Aging Pimlico strains to keep its grip on Preakness

Leave a comment

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.”

—-

AP Writer Brian Witte contributed to this report.

Jockey dies after injury at northeastern Oklahoma racetrack

Getty Images
Leave a comment

CLAREMORE, Okla. (AP) Officials say a jockey who was injured during a race at a northeastern Oklahoma track has died.

The Cherokee Nation says jockey Mario Chavez was injured Saturday at Will Rogers Downs after his horse crashed into the inside rail, throwing him to the ground. Gunnar Enlow, whose family owns the farm where the 42-year-old Chavez worked, says Chavez was pronounced dead at the hospital on Sunday.

Chavez bred and raced horses for 26 years in northeastern Oklahoma. He won the Tulsa State Fair stakes in July.

The Cherokee Nation owns and operates the racetrack in Claremore, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Tulsa.

Dettori wins record fifth Arc as Enable caps brilliant season

AP Photo
Leave a comment

CHANTILLY, France — Frankie Dettori won an unprecedented fifth Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Sunday as Enable capped a memorable season.

Enable, the 10-11 favorite, led for most of Europe’s richest horse race to claim her fifth consecutive victory after wins in the Epsom Oaks, the Irish Oaks, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Yorkshire Oaks.

The John Gosden-trained filly won by 2 1/2 lengths over Cloth Of Stars, ridden by jockey Mickael Barzalona and trained by Andre Fabre.

The Michael Stoute-trained Ulysses, ridden by Jim Crowley, was another length and a quarter back in third.

“I said to John last week she is the best she has ever been. To keep this filly at 100 percent all year is fantastic,” Dettori said. “I had position `A’, I knew I had no weight and she stays, so I kicked and she gave me four lengths and the race was over.

“She’s amazing and is an absolute freak. I love her. John is a genius.”

It was Dettori and Gosden’s second Arc win in three years, after the popular Italian won on Golden Horn.

Dettori’s victory comes 22 years after his first triumph in the 1 +-mile race.

The 3-year-old Enable made a fast start from stall two and Dettori always had her well positioned behind Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Idaho and Order Of St George, before pulling away inside the final two furlongs

“She showed an impressive turn of foot and acceleration to kill the field. She has amazing ability,” Gosden said. “Frankie got her in a great position. He’s pretty good for an old jock!”

The race will return to its usual home at Longchamp in 2018 after a two-year absence due to renovations, and Gosden hopes Enable will be there.

“She has only raced for 10 months of her life. She had one little run last November, but really she’s only had one season of racing,” Gosden said. “There would be every reason to keep her in training next year as a 4-year-old, particularly with the new Longchamp opening.

“That would be exciting – to try to win the Arc on two different tracks.”