08/27/2010 6:47PM

Preakness offers a $5 million bonus for Magna prep winners

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Michael Amoruso
The $5 million bonus would go to a Preakness winner who had won a series of graded preps at Magna tracks.

The winner of the 2011 Preakness Stakes, to run May 21 at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland, will earn a $5 million bonus if the horse has also won a series of Triple Crown prep races at tracks also owned by Pimlico’s parent company, MI Developments, the company announced on Friday.

In addition, MI Developments says it will raise the purses of two of the key races involved in the bonus series, the Florida Derby and the Santa Anita Derby.

The bonus will be awarded to the Preakness winner under three different scenarios, MI Developments said:

◗ At Gulfstream Park in Florida, a horse will be eligible for the bonus if he wins either the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes or the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and then wins the Grade 1 Florida Derby, to be run on April 3 next year, five weeks before the Derby. This year, the Florida Derby was run six weeks before the Kentucky Derby, and the Florida Derby winner, Ice Box, trained up to the Kentucky Derby without making another start.

◗ At Santa Anita Park in Southern California, a horse will be eligible if he wins either the Grade 2 Robert E. Lewis or the Grade 2 San Felipe and then the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, to be run either April 2 or April 9 next year.

◗ At Golden Gate Fields, a horse will be eligible if he wins the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby and then goes to Santa Anita and wins the Santa Anita Derby.

Under the program, the Florida Derby’s purse will be raised to $1 million next year, up from $750,000. Santa Anita has proposed to increase the purse for the Santa Anita Derby to $1 million as well, up from $750,000. The increase must be approved by the horsemen.

WATCHMAKER: Combination of preps to earn bonus is far from outlandish

In addition to the $5 million bonus to the owner of the horse, the trainer of a qualifying Preakness winner will receive $500,000. A consolation bonus of $550,000 – $500,000 to the owner, and $50,000 to the trainer – will be awarded to any Preakness winner that ran in one of the initial qualifying races and also finished first, second, or third in the Florida Derby or Santa Anita Derby.

The bonus programs will be funded by an insurance policy instead of being self-funded, said Tom Chuckas, the president of Pimlico and its sister track, Laurel Park.

The bonus program is being implemented at a time when MI Developments is attempting to reinvigorate the financial health of its racetrack properties, which were deeded to the company following the dissolution of its bankrupt subsidiary, Magna Entertainment Corp., earlier this year. In addition, the program, may entice trainers to give their horses additional starts prior to a run in the Triple Crown races, mitigating a trend in which 3-year-olds are running in fewer races in preparation for the May 7 Kentucky Derby.

“It’s a company-wide benefit,” said Chuckas. “It’s MID leading the charge with their properties working together, and hopefully we’ll see some increases in field sizes and better quality for the prep races, ideally.” The program could also provide incentives to trainers to skip the Derby in order to win the Preakness, if a trainer wanted to go into the second race of the Triple Crown with a fresh horse. But Chuckas said that he believed the prestige of the Derby would protect the race against any defections.

“I suppose anything in life is a possibility,” Chuckas said, “but there’s a lot that comes with winning any of the Triple Crown races, especially the Derby.”

In 1985, the Kentucky Derby winner, Spend a Buck, skipped the Preakness after winning the Derby in order to chase a $2 million bonus at Garden State Park in New Jersey, in a decision that was widely criticized by racing purists. Spend a Buck was eligible for the bonus after winning two preps at Garden State earlier that year. He won the Jersey Derby by a nose, then skipped the Belmont as well.