Uncertain Triple Crown: A Preakness Stakes in flux
Horse racing’s Triple Crown season has been thrust into months of uncertainty by the coronavirus pandemic. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont face the same challenges in their own unique way. A look at some of the obstacles for the Preakness:
The 145th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course was set for May 16, but has been postponed to a date yet to be determined. The Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico, said it was working with state and local governments and other stakeholders “to determine the most appropriate time.” The Preakness is usually held two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, which has been rescheduled to Sept. 5. If the Belmont was held three weeks after the Preakness, that would leave the horses and trainers little time before the Breeder’s Cup in November. Linda Gaudet, a trainer and charter member of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, sa she thinks the two options for the Preakness are around July 4 or after the Derby. Holding the Preakness before the Derby would break tradition, but Gaudet asked: “Why not be the first jewel of the Triple Crown this year?”
Pimlico officials canceled Infieldfest 2020, thereby closing the infield to fans, so the race might move to nearby Laurel Park. Maryland law states the Preakness can be moved from Pimlico “only as a result of a disaster or emergency.” Gaudet said: “If and when we start running and open back up for racing in Maryland, I am sure it will be at Laurel. But if we had to go to Pimlico for a weekend or a week, I’m sure it can happen.”
The crowd at Pimilco for the Preakness usually exceeds 100,000, a figure that won’t be reached without the thousands that gather in the infield. But if social distancing is still part of the culture, the only sounds at Old Hilltop during the race might be the pounding of hooves on dirt.
“I’m not very optimistic it will be run in front of the fans unless it’s way late in the fall and everything is good and everybody is healthy,” Gaudet said.
The handle on Preakness day last year was a record $99,852,653. If the race is run without fans in the stands, the only wagers will be placed at off-track sites. If the Preakness is run before the Derby or more than two weeks after, it could be a better wagering race because more top-quality horses are entered. In the unlikely event it moves to Laurel, BRISnet’s Ed DeRosa said the change of track would alter the race as much as the calendar because of a different configuration and perhaps give Maryland bettors a “home-track advantage.”