08/10/2005 12:00AM

Nine-day meeting underway

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Pimlico Race Course will offer a meat-and-potatoes nine-day race meet beginning Friday, as a short respite for Maryland horsemen weary of shipping to Mid-Atlantic tracks during the summer months.

Average daily purse distribution during the meet will be $170,000, according to Lou Raffetto, the chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico and its sister track, Laurel Park. Two stakes are on the schedule, both $50,000 races restricted to Maryland-bred horses.

The short meet serves as a stepping-stone to a nine-day meet at the Timonium fair grounds before racing in the state gets back into full swing with the opening of Laurel Park on Sept. 7. Racing has not been held in Maryland since June, and many Maryland-based horsemen have been shipping south to Colonial Downs or north to Delaware Park in the meantime.

"We put on this meeting for the horsemen, because this is what they say they want," said Raffetto. "They're tired of shipping, and this gives them a chance to race here before the fall."

Raffetto said that Pimlico plans to card three to four turf races a day, in the hopes of creating large fields. Fields for the short Pimlico meet in the past have not been as strong as management would like, Raffetto said, in part because of the timing.

"It's really a double-edged sword," Raffetto said. "The horsemen say they want the meet, but they've got horses who have been shipping and who have just run on the turf in Colonial, so a lot of those horses are just tired."

Dale Capuano, a Maryland trainer who has won 11 consecutive titles at Pimlico, did not send a stable to Colonial Downs this year, and said that his horses were ready to run.

"Things have been slow," Capuano said. "We haven't run many horses, so they are fresh and ready to roll."

First post on Friday for a nine-race card will be 1:10 p.m. Racing will continue through Sunday, and then pick up again on Thursday for four more days. The final two days of the meet will be held on Aug. 25-26, a Thursday and Friday. Timonium opens the next day.

* Raffetto said that the MJC plans to institute a special all-turf pick three when the Laurel meet begins on Sept. 7. Takeout for the pick three will be 14 percent. The reduced takeout will also be in place for a pick three beginning with the second race, Raffetto said.

Laurel recently renovated its racing surfaces to accommodate two separate turf courses. Raffetto said that management will card at least three turf races and as many as six each day during the fall meet.