05/16/2014 11:52AM

Pimlico seeking change to Triple Crown schedule


Tom Chuckas, the president of Pimlico, said Friday he will initiate discussions with Churchill Downs and Belmont Park about changing the schedule of the Triple Crown races to allow for more time between races, but not until this year’s Triple Crown has concluded.

The topic of spacing out the Triple Crown is a perennial one, typically bandied about most vigorously in the wake of the Derby, when the field for Pimlico’s Preakness Stakes is set. But Chuckas said he will approach the talks with a new twist – that the races on the undercards of the Triple Crown contests also would benefit from the change.

“If you had the additional spacing, you’d have those horses running at Churchill on the undercard, then coming back for the Preakness undercard, then for Belmont,” Chuckas said.

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The prospect of changing the date of the Derby from the first Saturday in May to any other date is highly unlikely, so any change to the schedule would have to be worked out between Pimlico and the New York Racing Association, which operates Belmont Park.

Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior vice president of racing, said the association would have no comment on any plans to change the date of the Belmont Stakes.

Chuckas’s intention to talk with Churchill and NYRA about a change in the Triple Crown schedule was first reported by the Blood-Horse.

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Resistance to changing the schedule would come not only from racing purists but from NYRA. The association brought in Panza last year to revamp New York’s racing product, and his push has been to create major racing events. As part of that effort, NYRA put together a Belmont Stakes card that is offering $8 million in purses June 7, up from $3 million last year, making it the second-richest race card on the U.S. calendar behind only the Saturday Breeders’ Cup card.

In addition, Belmont plans to run five graded stakes races on its July 5 card.

Also, complaints about the strength of the fields for the Preakness undercard have to be viewed in the context of the card’s current offerings. The largest purse on the Preakness undercard is $400,000, for the Grade 2 Dixie Stakes. The remainder of the stakes races have purses that top out at $150,000, not exactly big money in an era when racetracks are increasingly putting up rich prizes for stakes horses.

Pimlico is owned by the Stronach Group, a private company controlled by Frank Stronach, who has been willing in the past to unilaterally buck the status quo. Stronach pushed the nonprofit company Oak Tree Racing Association out of his Santa Anita Park, and last year, he supported a plan for his Gulfstream Park in Florida to race head-to-head against Calder Race Course for the first time.

“We’re taking the tack in Maryland to be very cooperative,” Chuckas said when asked if Pimlico would be willing to make a change to the Preakness on its own. “I really don’t want to have to face the prospect of anyone making a unilateral decision.”