Pimlico official says Preakness could move to Sunday in 2016
BALTIMORE (AP) — There could come a time in the next few years when the Preakness is held on a Sunday at Laurel Park.
Speaking hours before the running of the Preakness on Saturday, Maryland Jockey Club general manager Sal Sinatra said the owners of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park are considering moving the second jewel of the Triple Crown to Sunday to increase interest and attendance.
“I’m a believer in running the big days when people are off,” Sinatra said, adding that the switch could come as soon as next year.
The idea is to draw fans to Pimlico on Saturday and Sunday. Pimlico’s total handle for Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan Day was $18.488 million, the highest total handle on the day before the Preakness in 10 years.
“While we did do very well, I think that card can even do more,” Sinatra said. “We’re talking about trying to make a three-day weekend.”
He said the change could come “probably by next year.”
The potential shift of the race to Laurel Park won’t come as quickly, but is under serious consideration.
Laurel Park is on a site that is roughly twice the size of Pimlico, and the facility is in far better condition than the track known as Old Hilltop. The Stronach Group, which owns both tracks, understands that money gained from state gambling might have to go to either Pimlico or Laurel.
If that’s the case, Pimlico loses.
“This building is old. You can’t just add suites to it,” Sinatra said. “It’s almost a rebuild here, while Laurel is a pretty healthy building. At Laurel you can renovate. That plays into it as well. Right now, I’d say Laurel is in the lead if there was only going to be one. My goal is to not let that happen.”
The preference is to upgrade both tracks, maintain racing at each site and keep the Preakness at Pimlico.
“The Stronach Group wants to keep it here (but) they still have to do a business,” Sinatra said. “We’re not trying to hold anyone hostage. Frank (Stronach) wants to do something special in Maryland and if we can keep the Preakness here, that’s a win-win for Maryland racing.”
Laurel Park is around 28 miles south of Baltimore and far closer to the District of Columbia than Pimlico.
“We’re within a half-hour of here, D.C, Annapolis,” Sinatra noted. “I’ve got a train station that used to be behind the track that would drop people off right at the paddock. If we rebuilt all that, I could probably get people there.”
A significant decision on the day and site of the Preakness could come in the months ahead.
“By the end of the year I’ll know if it’s going to be Laurel or not, and if it is Laurel it probably would be on a Sunday,” Sinatra said. “You may be talking a couple years. I don’t think this is the last Preakness here, that’s for sure, even if we did decide that. Because whatever work they’re going to do at Laurel is not going to happen overnight.”