Hogan: Preakness postponement discussions underway
Governor Larry Hogan (second from left), with State Fair chairman Gerry Brewster and racing committee chairman Bill Marlow (second from right, far right, respectively) in 2018. Photo by The Racing Biz.
“Our entire state is facing a period of fear and doubt,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said in a Tuesday press conference, referring to the COVID-19 emergency Maryland, and most other states, are facing.
Both are true, of course, and doubt in particular is wide supply in the Thoroughbred racing industry. Early Tuesday, Churchill Downs Incorporated announced it would push the running of the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, back to September 5 from its traditional spot on the first Saturday in May.
That put pressure on the second and third legs — the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, respectively — to determine how they would proceed.
The Stronach Group, owners of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns the Preakness, and NYRA, which owns the Belmont, both issued cautious “no decision yet” statements immediately thereafter.
But Hogan, in his press conference, indicated that he expected that the Preakness, too, would not take place until months after its typical third-Saturday-in-May slot.
“We have been in discussion with The Stronach Group regarding the postponement of the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness, to some time in September,” he said.
Moving the Preakness carries some logistical challenges. One of the most important, financially speaking, is ensuring that broadcast partner NBC is on board with the shift. In addition, the only days Pimlico is scheduled to run this year are the dozen May days around and including the Preakness. Since the Preakness must — legally — be run at Pimlico, the state Racing Commission will need either to award additional days to Old Hilltop or move the days it’s already awarded to September.
With the cancellation of next week’s Commission meeting, the Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for April 23 at Laurel Park.
Meanwhile, though the Governor had issued on March 15 an order closing casinos, racetracks, and off-track-wagering facilities to the “general public,” the Maryland Jockey Club was continuing to prepare for its upcoming racing weekend. As of Tuesday, Laurel Park entries were up for Friday, and the track’s ninth and 10th races were included as part of the national Stronach 5 wager.
The company had raced without fans last weekend, but that had been prior to Hogan’s order. This weekend the ban also is being extended to media. While some have argued in favor of permitting racing to go forward under such conditions in order to maintain, if at a reduced level, the economic activity it generates, others point out that holding a day of live racing requires dozens of people who would otherwise not be at the track to attend. These include Racing Commission personnel, racing office workers, chart callers, security staff, and many others in public and non-public roles.
A message sent via Twitter to Gov. Hogan’s Communications Director, Mike Ricci, about the order was not immediately returned.
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