JC / Railbird

Pimlico

Intertwined

A week before the Preakness Stakes, the Baltimore Sun delivers a story on Park Heights, the neighborhood that surrounds Pimlico. Three quotes:

1.

“We’re going to continue to invest heavily in Laurel,” Ritvo says. “Laurel is a much better place to have a year-round facility.”

State law requires the organizers of the Preakness to hold the race in Baltimore, unless there’s an emergency. But Ritvo says crime and blight are keeping the track in Pimlico from greater success.

“We have more murders around Pimlico than a place like Laurel,” he says. “We had a security guy, 22 years old, get shot in the parking lot. It’s heartbreaking.”

Security guard Kevin Jones was fatally shot in June 2015.

“When we run the Preakness here,” Ritvo says, “we try to get everybody out before it gets too dark.”

2.

City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, who represents the area near Pimlico, says a race track renovation plus connected businesses could help spur economic growth in the neighborhood.

Schleifer says the Stronach Group is standing in the way of progress.

“If we found a partner to rebuild that facility, you would see private investment come in on every corner,” he says. “These guys are holding Park Heights hostage.”

3.

Losing the Preakness would be a huge blow to the neighborhood’s rebirth, he says.

“If you had the Super Bowl in your backyard every year, you would never let it go,” Hurley says. “I don’t understand how anybody could be OK with it going to Laurel.”

Read more: Here’s a good overview of the money and politics involved at the Maryland Reporter. The Stronach Group is committed to keeping the Preakness in Maryland, if not at Pimlico, Maryland Jockey Club president Sal Sinatra says.

From the department of far-fetched ideas: A New Jersey state senate candidate sees opportunity for Monmouth Park. “Pimlico is struggling to keep up its end of the bargain … let’s edge them out. With the right investments, Monmouth Park has the potential to be the new home of the Preakness.”

5/17/17 Addendum: So, about the Preakness moving to Laurel …

The subject is bound to stir powerful emotions, says Anirban Basu, an economist with the Baltimore-based Sage Policy Group who has studied the Maryland racing industry. But in pure financial terms, he agrees with Ritvo that the Preakness could thrive at Laurel Park.

“I’m not advocating one way or another, but I don’t see any reason the race would not work much better at Laurel,” Basu says. “It’s a more upscale track, the MARC station is right there, there’s more parking and it’s in closer proximity to BWI and the D.C. airports. I very strongly believe the race at Laurel would be a more upscale affair that would attract more well-heeled patrons from around the nation and the world.”

On the other hand, the event would sacrifice some of its tradition and its quirky juxtaposition of corporate tents and college debauchery on the infield, he says.

“It would be more of a corporate race at Laurel,” he says. “At Pimlico, it’s more of a populist affair.”

From the archive, about that “populist” aspect: Whose Party? (5/12/15)

And here’s a stinging Baltimore Sun editorial taking the Stronach Group to task on the idea of moving the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico to Laurel:

It might well be smarter to talk about an entirely new Pimlico rather than investing in renovations …

But as for the wisdom of investing in Pimlico, we would note that the good condition of Laurel and deteriorating one of Pimlico didn’t happen by accident. It is the result of a deliberate strategy by Stronach and its predecessors to consolidate operations and investments in Laurel …

Rather than warning that it would require a “huge” commitment of state resources to keep the Preakness at Pimlico — and not acknowledging the “huge” amount of money the state is already sending their way as a result of the legislation that legalized slots and casino gambling — Stronach officials ought to be focused on finalizing an agreement with the Stadium Authority and the Baltimore Development Corp. on a second phase of the Pimlico study.

Royal Mo Settles In at Pimlico

It’s quiet at Pimlico, and that’s why Always Dreaming shipped in early for the Preakness. Royal Mo did too, getting his first tour of the place on Wednesday morning, as captured in the very peaceful short video below that acted (for me) as a delightful antidote to all the recent non-racing news:

His exercise rider is 17-year-old Taylor Leatherman, who would like to be a jockey. “He’s a super cool horse,” she said of her new ride:

5/14/17 Update: An unfortunate development — Royal Mo suffered a right front sesamoid fracture while working at Pimlico early on Sunday morning. Jockey Gary Stevens heard a pop; he pulled the colt up and held the leg. Royal Mo has been transported to the New Bolton veterinary hospital.

5/15/17 Update via Jeremy Balan on Twitter: “John Shirreffs just got an update on Royal Mo. Surgery @ New Bolton successful. A long way to go to recover. Racing career officially over.”

5/18/17 Addendum: She didn’t ride him for long, but Leatherman’s time with Royal Mo has had its rewards. The aspiring jockey credited trainer John Shirreffs with some of her newfound skills; he praised her work as “perfect.”

Rivalry

Exaggerator crossing the wire first in the Preakness
Exaggerator wins the 2016 Preakness ahead of Cherry Wine and Nyquist.

Corey Lanerie on runner-up Cherry Wine gives jockey Kent Desormeaux a pat on the back after Exaggerator wins the 2016 Preakness
And Corey Lanerie on the runner-up gives winning jockey Kent Desormeaux a pat on the back as they gallop out after the wire.

Exaggerator gets a Beyer speed figure of 101 for his Preakness Stakes win over Pimlico’s sloppy track on Saturday. TimeformUS gives him a speed figure of 122, the same number assigned Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist for running third, quashing a Triple Crown bid. The two go on to the Belmont Stakes for a rematch in three weeks, and now that Exaggerator has finally beaten Nyquist — in the fifth race featuring the two of them — we have a rivalry.

