They'll be off at Pimlico on April 2 for the spring stand. Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.

They’ll be off at Pimlico on April 2 for the spring stand. Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.


by Frank Vespe

The surest sign of Maryland spring isn’t warmer weather; there were snow flurries on Saturday.

Nor is it the DC cherry blossoms, which this year are delayed because of the warmer weather they have yet to experience.

No, indeed, the surest sign of spring is the opening of the Pimlico spring meeting.

The 2015 edition starts this Thursday at 1:10 p.m. with what in truth is a rather bland nine-race card featuring a first-level allowance heat and dotted with three nickel claimers and a group of bottom-level maidens.  The turf is not yet ready for action, so all of the races are on the main track.  Seven of the nine have six or seven entrants.

But all of that’s beside the point.

What’s not beside the point is that Old Hilltop is open again, and the place where Seabiscuit faced off with War Admiral and Secretariat either did or didn’t set a record (officially, did, after the longest official review of all time, spanning some four decades) and countless other great runners accomplished countless other great things will once again hum with activity.

The Maryland Jockey Club has invested $1.5 million to upgrade the track’s simulcast signal to high-definition, and it’s sprucing up the physical plant.  There are new wagers to play, including a jackpot Rainbow 6 and an enticing, 12-percent takeout Pick 5.

“We’re very, very excited about this meet at Pimlico,” Maryland Jockey Club General Manager Sal Sinatra said in a release. “After getting input from our fans and horsemen, we’ve made a number of improvements to our facility, our broadcast, and our wagering menu. We believe the industry-low takeout on the Pick 5 and the debut of the 10-cent Rainbow 6 will engage our regular bettors but also attract new customers to our product.”

And, better yet, in six weeks, it’ll be Preakness weekend.

Preakness weekend this year, May 15-16, will include 15 stakes, eight of them graded.  Among them are Friday’s co-features, the $250,000 Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan for sophomore fillies, which has seen its purse cut in half from last year’s hefty number; and the $300,000, Grade 3 Pimlico Special.  Saturday’s highlight, of course, is the 140th running of the $1.5 million, Grade 1 Preakness; other graded races on Saturday include the Grade 2 Dixie and Grade 3 Gallorette (the latter for distaffers), both on the lawn; and the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap.

It will also, as is tradition, include innumerable other events.

“As always, our events throughout the meet, particularly Preakness week, are incredible,” added Sinatra.  “InfieldFest will feature some of the biggest names in entertainment and many of these events will raise awareness for Susan G. Komen Maryland, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, and the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. It’s an exciting time for Thoroughbred racing in Maryland.”

Before all that, however, comes the April 18 card, which features six stakes.  Those include such regular fixtures as the Federico Tesio — the state’s last prep for the Preakness — and the Henry S. Clark, which often serves as a Dixie prep.

And even before that comes Thursday, opening day, where admission will be free and include a free live program.

Oh, and by the way, it’s also supposed to be sunny, with a high of 66 degrees.

Which is to say, spring is in the air.

Frank Vespe, the founder of The Racing Biz, has owned, bought, sold, claimed, and written about horses, in varying combinations, for a decade.