News and STORIES

Pimlico Set to Have Big Preakness Weekend

Author: Don Mckee
Published: Friday October 02, 2020
Despite the many changes in Thoroughbred horse racing this year due to COVID-19, Pimlico is set to have a big weekend highlighted by the $1 million Preakness Stakes (G1). The Saturday race was moved from May 16 to the current date, and it will now be the final leg of the 2020 Triple Crown series. 

The New York Racing Association and Churchill Downs were able to successfully shift things around to keep the big races, the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) and Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). 

Schedule Change Challenges

However, it was a bit more difficult for the Maryland Jockey Club, who hosts the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico. The race was moved to the opening weekend of October, which also sees the start of Keeneland's Fallstars weekend, including a variety of grade 1 races. At the same time, Belmont is running multiple Breeders' Cup preview races at the track.

MJC president and general manager Sal Sinatra, marketing director Georganne Hale, and racing secretary Jillian Tullock went ahead with the all-stakes card on Preakness Day, along with Thursday also seeing three stakes, and the Pimlico Special Stakes (G3) being scheduled for Friday.

Achieving Quality Fields

While some thought this would make it difficult to achieve high-quality fields, the three-day run has instead become some of the most impressive programs in years at the track. The Friday card also includes $400,000 in Claiming Crown preview races.

"We all sat together: Sal, Georganne, and myself, and went over the stakes for the year looking at what stakes we might be able to skip due to COVID situation," Tullock said. "We looked at the ones we really wanted to run. Given the issues everyone is having with purse money, we have to be careful what we are spending.

"Since we weren't really going to be having a 'Black-Eyed Susan' Day (the day before the Preakness), we decided to put 12 stakes on Preakness day. And it was Sal who brought up the idea for the Claiming Crown preview day. He did that with Mike Lakow down at Gulfstream Park, so we figured that would be a good idea.

"Given that it's fall now, we can't run as late as we normally do in May. We ended up putting the three stakes on Thursday and the Pimlico Special on Friday, to give the other two days a little 'umph' and run as many stakes as possible over the Preakness weekend."

Various races that traditionally run at Laurel Park later in the fall were moved to Preakness Day, including the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Stakes (G3), the Selima Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, and the Laurel Futurity for 2-year-olds. 

Some of the fields are extremely impressive, with the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) drawing four graded stakes winners. The Preakness will have Derby winner Authentic, among other impressive entrants. 

Despite this, it was difficult to achieve ideal fields for the other stakes.

"There are always challenges," Tullock said. "Trainers nominate everywhere, and they wait to see where everybody goes, and some people's decision is based on who is in the race. Others want to stay home and not travel, and I'm sure with the COVID situation, the travel is more of an influence than anything.

"I was pleasantly surprised; I didn't know what to expect. I'm pretty proud of the weekend we've been able to pull together. We didn't know what to expect."

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions will be put in place at the track, and there will be a larger national television audience. 

"I hope everybody tunes in and enjoys the races," Tullock said. "I think the Black-Eyed Susan and the Preakness are two really good races."