So, what about the mud? “Thank the good Lord for raining on us today,” said a member of Exaggerator’s ownership team in the winner’s circle. “You have to think that the track means a lot to his performances, but his fast-track performances are not bad, either,” said rider Kent Desormeaux.

And what about the pace? Pretty similar to the Kentucky Derby, with the slight difference that Nyquist pushed to the lead and moved into the front early. He ran the first quarter with Uncle Lino in :22.38, the first half in :46.56, and the first three-quarters in 1:11.97. Here are the DRF incremental fractions:

DRF incremental fractions for the Preakness
View the official Equibase chart (PDF).

Nyquist won the Derby despite chasing a quick first quarter and running his final quarter three seconds slower; it was an impressive performance. In the Preakness, he was tired, and Exaggerator, tracking on the rail, was in place to take advantage. “The colt shimmied up the backstretch like a seal, utterly enjoying it,” and Desormeaux rode with confidence. Watch the Preakness replay, and see how he angles out and into the lead in the stretch:

5/24/16 Update: Nyquist spikes a fever, will skip Belmont Stakes.

Pletcherology

Trainer Todd Pletcher has decided to pass on the Preakness Stakes, declining to enter either of his two Kentucky Derby finishers, or potential contenders who skipped the Derby, and could, presumably, be Preakness ready, such as Stanford. Materiality, sixth at Churchill Downs, will point instead to the Belmont Stakes. “If you come back in two weeks and you turn out to be wrong,” said Pletcher, “not only could you not run well in the Preakness, it could compromise your chances in the Belmont as well.”

That puts the likely Preakness field at seven*, a short number that inspired Brian Zipse to speculate that the trainer is sending a message, a message that it’s time to alter the Triple Crown schedule:

It should be crystal clear to us all that America’s top trainer is making a strong statement that the Triple Crown races are too close to each other on the calendar. Because of this, the Middle Jewel, the Preakness, is the odd race out for the powerful Todd Pletcher stable …

I’m not sure we’ve ever seen such an obvious example of why the timing between races of the Triple Crown should be expanded. Todd Pletcher, America’s most influential trainer, is not running any of his horses in the Preakness — Not Materiality — Not Carpe Diem — Not Competitive Edge — simply because it is too close to the Derby.

Right.

Tom Jicha makes a related point:

It isn’t just the Preakness that gets short changed … the Kentucky Oaks got Alciabides winner Lovely Maria, Louisiana Oaks champion I’m a Chatterbox, Gulfstream Oaks victor Birdatthewire and Santa Anita Oaks winner Stellar Wind. The Black Eyed Susan is getting none of them.

(My opinion re: a schedule change hasn’t much changed since last year.)

The quick return doesn’t scare trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who had Mr. Z, 13th in the Derby, vanned to Pimlico. “He’ll run in the Preakness or he won’t run at all,” Lukas told Alicia Wincze Hughes. There’s just one problem — owner Ahmed Zayat, also the owner of Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah, doesn’t want him entered. “Can’t stop that man,” he tweeted. “Wow. Mr. Z not running.” Zayat was further “completely unambiguous” when asked if the colt would start on Saturday, reports Marty McGee, saying Mr. Z “does not belong in the race on his merits.” But someone’s signals are crossed: “Oh, he’s running,” said Lukas. The Preakness draw is today, beginning at 5:00 PM ET.

2:45 PM Update: “Lukas was not to be denied.” Calumet has purchased Mr. Z for a Preakness run. “They gave us an offer we could not refuse,” said Zayat.

*6:00 PM Update: The Preakness drew eight. Here’s the field with morning line: 1. American Pharoah (4-5); 2. Dortmund (7-2); 3. Mr Z (20-1); 4. Danzig Moon (15-1); 5. Tale Of Verve (30-1); 6. Bodhisattva (20-1); 7. Divining Rod (12-1); 8. Firing Line (4-1). (Get the Hello Race Fans cheat sheet.)

5/14/15 Addendum: Pletcher, asked about altering the Triple Crown schedule:

“I’m torn on what’s the right thing to do,” Pletcher said last month at Churchill Downs. “I think you lose the historical significance if you [change the schedule]. I think you can argue as the breed has evolved and trainers have evolved, [there should be] more time for the horses between races.

“There’s a far better chance we’ll have a Triple Crown winner if we do that, but will it have an asterisk next to it? I don’t know.”

Whose Party?

Reporting from Baltimore’s Park Heights neighborhood, home to Pimlico:

A gigantic banner hanging above the racetrack’s main entrance declares the Preakness to be “the people’s race” and “the people’s party.” But those people, for the most part, aren’t from the largely black community around the track, where just gaining admission to the clubhouse and the grandstand will cost you $25 (much more if you want a seat), and where an infield ticket will set you back $70.

“For 50 years, I’ve sat on this porch and have seen people come and go on Preakness day, and most of them are white and rich and look all fancy in their dresses, neckties and shorty-shorts,” said Ruth Spencer, 87, who lives near the corner of Hayward and Winner Avenues, across the street from the track. “But I do love watching the people come by. I feel proud that they’ve come here to my backyard.”

Move the Preakness to Laurel, says Andrew Beyer.

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