Nine days of racing at Pimlico Race Course begin today, and though it might seem short, for the horses and horsemen involved, it is a welcomed respite.
"We'd been faced with shipping [horses] since Pimlico closed in June," said trainer Larry Murray, manager at Glade Valley Farms in Walkersville. "It's a real hardship to ship. ... On a day like today, with temperatures in the 90s, if we were going to [Colonial Downs in] Virginia, we'd have the horses loaded at 8 a.m., and they'd travel a minimum of three hours down. They'd stand around most of the day, race and they might make it back by 1 a.m. tomorrow.
"This summer has been absolutely miserable for the horses and the people who have to travel with them. It will be nice to run at Pimlico. Even though our horses are at Laurel, it is a very easy ship."
Pimlico's management had suggested extending the spring meet into late June and adding days to Laurel Park's fall meet. But Lou Raffetto, Pimlico's chief operating officer, said that once the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association made it known area horsemen would prefer a short August meet, management went along.
Pimlico will have four racing days next week and three the following week before the track closes and the Timonium fairgrounds track opens Aug. 27 for its eight-day run during the Maryland State Fair. Then the fall meet will open Sept. 7 at Laurel Park.
Pimlico has a nine-race card today, four on turf, with the first race starting at 1:10 p.m. Two state-bred turf stakes races are scheduled: the Humphrey S. Finney tomorrow and the Mister Diz on Aug. 20.
"After discussing the issue with the horsemen's group and understanding they didn't want to go to September without some racing here, we agreed," Raffetto said. "We've run in the summer before, but it has usually been more like 12 or 13 days - never an abridged meet like this. I don't even call it a meet. I call it 'These August Days."'
The brief meet caught some by surprise, including jockey Steve Hamilton, who has won the Pimlico spring meet each of the past two years. Hamilton may ride this weekend but then will leave on vacation to celebrate his 10th wedding anniversary.
The meet also will miss rider Ryan Fogelsonger, who continues to recover from a back injury he suffered at Pimlico in April. He hopes to start getting back on a horse next week but isn't expected to return to competition until after Labor Day.
During the meet, purses have been adjusted with an additional $20,000 a day.
"To call this a purse increase would be misleading," MTHA president Richard Hoffberger said in the Horsemen's Newsletter. "What we're doing is shifting money around."
He noted the additional money was available because of fewer races and fewer race days. Raffetto didn't disagree, but added, "It's true the aggregate purse money is less, but the purses we race for now have been increased."
But racing returning to Pimlico has put smiles on trainers' faces. Said Dale Capuano, Maryland's top trainer seven of the past eight years: "I can't wait. ... It's been 60 days without racing here, and I'm looking forward to running a lot of horses - if I can get them in the right races."