Tom Chuckas, president and chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, said Saturday that he would like to see horse racing's Triple Crown events played out over two months, not five weeks.
Speaking to reporters at Pimlico Race Course three hours before post time for the 139th Preakness, Chuckas reiterated his position that a longer recovery period for horses would better benefit them and business in general.
"Look, I'm not anti-tradition. I have great respect for tradition. But the game's changed," Chuckas said. "We believe that the 3-year-old season is one of the best for the public to view.
"If you expand it, you have more time to do that. If you work collaboratively within the industry with Churchill [Downs], Belmont [Park] and the rest of the players, I think you can do something very, very special."
A new format would have to be discussed among and voted upon by the three race tracks and the states' governing bodies. Chukkas said it makes sense, as breeding and training practices have changed.
"Art Sherman [trainer of California Chrome] gave an interview the other day. He said that if he didn't win the Derby and have to enter the Preakness, he wouldn't race a horse in two weeks," Chuckas said.
"If we don't put the best product on the field, we're in trouble," Chuckas added.
But he said reaction to his suggestion has been "mixed."
The New York Racing Commission, which oversees the Belmont Stakes, declined to comment Saturday through a spokesman.
"We haven't had any conversations with Churchill; we haven't have any conversations with Belmont," Chuckas said. "We intend to after the Triple Crown season, and it's something we intend to take a hard look at."
Chuckas said he was encouraged by what he saw from the crowd at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday, in terms of both attendance and behavior by those in the infield. A record announced crowd of 123,469 attended Preakness Day festivities.
Friday's Black-Eyed Susan attendance of 34,736 "was a little disappointing," Chuckas said, "but today, with the weather change, it's very, very good."
"The rebranding has worked really, really well. You've got the infield. Somebody said to me, 'I don't see anybody on the [portable toilets]. The corporate sponsors started coming back. It's all come together."
Chuckass said he is looking to open more off-track betting facilities. "Smaller ones in strategic locations where people can pop out of work," he said.
"You've got to become more convenient. If somebody's at home, we accept it. We can't judge everything by who's at the racetrack. If somebody's at home on the computer or [watching ] at an [off-track betting parlor], that's expanding the base, and that's what we have to do."
Chuckass remains optimistic about the future of Maryland racing as well as its signature event.
"You can have your big event days — here we have the Black-Eyed Susan, the Preakness. At Laurel, we have the Maryland Million, the De Francis Dash. Those will always draw," he said.
"The truth is, if you believe that all these people are going to come back to the track on a daily basis, on a Wednesday or a Thursday or a Friday, it's not going to happen."
Bugler makes some history
When "Call to Post" rang through the air for the first time at Pimlico early Saturday, the row of buglers playing the famous horse racing tune presented a different look.
Next to Ryan Resky and longtime Preakness bugler Sam Grossman, Bethann Dixon hoisted her horn and played away.
A 44-year-old music teacher at Fort Meade Middle School and native of Stony Beach, Dixon made her debut at Pimlico while celebrating another first.
"This is the first time they've ever had a female bugler here at the Preakness, so it's kind of groundbreaking," Dixon said, letting out a smile. "I love being part of the day. It's a very big honor to be part of a Triple Crown event. I'm glad that Pimlico allowed me to be here today."
Though she has played instruments her entire life, Dixon made her bugling debut just a year ago, at the 2013 Belmont Stakes, also becoming the first female trumpeter there.
Resky met Dixon at Belmont, after which he invited her to play at the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course and at the Maryland Million in the fall. Resky gave Dixon another call when the Preakness neared.
"She's probably one of the best ideas or additions we could have had for the group," said Resky, 35, a New York native who also made his Preakness debut Saturday. "She really adds a different personality. You got two male buglers who are used to working together all the time. She comes in and just fits as another piece of the puzzle."
Dixon thanked Resky and Grossman for showing her the ropes on her first go-round at the track.
"They completely look out for me," she said. "They support me in such a great way, the gentlemen that I bugle with here. They're very supportive and seem to enjoy having me around."
Dixon carries on a long line of female buglers, headlined by Arlington Park player Bonny Brown, who took over for notable track trumpeter Joe Kelly there in 2003. For one season in the 1990s, Resky said, the Kentucky Derby featured a female bugler before Steve Buttleman took the post he still holds today.
Resky expressed pride in being a part of a craft that's not gender-exclusive, saying he looks forward to continuing to work with Dixon at races to come.
"She's always going to be a part of this," he said. "As long as she keeps wanting to do it, as long as she's available for the date, we're going to have her."
Lieutenant governor bets state ties
Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, a candidate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, said he attended Preakness Day as an "official state function," rather than a campaign event. He may be duty-bound to attend Maryland's signature horse racing event, but that didn't prevent Brown and his wife, Karmen, from having some fun. Or from placing what he called "low wager" bets.
Not coincidentally, all of his picks had Maryland connections. Brown went with favorite California Chrome to win the Preakness. Both the dam and one grand-dam of the horse were foaled and raised in Chestertown. Brown picked Ring Weekend, who trains at Fair Hill in Elkton to place, and Bayern to show. Bayern was ridden by Rosie Napravnik, who worked for the late Maryland trainer Dickie Small.
"I've been attending the Preakness, I think, for each of the past eight years, maybe with one or two years off for a family obligation," Brown said. "I love coming to the Preakness. It's a Maryland tradition. Look, it's great for the economy."
The casinos that have opened under the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and Brown have aided the horse racing industry by boosting the size of purses.
Many roads to Pimlico on Saturday were lined with campaign signs for Brown and other candidates in the June 24 primary. But most of the candidates themselves stayed away. It didn't seem to be the sort of event at which spectators would pay much attention to politics.
Young man's game?
The sport of kings? Justin Nicholson was back at the Preakness on Saturday eager to promote his message that you don't have to be financial royalty to invest in horse racing.
Nicholson, a 28-year-old formerly of Bethesda, is one of the nation's youngest syndicate owners. Most of the horses in his group, 90 North Racing Stable — which is now based in West Chester, Pa. — train at Fair Hill in Elkton.
Nicholson hosted about 20 investors inside a tent on the Preakness infield.
On average, his 35 to 40 clients invest about $4,000 to $6,000. He hopes they view the venture not only as a business opportunity but also as a chance to learn more about the sport and socialize with their peers.
"We get pretty good involvement," he said. "We want this to be a chance for people to network."
Nicholson's group didn't have any horses in Saturday's Preakness Day races, but they did last year, when Two Months Rent finished fifth in the Dixie Stakes.
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