Sailing race to drop anchor elsewhere

The Volvo Ocean Race won’t be stopping in Baltimore in 2015, as organizers have announced that Newport, R.I., will be the only U.S. port for the around-the-world race.

The race apparently would have come here, though, if only Baltimore could have done one teensy, little thing to accommodate it — change the date of the Preakness at Pimlico, The Sun reported.

Gee, did they want anything else? Maybe stop making steamed crabs with Old Bay?

The Preakness has been run in May, as the middle jewel in horse racing’s Triple Crown, since 1932. However, The Sun reported that correspondence between Volvo organizers and Baltimore bid officials showed that the Volvo people requested a change in date for the Preakness or that the racing boats share Preakness Week — the race is May 18 — with Baltimore’s premier annual sporting event.

“We were coming at the wrong time for the city, and they couldn’t change the date,” Jon Bramley, Volvo’s spokesman, told The Sun.

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Getaways: In case you’re not heading to the Preakness…

This weekend, it’s going to be a little hard not to get your Preak on. Or hail Kegasus. Or whatever you really want to call it. Maryland’s Christmas of horse racing is in town this Saturday, and all eyes will be on Animal Kingdom to win the second leg of the Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Course.

If you’d rather just watch the Preakness Stakes festivities from home, there are other events to enjoy too:

As part of the Preakness Celebration, hot air balloons start Thursday at Turf Valley and go until Saturday at 6 p.m. Admission is free, while tethered ballon rides cost a small fee.

And the Children’s Hospital at Johns Hopkins will hold its 80th annual turtle derby Friday. For a small fee, spectators can name a turtle and enter it to win a cash prize. Races begin at 12:30 p.m. in the Preclinical Teaching Building courtyard on the Johns Hopkins medical campus.

And if you’re looking for something more refined than the infield, there’s the annual Wine in the Woods event at Symphony Woods in Columbia. Going on both Saturday and Sunday, wine tasters can enter for $25 to $30, designated drivers can join for $10 to $15, and children older than 3 years get in for $5. (The super underage set gets in for free.)

The Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival is also going on this weekend at Sandy Point State Park Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $55 to $120 and all the action starts at 11 a.m. The lineup includes The Lee Boys, John Mayall, Chris Isaak, Dana Fuchs, Little Feat and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

Galloping into social media

The Maryland Jockey Club announced Monday it has an app of its own.

The app, which will provide instant, real-time access to the latest Preakness Stakes updates, is available for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry phones.

So while you’re out in the infield or the stands during Preakness later this month, you can get all sorts of historical data, blog posts and wagering info. And the app will still be handy during daily races too, giving pre-race program notes, as well as scratches, results and video replays.

“We thought it was logical to launch this new platform around our biggest event, but plan on utilizing it year-round,” said Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas.

The app is already available to be downloaded from Apple’s App Store, while the app tailored for Androids and BlackBerry phones will be ready for consumption later this week.

The 136th running of the $1 million Preakness — the middle jewel of the Triple Crown — is Saturday, May 21.

Top 5: ‘You guys just flat out don’t give a damn’

With lots of news in Maryland’s slots and horse racing industries this week, stories from The Daily Record’s government reporter Nicholas Sohr dominated our staff business content. The Daily Record also made news as our publisher, Chris Eddings, was promoted within the Dolan Company and our associate publisher, Suzanne Fischer-Huettner, was selected to take his place.

1. Racing panel rejects Maryland Jockey Club plan by Nicholas Sohr

The state rejected on Monday a “stop-gap” plan for Maryland thoroughbred racing that featured a drastically reduced racing schedule, a decision that fractures the ownership of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park and injects more uncertainty into the future of the industry.

The corporate parents of the Maryland Jockey Club were expected to present a comprehensive business plan as the final step in gaining Maryland Racing Commission approval of the partnership. But, commissioners said what the club offered lacked details and members of the horse industry called for them to vote it down.

2. Fischer-Huettner named Daily Record publisher by Daily Record Staff

Suzanne Fischer-Huettner has been named publisher of The Daily Record.

A 37-year-old Maryland native who has been the newspaper’s associate publisher and vice president, Fischer-Huettner is the first woman publisher in the company’s 122-year history.

The announcement was made Thursday night at The Daily Record’s Leading Women event, which recognizes the achievements of Maryland women under 40, by Christopher A. Eddings, who is stepping down as publisher.

3. $12.4M spent on Anne Arundel slots referendum by Nicholas Sohr

The high-stakes battle over the right to build a casino in Anne Arundel County cost $12.4 million, according to a report published Wednesday by the state.

