03/30/2011 2:59PM

Pimlico opens 22-stakes spring meeting

Bob Coglianese
Dialed In, winner of the Holy Bull Stakes, is one of five horses that remain eligible for the $5.5 million Preakness 5.5 bonus.

The marquee meet of Maryland’s racing season begins Friday, when Pimlico opens for eight weeks, culiminating with the closing-day $1 million Preakness Stakes.

More than the usual excitement could surround the 136th running of the middle leg of racing’s Triple Crown, depending on the outcome of Sunday’s Florida Derby and next weekend’s Santa Anita Derby. At this point, five horses expected to run in those two stepping-stones to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness remain eligible for a $5.5 million bonus.

Florida Derby entrants Dialed In and Soldat, along with April 9 Santa Anita Derby probables Anthony’s Cross, Silver Medallion, and Premier Pegasus remain alive for the Preakness 5.5 that goes to the winning owner and trainer. One of the five would have to win their next start and the Preakness for their connections to collect.

The Maryland Jockey Club also offered a $2.2 million bonus for fillies, tied to the Black-Eyed Susan, but no horse is still eligible heading into this weekend’s final qualifier, the Gulfstream Park Oaks.

Overall, Pimlico will offer 22 stakes worth a collective $2.9 million. The bulk of that money will be awarded on Preakness Day, May 21, with nine stakes, including six graded events. In addition to the Preakness, the card will feature the Grade 2 Dixie Handicap and four Grade 3 races.

The Preakness eve card on Friday, May 20, will have seven stakes, six for fillies and mares, headlined by the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan. Pimlico has partnered with Susan G. Komen for the Cure for the return of the People’s Pink Party. Highlights include the second annual Lady Legends for the Cure race, the inaugural Female Jockey Challenge, and the welcoming of 87 breast cancer survivors for a special winner’s circle tribute.

Bettors will notice several new wagers are available. Pimlico has added a second pick four and scrapped the pick six in favor of a pick five (races 5-9), with a reduced takeout of 18 percent. Wagering also will include 10-cent superfectas and 50-cent pick threes, pick fours, and a pick five.

On the business side, because of the imminent stock/property swap between Frank Stronach and MI Developments, Stronach will end up owning 51 percent of Laurel Park and Pimlico, and MID will be out of the picture.

The meet opens as Penn National Gaming Inc. is seeking to unload its 49 percent stake in the Maryland Jockey Club. Penn bought the stake in 2010 in the hopes of steering a casino license to Laurel, but those efforts have proven unsuccessful.