De Francis nixes proposal to move Preakness date

How about running the Preakness on the fourth, instead of the third, Saturday in May?

In his own quiet way, that is exactly what Hall of Fame trainer Mack Miller would like to see happen.


It's nothing new for trainers to advocate changes in the Triple Crown arrangement.

D. Wayne Lukas not only wants to see the races spaced farther apart, he wants the distances shortened. He made that point clear at the draw for post positions at last year's Belmont Stakes.


Now Miller has joined the Lukas bandwagon, although he likes the current emphasis on distance racing.

"The easiest change, and it could be done, is to make it three instead of two weeks between the Derby and Preakness," Miller said last week. "I know from my experience with Sea Hero that two weeks is just too short a time between the races. The Preakness really knocked my horse out. It took him four days afterward to recover."

Miller added that the ideal time to run the Triple Crown would be "between August and October. That's when champions are made.

"In the spring, some of the 3-year-olds aren't even 3 years old yet," he said. "Look at Arinthod [a Belmont Stakes starter who turned 3 yesterday]."

But don't expect the management of the Triple Crown tracks to make any changes.

Joe De Francis, operator of Pimlico Race Course, opposes Miller's suggestion for two reasons.

"Philosophically, if you changed the format, it just wouldn't be the Triple Crown anymore. That's why the three races are so special. They are just so demanding that only 11 horses in history have ever accomplished it.

"Secondly, from a practical point of view, running the Preakness on the fourth instead of third Saturday in May would be a huge negative. That means the Preakness would fall on Memorial Day weekend. That's traditionally the weekend when everyone heads off to the beach. From a business standpoint, that Saturday would spell disaster."


Hempstead isn't Monkton

Jockey Club steward Clinton Pitts Jr., former head steward at the Maryland tracks, said he couldn't be happier in his new job at the New York Racing Association tracks.

"I love the racing. It's the best anywhere," Pitts said, pointing out that most of this year's best horses -- Prairie Bayou, Sea Hero, Lure, Dispute and Sky Beauty -- are based at New York tracks.

But, Pitts added, living in the congested Long Island area doesn't compare with his former rural existence in the fox hunting country of Harford County. "I hate living here," he said. "You know, this isn't Monkton."

$4,000 Maryland claimers

Don't be surprised if Pimlico/Laurel lowers its bottom-level claiming price in the near future from $5,000 to $4,000.


Changes are being considered to try to beef up the small fields and at the same time keep Maryland horses from shipping to Delaware Park or Atlantic City Race Course.

But bottom-level purses also need to be boosted. Churchill Downs runs races for $4,000 claimers, but the horses compete for a $5,700 purse.

Despite poor business over Memorial Day weekend, Maryland tracks bounced back during the latter part of last week. The state's second off-track betting outlet at Poor Jimmy's Family Restaurant in Cecil County, which handled $38,000 in thoroughbred bets on opening day, seems to be off to a good start.

The Maryland Racing Commission wants to arbitrate the dispute between the state's thoroughbred and harness tracks so that the inter-track arrangement continues. But an agreement will have to be worked out by tomorrow since live racing switches to Laurel Race Course on Thursday and operational procedures need to be set up in advance.


When the 3-year-old filly Menemsha won the Christiana Breeders' Cup Handicap at Delaware Park last Monday, she became the first stakes winner for Maryland sire, Whatever For, who stands at Corbett Farm. The filly is named after the Cape Cod town where the movie "Jaws" was filmed.