03/31/2003 12:00AM

Plenty of changes in works as spring meet starts


The 10-week Pimlico spring meet begins Wednesday, and there are several changes since last year.

The return of the Pimlico Special after a one-year absence will help turn the day before the Preakness into the second biggest racing day of the year in Maryland.

The Grade 1, $600,000 Pimlico Special, which used to be run one week before the second leg of racing's Triple Crown, has been shifted to May 16, the day of a six-stakes program that will surpass Maryland Million Day in terms of total purse money.

The Preakness festivities, which begin May 15 with the Miss Preakness Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters, again highlights the meet.

The program on the day before the 128th Preakness on May 17 will also include the Grade 2, $200,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, the Grade 3, $150,000 Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff, and the $100,000 Joe Aitcheson, a Grade 1 steeplechase.

The marquee meet of the Maryland racing season will feature 27 stakes, including 11 graded races, for purses of $4.2 million. Fourteen of the stakes are scheduled for Preakness week, including eight on Preakness Day.

Other changes this meet include:

* A head-to-head wager, in which bettors try to predict which of two horses will finish ahead, will be offered on 11 of the 12 stakes on Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness days. The Maryland Jockey Club decided to try the bet after nearly $800,000 was wagered on head-to-head propositions at last fall's Breeders' Cup.

* Adena Springs will donate a 2004 breeding season to the first three finishers of the Pimlico Distaff Breeders' Cup. The stallions are Grade 1 winners Alphabet Soup, Golden Missile, and Wild Rush. All three stand in Kentucky.

* The pick four, with a reduced takeout of 14 percent, will now consist of races 6 through 9 to accommodate West Coast simulcast players. Previously, the pick four was on races 4 through 7.

Post time for 45 of the 48 racing days will be 1:10 p.m. Eastern. Opening day will feature free admission and a racing program and $1 selected food and beverage concessions.