The Maryland Jockey Club spent $7.5 million on its failed referendum campaign to derail development of a casino at the Arundel Mills shopping mall. Subsidiaries of The Cordish Cos. — the casino’s developer — and the mall owners spent $4.9 million.

4. Eddings named publishing director for Dolan by Daily Record Staff

Christopher A. Eddings, publisher and president of The Daily Record, has been named director of publishing operations for The Dolan Company, owner of The Daily Record.

In his new role, Eddings will oversee the company’s business and legal newspaper and electronic publishing platforms throughout the country. He will continue to be headquartered in Baltimore with The Daily Record.

5. Racing plan for Laurel Park, Pimlico stuck at the starting gate by Nicholas Sohr

With Maryland thoroughbred racing and the Preakness Stakes in jeopardy, Penn National Gaming Inc. said Tuesday it will continue to work with its corporate partner to develop a plan for Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course in 2011.

Penn National and MI Developments Inc. were dealt a setback Monday evening when the Maryland Racing Commission threw out their plan to slash live racing, opting to send the companies back to the drawing board rather than settle for an option the state’s horsemen said would spell doom for the industry.

Cha ching!! Lots more money in store for Preakness winner

The new owners of Pimlico Race Course are upping the ante in a big way for next year’s Preakness Stakes. Actually it’s not just big. It’s humongous. Like multimillion dollar humongous.

MI Developments Inc. announced Friday that it will award a $5.5 million bonus to the winner of the 2011 Preakness Stakes to be split $5 million for the owner and $500,000 to the jockey — if the horse wins two earlier races at MID tracks.

Dubbed “Preakness 5.5,” horses qualify for the prize by winning in one of the preliminary races at MID-owned Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields. It’s a pretty smart move by the Ontario-based company to generate better competition and larger fields — which lead to more wagering and more money for MID — at its tracks next spring.

Here’s the breakdown on how horses/owners will qualify:

At Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields:
The winner of the Grade III El Camino Real (at Golden Gate) and the winner of Santa Anita’s Grade II Bob Lewis or the Grade II San Felipe, will qualify for the Preakness 5.5 if the horse goes on to win the Santa Anita Derby.

At Gulfstream Park:
A horse must win either the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes or the Grade II Fountain of Youth, and then go on to win the Grade I Florida Derby.

$5.5 million may sound like a hefty price to pay (especially when you consider this is the parent company of Magna Entertainment Corp., which didn’t want to pay the $28.5 million license fee for its Laurel Park slots bid last year). But MID is getting more than paid back by the better competition it’ll generate at its other tracks. And of course, there’s always the chance that no horse will qualify. (And if I were MID I’d be praying to all kinds of gods for that to happen. I’m just saying.)

But this is horse racing after all. And everything’s a gamble.

Historic women’s-only race to be run Preakness weekend

According to filmmaker Jason Neff, “everybody said a race like this could never happen.”

On Preakness weekend, eight retired women jockeys are running in the first “Lady Legends Race for the Cure,” organized by the Maryland Jockey Club and benefiting the Susan G. Komen For the Cure foundation, the world’s largest breast cancer organization.

The race will take place on Black-Eyed Susan Day, Friday, May 14 at Pimlico Race Course.

So why is a filmmaker commenting on this race? Well, he and Emmy Award-winning producer Linda Ellman have been following the eight women around for the last few months as they get in shape for the race, which also celebrates the 40th anniversary of the first woman jockey to ride in a Triple Crown race.

According to a news release, the feature-length documentary “Jock” will tell the “story of the courageous female jockeys who overcame sexual harassment, ridicule and life-threatening injuries to wage a gallant fight for the right to ride more than 40 years ago.” Next month’s race will be the closing act of the documentary.

Here are your riders:
• Barbara Jo Rubin, age 60, first woman to win against a man at a recognized racetrack, 41 years ago.
• Jennifer Rowland, 57, top pioneer female rider on the Maryland Circuit in the 70’s.
• Cheryl White, 56, the first African-American female jockey.
• PJ Cooksey, 52, the third all-time leading female jockey with over 2000 wins and breast cancer survivor.
• Mary Wiley Wagner, top 5 apprentice jockey in the nation in 1987 and breast cancer survivor.
• Andrea Seefeldt, Kentucky Derby and Preakness jockey.
• Gwen Jocson, record holder for the most wins in a single year by a woman.
• Mary Russ Tortora, 56, first woman to win a Grade 1 stakes race.

