12/22/2016 3:11PM

Maryland Jockey Club moves more 2017 dates to Laurel


The consolidation of racing dates from Pimlico Race Course to Laurel Park will continue in 2017, when the two Maryland Jockey Club tracks race a combined 162 days, five more programs than were originally approved for this year.

The Pimlico meet, which held 37 days of racing in 2015, was shortened to 28 days last year. In 2017, Pimlico will run for three weeks, a total of 12 racing days. The Pimlico dates reduction was first reported by the Racing Biz website.

Sal Sinatra, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, said the reduction in dates at Pimlico was primarily a business decision.

"After Preakness, the attendance just isn’t there at Pimlico," Sinatra said. "It's a ghost town. It seems like we're wasting racing days there."
The beginning of last year's Pimlico meet was pushed back to the week before the May 21 Preakness. The season ran from May 12 through June 26.

This year's meet will open May 11 and run through May 29. Racing will be held Thursday through Sunday opening weekend, Thursday through Saturday on Preakness weekend; and then Thursday through Monday closing weekend.

"The later opening of the meet last year worked out great," Sinatra said. "Our people were able to get there and start setting up for Preakness right away, and the turf course was in beautiful shape for Preakness week."

Sinatra said business dropped off drastically at Pimlico the week after the Preakness and that more money was bet on the Pimlico races at Laurel than was wagered at Pimlico itself.

Sinatra said that the Thursday after Preakness, Laurel handled $141,000 versus $86,000 at Pimlico; that on Friday, Laurel handled $220,000 compared to $115,000 at Pimlico; and that on the Saturday after the Preakness, Laurel handled $360,000 while $180,000 was bet at Pimlico.

"It's clear the money is at Laurel," Sinatra said. "We are best served by racing here. It's unfortunate, but it's the truth."

Sinatra said another reason to shorten the Pimlico meet is because the infield structures put up to accommodate the large Preakness Day crowd

take a long time to take down. The structures block camera angles during races, making it difficult to follow the horses for much of the meet.

"It's a major source of complaints from our customers," he said.

Both Laurel Park, which is located in the suburbs south of Baltimore, and Pimlico, which is located in Baltimore, are in need of capital improvements.

The Maryland Jockey Club, which is owned by The Stronach Group, has put more than $20 million into modernizing Laurel the last few years, and the grandstand and backstretch areas have been greatly improved. The Stronach Group hopes to hold a Breeders' Cup at Laurel in 2020 or 2021.

While some improvements have been made at Pimlico, they are not remotely on the same scale as those that have been made at Laurel.

Pimlico, thanks largely to the Preakness, is a major revenue producer for the city of Baltimore, and there is political pressure to the renovate the facility and keep it open. To that end, the Maryland Stadium Authority has spent much of the past year looking into what renovations need to be made at Pimlico, their cost, and how they should be paid for.

The results of the study are expected to be made public this spring, possibly around Preakness time.

Pimlico, which first opened in 1870, is the second-oldest racetrack in the country next to Saratoga. A lot of racing history has been made there, and there are enthusiasts who want to see the sport continue there and the Preakness remain there.

The Laurel winter meet will open Jan. 1 and continue through May 7, the day after the Kentucky Derby. Racing will return to Laurel after the Pimlico meet and continue through the remainder of the year. Laurel will not race while Timonium hosts a seven-day fair meet from Aug. 27 through Sept. 4.

Racing will be held primarily on a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday schedule, but Thursdays will be added at Pimlico and during October and November. Sinatra said additional dates could be added toward the end of the year if they are warranted.