01/21/2003 12:00AM

Pimlico Special resurfaces


Pimlico Race Course has reinstated the Pimlico Special after a one-year hiatus and scheduled the $600,000, Grade 1 race one day before the Preakness Stakes, on May 16.

The Special will appear on the same card as the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, a race that has traditionally been run one day before the Preakness. Before its hiatus, the Pimlico Special was typically scheduled a week before the Preakness.

"We thought it best suited to our program to make Black-Eyed Susan Day an even better day," said Lou Raffetto, Pimlico's chief operating officer.

Last year, in agreement with the track's horsemen, the Special was canceled after the state of Maryland failed to renew a purse supplement for the second year in a row. Pimlico officials and horsemen's representatives said that the agreement called for the race to be reinstated in 2003.

Raffetto said that Pimlico is using money from a fund set aside for capital improvements to pay for the Special's purse. The fund, which receives a portion of the betting handle, was created by a state law in the late 1990's. It was never used for capital improvements, and last year, the Mayland legislature passed a law dedicating the fund to purses instead.

The fund currently has $2.8 million in it, Raffetto said. It will also be used this year to pay off a $1.1 million purse overpayment that has accumulated over the past two years, and to supplement purses in 2003.

The Pimlico Special was first run in 1937, when it was won by Triple Crown winner War Admiral. A year later, War Admiral was defeated by Seabiscuit in a match race. Seabiscuit's victory was followed by wins from a long list of other Hall of Fame horses, including Whirlaway, Armed, Assault, Citation, and Tom Fool.

In 1958, the Special was pulled from the schedule. It did not resurface until 30 years later, in 1988, with a $300,000 purse. Since then, Cigar, Devil His Due, Skip Away, and Real Quiet have won it.

Last year, horsemen agreed to cancel the race because the alternative would have been to cancel six or seven other stakes at Pimlico. Horsemen also said the handicap division in 2002 was especially weak.

Raffetto said the Special would have been added to the schedule this year with or without the supplement from the capital-improvement fund.

"We would have had to massage the stakes schedule and the purses some more, but we were bound to add it," he said.