Two days after Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another's thrilling win over Bodemeister under sunny skies and in front of a packed house, Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas pronounced the 137th running of the Preakness a rousing success.
"I couldn't be happier," he said Monday. "From the standpoint of attendance, we had 121,000. We wagered about $80 million. The best part of this is we had very few problems. ... I received more compliments today and yesterday from the public, many e-mails, many phone calls. I think for the Maryland Jockey Club, the Stronach Group (owners of Pimlico) the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland, it's something to be very, very proud of."
Frank Stronach said the huge crowd at Pimlico Race Course represented a shot in the arm for Maryland racing.
"It shows it can be done," he said. "It shows horse racing isn't dead. We have to change the model a little bit, do some different things. But when you put on a first-class racing act from the Preakness and the undercard both Friday and Saturday, you give the people what they want, they will come out."
The fact that California-based I'll Have Another now enters the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, N.Y., with a shot to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 provides a further boost to both Pimlico and racing in general, Chuckas said.
"It's a kudo. It's the best thing that could have happened," he said. "You know, from a perspective of racing ... you need a star much like professional sports. Whether it's a Ray Lewis or Peyton Manning, you need that. Well, [trainer Doug] O'Neill and [Reddam Racing's] horse is a star. He's going to New York.
"Perfect example: New York without a Triple Crown hopeful draws 60,000. They should have over 100,000. Media — I think NBC was kidding me, they're doubling their budget for the Belmont Stakes. It puts us on the map, keeps us on the map."
Chuckas lauded O'Neill for shipping his horse directly from Churchill Downs to Pimlico, characterizing it as a win-win situation for the horse and the track.
"Hopefully, other trainers and owners will take a look at this," Chuckas said. "I think it's good for the horse. The horse gets acclimated here, he's been over the track a half-dozen times. I think that gives him an advantage over someone just shipping in for the day.
"[As] you well know, Monday morning when the horse showed up, I had every news station, every possible press here, and that starts [the media blitz] as opposed to the Wednesday before the Preakness. It starts two weeks out. ... It raised the interest of the public, the state and everything else."
Pimlico officials were also happy with the atmosphere in the packed Preakness infield, which featured entertainment from such acts as Maroon 5 and Wiz Khalifa, an Olympic beach volleyball tournament and a bikini contest.
"The music, the Olympic volleyball, everything we do out there is working to bring something different," Chuckas said. "And now we have a different demographic, a little older, 25-40 roughly. I don't have any real underage problems. It's just a complete event. It's like a festival out there."
Chuckas said he was told by Baltimore police that six race-goers were evicted from the track for various offenses, one person was taken to the hospital and about 40 people were treated for dehydration.
Race officials were also heartened by the increase in the number of corporate tents, from "seven or eight" last year to 15 this year.
"No. 1, the economy is a little better," Chuckas said. "I can't take credit for that, but the [corporate vendors] see the dynamics change here. ... It's a class event and a class party. My problem is, I'm running out of real estate. I could have sold another half-dozen structures out there. I don't know where to put them. But you saw new people out there, you saw Dell, United Arab Emirates, Kaiser [Permanente]."
The infusion of slots money has also helped energize the Preakness, Chuckas said, increasing purses and attracting better-quality horses, which "incentivizes the public to come out here." And he indicated the Preakness is on sounder footing than it was two years ago, when every other story seemed to paint a dire picture of the race's future at Pimlico.
But don't look for slot machines at the track anytime soon.
"Look, we have a clear message," he said. "And the clear message is that Pimlico and Laurel are not on the horizon for gaming, at least in the next few years. So I don't see slots coming to Pimlico and Laurel, I don't see table games coming to Pimlico and Laurel."