02/27/2002 1:00AM

Pimlico Special is scratched


The Maryland Jockey Club has canceled the Grade 1 Pimlico Special this year in an effort to make peace with its horsemen.

The elimination of the $600,000 Special, which is normally run one week before Pimlico's other Grade 1 race, the Preakness Stakes, went hand-in-hand with another $175,000 in stakes cuts from the Pimlico meet. Horsemen and the MJC reached agreement on the cuts during negotiations late Tuesday night.

"It's unfortunate, and it's not a move we wanted to make," said Lou Raffetto, the MJC's chief operating officer. "But we're trying to work together with the horsemen, and this was key to the negotiations."

Track officials and horsemen stressed that the agreement calls for the Special to be reinstated in 2003 after the one-year hiatus.

Horsemen have advocated eliminating the 2002 Special ever since it became clear that the Thoroughbred racing industry would not receive a $6.3 million purse supplement from the legislature in 2002.

This is the second year in a row that legislators have refused to award the subsidy, citing infighting among horse racing interests.

Alan Foreman, the legal counsel to the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said that horsemen had concluded that the Special would not have attracted a strong field this year because of a "very weak" handicap division.

"The alternative would have been to cut nine more stakes or racing days," Foreman said. "We did not think that was in the best interests of racing. And the Special was an obvious target because, outside of the Preakness, no other race puts up that much money at one shot."

Last year, the Special was won by Include, who beat five other horses. In the past, the Special - which was pulled from the stakes schedule in 1958 for 30 years after 22 runnings - has been won by some of the greatest horses of all time, including War Admiral, Seabiscuit, Whirlaway, Citation, Armed, Tom Fool, and Cigar.

The agreement between the track and horsemen also calls for 220 live racing dates a year at Pimlico and the MJC's other track, Laurel, for the next four years.

The agreement also will allow the MJC to decide when the Maryland circuit should shift to Virginia for a short meet, a matter of contention between horsemen and the track in previous years.

Under the agreement for 2002, Pimlico will start its summer meet on April 3 and close on June 16.

Racing will shift to Laurel on July 25 until Aug. 23, and will return to Pimlico on Sept. 4 through Oct. 5.

Laurel will close the year with a meet beginning on Oct. 8 until the end of 2002.