05/25/2016 11:10AM

Study may determine fate of Pimlico, Preakness

John Bambury
Ben's Cat just gets up to win the Jim McKay Turf Sprint.

On Preakness Day at Pimlico, Sal Sinatra, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, acknowledged at a press conference that, “The talk of moving the Preakness to Laurel has quieted down.”

On Preakness Day 2015, Sinatra said moving the middle leg of the Triple Crown was a possibility.

Sinatra said last Saturday that he and Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico and Laurel Park, may have jumped the gun.

“That may have been mine and Tim’s fault last year because we hadn’t been here very long,” Sinatra said. “On a day like this, you feel the energy, the tradition here. My preference is to keep the Preakness at Pimlico. I think Mr. Stronach is starting to feel the same way.”

The Stronach Group, headed by Frank Stronach, has made a major capital investment to modernize Laurel Park in the last 18 months and has stated its desire to eventually host a Breeders’ Cup there. But moving the Preakness out of Baltimore to Laurel Park in the southern suburbs is a highly charged political topic.

In March, state officials asked the Maryland Stadium Authority, which operates the baseball stadium Camden Yards and other facilities in the state, to conduct a study to determine the extent and cost of renovations needed at Pimlico, which is 146 years old and is badly in need of updating.

Sinatra said no decision regarding the future of Pimlico would be made until the Stadium Authority releases its findings, which is expected to take a year to a year and a half.

“I expect this facility will need a total rebuild,” Sinatra said. “If that’s the case, we may need to run the Preakness at Laurel for a year.”

The underlying question, of course, is who would pay to renovate Pimlico? Would it be The Stronach Group, the state, the city of Baltimore, or a combination thereof?

Pimlico: Locals shine

A number of notable performances were turned in by Mid-Atlantic-based horses at Pimlico on the Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness undercards.

Unquestionably, the most exciting effort came from Ben’s Cat in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint. Ben’s Cat appeared to be beaten in upper stretch but dug in fiercely to split horses and win by a neck. As many times as we’ve seen this type of effort from Ben’s Cat, it never gets old. That he can still do it at the advanced age of 10 is remarkable.

King Leatherbury, the owner, trainer, and breeder of Ben’s Cat, is considering the $150,000 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup, a five-furlong turf sprint at Penn National on June 4, for Ben’s Cat’s next start.

Ring Weekend ran an amazing race off a long layoff for trainer Graham Motion to finish second in the Grade 2 Dixie, the race prior to the Preakness.

Ring Weekend was making his first start since winning the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita in March 2015. Despite being carried out wide on the first turn of the 1 1/16-mile Dixie race, Ring Weekend made the lead in the stretch but was overtaken by Takeover Target approaching the wire and beaten a neck.

Ring Weekend had been sidelined by a foot abscess.

“He’s had a very tough time of it,” Motion said. “I’m thrilled by how he ran. He’s a very good horse.”

Although Motion said he did not have a next race in mind for Ring Weekend, he half-jokingly replied, “The Breeders’ Cup Mile.” And who can blame him? Ring Weekend certainly appears to be that caliber of horse.

Always Sunshine is now 4 for his last 5 after posting an easy win in the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint. Trainer Ned Allard said the Grade 2, $250,000 True North, a six-furlong race at Belmont Park on June 10, could be next.

Disco Chick, like Always Sunshine, is based at Parx Racing. Her eight-length victory in the Skipat Stakes proved just how much she has improved for trainer Mario Serey Jr. since last year.

Marengo Road, based at Fair Hill with Mike Trombetta, and Phlash Phelps, trained by Rodney Jenkins at Laurel, also looked good while winning. Marengo Road took the James Murphy Stakes at a mile on turf after having made his previous six starts on dirt. Phlash Phelps looked sharp in taking a second-level optional race.

Pimlico: Romans wins bonus

Trainer Dale Romans, who won the Black-Eyed Susan last Friday with Go Maggie Go and finished second in the Preakness with Cherry Wine, earned a $50,000 trainer’s bonus offered by the Maryland Jockey Club.

Trainers who ran a minimum of five horses in stakes and starter races Friday and Saturday were eligible to earn a piece of the $100,000 bonus pool. Romans’s horses earned the most points in the two-day competition.

Romans also finished second in the Black-Eyed Susan with Ma Can Do It and fourth in the Gallorette with Flying Tipat.

Mark Casse finished second and earned $25,000, Todd Pletcher ($12,000) was third, Steve Asmussen ($7,000) was fourth, and Graham Motion ($4,000) was fifth.