04/15/2009 11:00PM

Preakness once again the bright spot


Amidst significant political and financial uncertainty, Pimlico Race Course opens on Saturday for an abbreviated spring meet that features the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

The return of live racing to Pimlico comes at a time when the track's owner, Magna Entertainment Corp., is awaiting a bankruptcy judge's approval to auction off the track, its Maryland sister track Laurel Park, and a handful of other racing properties. Afraid of losing the Preakness Stakes through the auction process, state legislators in Maryland finalized legislation this week that they hope will allow the state to claim eminent domain over the race and the Maryland assets.

Two $50,000 stakes have been carded for the opener - the Geisha for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles on the main track, and the Hookedonthefeelin for 3-year-old fillies going five furlongs on turf.

The 6-year-old mare All Smiles comes back a week after winning the Dahlia over Laurel's sloppy main track to face four opponents in the Geisha (race 7).

None of the nine fillies in the Hookedonthefeelin (race 5) has ever raced on grass. The most accomplished runner is Onearmedbandit, who last summer won her first four start, including the $100,000 Miss Shenandoah at Charles Town, but has been off since October.

Opening day also will include a concert by the country musician Darryl Worley, a barbecue on the track's apron, and sweepstakes awarding free tickets to the Preakness and Baltimore Orioles games.

The 20-day meet - which was shortened from last year's 31-day meet because of a $2 million purse shortfall - is highlighted by the cards of May 15 (Black-Eyed Susan Stakes) and May 16 (Preakness), when 14 of the track's 21 stakes will be run. The track's inaugural Jockey Challenge will also be held May 15.

The wagering menu has several differences from last year. Pimlico has dropped its pick six, a wager that attracted relatively little money, and has added the super high five to the last race of every card.

Takeout on the track's pick three and pick four wagers has been increased from 14 percent to 25.5 percent, the same takeout rate for all of the other superexotic wagers on the menu.

Also, Pimlico has canceled the $250,000 Pimlico Special, a race for older horses, for the third time in the last eight years, citing the purse deficit.