01/25/2007 1:00AM

Maryland Jockey Club cancels Pimlico Special


The Maryland Jockey Club has removed the $500,000 Pimlico Special from its stakes schedule this year, citing the need to use the race's purse to boost overnight awards.

The cancellation of the Special, the second-richest race at Pimlico behind the $1 million Preakness Stakes, is the second for the race in the last six years. The Maryland Jockey Club also canceled the race in 2002 in order to divert the purse into the overnight program.

The MJC, which is owned by Magna Entertainment Corp., has been lobbying aggressively over the past five years for legislation that would allow Pimlico and its sister track, Laurel Park, to operate slot machines or other types of casino gambling. On Thursday, the day the MJC announced the cancellation, MJC officials and other state racing officials appeared before the state Senate Finance Committee in a hearing to discuss the state's racing industry.

In an interview prior to his appearance before the committee, Lou Raffetto, the chief operating officer of the MJC, said that competition from racetracks that operate slot machines in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia gave the MJC "no choice" but to cancel the Special, which was scheduled to be run on May 18, the day before the Preakness.

"This is not some opening salvo, that first it's the Special and next it's going to be the Preakness," Raffetto said. "This was an economic decision that we made in consultation with the horsemen because, honestly, we're treading water."