 miles125,000
Sat.,April 22Northview Stallion StationF&M, 3YO & Up1 1/8 miles125,000
Sun.,April 23Hoover3YO & Up6 furlongs75,000
Sat.,April 29Henry Clark3YO & Up1 mile (T)85,000
Sun.,April 30Xtra Heat3YO F5 furlongs60,000
Sat.,May 6Woodlawn3YO1 1/16 miles (T)75,000
Sat.,May 13Hilltop Breeders' Cup3YO F1 1/16 miles (T)85,000
Fri.,May 19Pimlico Special (G1)3YO & Up1 3/16 miles500,000
Fri.,May 19Black-Eyed Susan (G2)3YO F1 1/8 miles250,000
Fri.,May 19Allaire duPont BC Distaff (G3)F&M, 3YO & Up1 1/16 miles200,000
Fri.,May 19Miss Preakness (G3)3YO F6 furlongs125,000
Fri.,May 19The Very OneF&M, 3YO & Up5 furlongs (T)75,000
Sat.,May 20Preakness (G1)3YO1 3/16 miles1,000,000
Sat.,May 20Dixie (G2)3YO & Up1 1/8 miles (T)250,000
Sat.,May 20Maryland BC Sprint (G3)3YO & Up6 furlongs200,000
Sat.,May 20William Donald Schaefer (G3)3YO & Up1 1/8 miles100,000
Sat.,May 20Gallorette (G3)F&M, 3YO & Up1 1/16 miles (T)100,000
Sat.,May 20Hirsch Jacobs (G3)3YO6 furlongs100,000
Sat.,May 20Sir Barton3YO1 1/16 miles100,000
Sat.,May 20Baltimore B.C. Turf Sprint3YO & Up5 furlongs (T)100,000
Sat.,May 20Murmur Farm Starter3YO & Up1 1/16 miles50,000
Sat.,May 27Shine Again*F&M, 3YO & Up1 1/16 miles50,000
Sat.,June 3Pearl Necklace*3YO F1 1/16 miles (T)75,000
Sat.,June 10SkipatF&M, 3YO & Up6 furlongs75,000

* Maryland-breds