Aging Pimlico strains to keep its grip on Preakness

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BALTIMORE (AP) It’s Preakness week, so Pimlico Race Course is adorned with fresh flowers, coated in bright paint and filled with the anticipation that comes with hosting the state’s biggest sporting event of the year.

The new foliage and slick paint can’t mask the fact that 147-year-old Pimlico is showing its age. Known affectionately as Old Hilltop, this old track has been trying for years to fend off the inevitable conclusion that it’s badly in need of a serious makeover.

Sal Sinatra, president and general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, attended the Preakness post-position draw Wednesday. The event was held inside a lavish tent, where jockeys, trainers and high-rollers downed good food and mixed drinks.

Everyone appeared to have a good time. Sinatra can only hope that’s the case on Preakness day.

Click here to stream the 2017 Preakness Stakes on NBC Sports

“We just need to have a nice facility,” he said. “We’ll be sitting on pins and needles Saturday, thinking, `What’s going to break today?’

“We don’t have the sky boxes. These tents are nice, but not everybody has the luxury of spending $1.5 (million) on a tent. We have to have the right spot, the right venue to have the Super Bowl here in Maryland, basically.”

The Maryland Stadium Authority recently released a study that it could take anywhere from $248 million to $321 million to renovate the facility. If that doesn’t happen, well, the Stronach Group, which owns the facility, has said it would consider moving the Preakness to nearby Laurel Park.

Not so fast, says the governor of Maryland.

“Governor (Larry) Hogan has made it clear that he wants to see the Preakness stay in Baltimore,” Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said Wednesday. “The next phase of the Maryland Stadium Authority study will soon be under way, and the governor looks forward to seeing the results.”

So does Sinatra.

“Is it $300 million, is it $500 million, and then where does the money come from?” he said.

Pimlico opened for racing on Oct. 25, 1870. The track introduced the Preakness in 1873 – two years before the Kentucky Derby – and it has been held annually in Baltimore since 1909.

Though Pimlico has undergone many changes over the years, it still looks very much as it did in the 20th century. The grandstand, the stakes barns and the jockeys’ quarters are serviceable but not ideal.

Laurel recently had a $30 million facelift and now appears far newer and fresher. According to Maryland state law, however, the Preakness must be run at Pimlico unless there is “some type of emergency.”

Also, there’s something to be said for the tradition of running a Triple Crown race at a track that once hosted Seabiscuit, Man O’ War, Secretariat and Seattle Slew.

“I do love history, and this is a beautiful place,” said Mark Casse, trainer of Preakness entrant Classic Empire.

But does tradition mean that much at a place in such obvious disrepair?

“You’d love to see Pimlico have the Preakness forever, but you also have to embrace modernization,” said Todd Pletcher, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. “Sometimes it’s a delicate balance of tradition and forward thinking.”

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AP Writer Brian Witte contributed to this report.

Irish War Cry is 5-2 favorite in $1M Haskell Invitational

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OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) Irish War Cry, the runner up in the Belmont Stakes, is the 5-2 favorite in the $1 million Haskell Invitational for 3-year-olds.

The richest race of the season at Monmouth Park drew a field of seven for the 50th edition on Sunday.

With a victory, Irish War Cry would join Thanks To Tony (1980) as the only New Jersey-bred winners of the state’s biggest thoroughbred stakes.

The Garden State connection runs even deeper. The race is named for Amory Haskell, the first chairman and president of Monmouth Park, whose daughter Isabelle de Tomaso bred and owns Irish War Cry.

The morning-line choice breaks from the rail with Rajiv Maragh aboard for trainer Graham Motion.

Irish War Cry was a top contender heading into the Kentucky Derby after winning the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. After chasing the early pacesetter, he faded to 10th.

Motion initially planned to give the horse time to regroup after the Derby and await the Haskell. The colt was training so well that Motion sent the horse to the 1+ mile Belmont.

It was a good decision. Irish War Cry led most of the way but was beaten two lengths by Tapwrit.

“At the end of the day, we are all very excited that we got to this point,” Motion said. “This was certainly our goal of the summer.”

Trainer Chad Brown sends out the second and third choices in the Haskell: the undefeated Timeline, 3-1, and Practical Joke, 4-1.

Timeline, winner of Monmouth’s Pegasus Stakes last month, is 4 for 4 coming into the biggest test of his career.

“He’s a horse that’s always shown a lot of natural ability,” Brown said. “I’ve had my eye on the Haskell for this horse for a long time. I felt this race would suit him.”

Javier Castellano will ride Timeline from post 3.

Practical Joke is alongside in post 4 with Joel Rosario in the saddle.

The full Haskell field, in post-position order with jockeys and odds: Irish War Cry, Maragh, 5-2; Battle of Midway, Flavien Prat, 5-1; Timeline, Castellano, 3-1; Practical Joke, Rosario, 4-1; McCraken, Brian Hernandez, Jr. 9-2; Hence, Paco Lopez, 12-1 and Girvin, Robby Albarado, 6-1.

The 1 1/8 miles Haskell is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race. The winner earns a qualifying berth in the $6 million Classic on Nov. 4 at Del Mar.

Arrogate remains on course for Pacific Classic at Del Mar

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DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) Bob Baffert wasn’t beating himself up a day after Arrogate’s upset loss in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar that snapped the seven-race winning streak of the world’s top-ranked horse.

The Hall of Fame trainer said Sunday that other than getting a lot of dirt in his eyes and mouth the 4-year-old colt emerged in good physical condition after finishing fourth, beaten by 15 \ lengths as the 1-20 favorite.

Baffert says that as long as Arrogate continues working out well and nothing comes up, the colt will run in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 19 at Del Mar. Baffert says Arrogate “will be ready next time.”

Arrogate was never better than fourth among the five-horse field during the race. Accelerate led all the way and won by 8 + lengths.