03/29/2004 1:00AM

Preakness highlights 48-day meet

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The signature meet of Maryland's year-round racing schedule begins Wednesday when Pimlico launches its 48-day spring meet, featuring the $1 million Preakness Stakes on May 15.

The Preakness, the second leg of the Visa Triple Crown, is one of 26 stakes, worth a total of $3,825,000, to be run at the 10-week spring stand. Thirteen stakes, including all nine graded events to be run at the meet, are scheduled for Preakness week. The 13-race card on Preakness Day will include eight stakes.

The $100,000 Federico Tesio Stakes, Maryland's traditional prep for the Preakness, will be run on April 17. Local hero Water Cannon, a winner of his last four starts, including last Saturday's Private Terms Stakes, is being pointed to the Tesio, according to his trainer, Linda Albert.

Funny Cide, who won last year's Preakness in a romp and was later crowned champion 3-year-old male, could make a return trip to Pimlico this year for the Grade 1, $500,000 Pimlico Special on May 14. The winner of last year's Pimlico Special, Mineshaft, won the 2003 Horse of the Year title.

There is an added incentive for horsemen to run in the Grade 3 Miss Preakness Stakes on the Pimlico Special undercard. Adena Springs, which is owned by Frank Stronach, will donate a breeding season to the horses that finish in the money in the Miss Preakness. Three Grade 1 winners are offered: 2000 Preakness winner Red Bullet, Eclipse Award winner Macho Uno, and multiple stakes winner Milwaukee Brew. All three stand at Stronach's stallion farm in Kentucky.

Jockey Rick Wilson, a mainstay on the Maryland circuit for many years, is scheduled to make his return to the saddle on opening day. Wilson, 50, spent the last several weeks on the sidelines recovering from leg surgery. Wilson, who is 72 winners shy of becoming the 20th rider to win 5,000 races, is named on Larrupin's Music in the first race.

The $27,000 feature of the nine-race opener, an optional claimer for 3-year-olds and older, drew a field of eight. Owner Michael Gill, who is coming off a meet-winning title at Laurel Park, has a two-horse entry - Sleetwood Mac and Jumpstarter - in the six-furlong race.

Opening-day specials include free admission and $1 selected food and beverage concessions. Post time for the first race is 1:10 p.m.

A Pimlico cap giveaway is set for April 3. The meet will feature half-price admission, for $1.50, on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The first turf race of the season is scheduled for April 18.

* Fans wishing to purchase tickets for this year's 129th Preakness will be able to do so for the first time through www.ticketmaster.com.