03/28/2012 2:42PM

Pimlico: Stakes program strengthened for Preakness meet


Pumped-up purses for three graded stakes and the return of the Pimlico Special are among the notable changes for the marquee meet of Maryland’s racing season at historic Pimlico.

The 29-day meet, which begins Friday and runs through Preakness Day on May 19, will feature 22 stakes worth a collective $3.4 million, an increase of $525,000 from last season.

As usual, the bulk of the stakes activity will come on Preakness weekend, which features 16 stakes worth a total of $3 million.

The $1 million Preakness is the anchor of a program that includes seven other stakes, four of them graded. The Grade 2 Dixie received a $100,000 boost to $300,000 and the Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap has been raised $50,000 to $150,000.

Eight stakes will be contested on Preakness eve, highlighted by the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan for 3-year-old fillies. Its value was raised $50,000 to $300,000.

The Friday, May 18 card also includes the return of the Grade 3, $300,000 Pimlico Special, which has been run just once since 2007. The Special, for older horses going 1 3/16 miles, replaces the William Donald Schaefer on the stakes schedule.

“I really think we are going to have a big meet,” said racing secretary Georgeanne Hale. “We have more horses stabled here and trainers were not running towards the end of the Laurel meet in anticipation of Pimlico.”

◗ A Twin-Tri has been added to the wagering menu. It has a $1 minimum bet and a 25.75 percent takeout. To collect, a player must select the first three finishers in two races, beginning with race 7. There will be a carryover if no one hits the second leg.

◗ In an attempt to create more betting interests, horses in non-stakes races will only be coupled if they have the same owners.

“A lot of the trainers seem to have two or three horses that could fit into a race so to be able to separate them will help field sizes,” Hale said.

◗ Beginning with the Mister Diz Stakes on April 7, the purse distribution for stakes – except the Preakness – will be modified. The connections of the third-place finisher will receive 10 percent, down from 11. The extra 1 percent will now go to the sixth-place finisher.

◗ The Federico Tesio Stakes, a 1  1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds that sometimes produces a Preakness starter, has been rechristened the Canonero II, honoring the 1971 Preakness winner.

◗ The co-features on Friday’s opening-day card are a pair of second-level optional $25,000 claiming events with purses of $37,000, one at 1 1/16 miles and the other a six-furlong sprint.