Diane Crump was the first female to ride in a Triple Crown race and placed 15th aboard Fathom in the Kentucky Derby in 1970. In 1993, Julie Krone was the first woman to win a Triple Crown race, taking the Belmont aboard Colonial Affair.

This might be an interesting marketing tool for Pimlico and the Preakness organizers if they’re able to get the word out enough. One thing horse racing has struggle with in the last oh, decade or two, is connecting fans with the jockeys. Sure we all know Big Brown and Rachel Alexandra but race horses come and go — jockeys are around for a lot longer.

Of course, these women are retired and this race is a one-shot deal. Any connection a race watcher might have with them won’t last long. But if track marketers can find similarly compelling story lines among jockeys who are still racing and push those out there, who knows? At this rate, it can’t hurt.

De Francis Dash Stakes downgraded

In 2010, Maryland will only have two Grade I stakes races. In another display of how the state’s quality of racing has declined in recent years (thanks to better competition and bigger purses from our slots-wielding neighbors), the annual Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash has been downgraded to a Grade II race.

Now the Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of racing’s Triple Crown, and the historic Pimlico Special are the only remaining Grade I races in Maryland. Both races are run at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course in May.

“It is disappointing,” said Maryland Jockey Club racing secretary Georganne Hale in a statement. “They look at the races over a four-year period with the number of Grade I winners in the race. Our average was 1.4 but with so few Grade I sprints, how many Grade I winners can we attract?”

The De Francis Dash, named for the Laurel and Pimlico track owner who died in 1989, debuted in 1990 and was first graded in 1992. It became a Grade I event in 1998.

It was one of five races downgraded from Grade I to Grade II. Of the 723 unrestricted U.S. stakes races with a purse of at least $75,000, 487 of them were assigned a graded status this year by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

Fifteen graded races were upgraded and 23 were downgraded, including the De Francis Dash and Pimlico’s Miss Preakness Stakes, which went from a Grade III to ungraded.

Seem pretty clear to me — this is a message from the committee that the only thing really holding up horse racing in Maryland at this point is the Preakness Stakes. This year wagering on Preakness Day made up just over HALF the total wagering done for the spring meet at Pimlico. That’s pretty lop-sided if you ask me.

Also, the Pimlico Special was canceled in 2009 for the third time this decade because of (yet again) a purse shortage. Seems like the only thing going for the race at this point is having the distinction of holding the “Race of the Century” between Seabiscuit and War Admiral more than 70 years ago.

Will Maryland horse racing in the eye of the general public ever again be more than just Preakness?

De Francis: future slots profits at tracks are his ‘undeveloped property right’

A court filing by Joseph De Francis Tuesday painted an interesting analogy for his argument as to why he objects to Magna Entertainment’s attempt to negate a 2002 deal he made with the company when they bought Maryland’s thoroughbred race tracks from his family.

Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore

The deal is a profit-sharing agreement Magna agreed to when it bought controlling interest in Laurel and Pimlico in 2002. The agreement entitles De Francis and others to 65 percent of any pre-tax, future profits the company receives from slot machines if the games are ever approved for the tracks. The profit-sharing lasts for 20 years, with the sellers’ share dropping to 40 percent for the last 10.

The deal applies to any future owner of the track as well and Magna claims it is hindering the auction process for the track now because it has a chilling affect on bids for those properties. De Francis told The Daily Record the agreement was reached because a value could not be placed at the time on what kind of future slots profits his family was giving up by selling the tracks.

In an objection filed Tuesday, De Francis makes his point by comparing selling the intangible (future slots profits) to selling land (a tangible.)

What if, instead, Magna had bought land around Pimlico for a parking lot with the understanding it would obtain zoning licenses from the state before a parking lot was built?

“Under such a scenario [Magna] could not reclaim the tract of land they conveyed several years earlier (irrespective of whether the requisite zoning licenses were obtained),” the filing says. “This hypothetical scenario is conceptually identical to the current scenario — the only difference is that [this case constitutes] an intangible, rather than tangible, undeveloped property right.”

What do you think of this argument? Do you agree that Magna is in the wrong? Or does the reasoning just not fly?

Hold onto your hats – it’s PETA’s take on Pimlico

I suppose I should have been surprised that it had taken PETA this long to issue a statement about what’s going on with Pimlico Race Course here in Baltimore. Yet, I still had that gut, “Are you kidding me?!?” reaction when I saw the letter the group sent to Gov. Martin O’Malley this morning.

If Baltimore ends up seizing Pimlico through eminent domain (as the state’s lawmakers have approved), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is suggesting the state turn Pimlico into a “Horse Empathy Park.” (You know, because it’s not like the state approved that legislation to keep a certain horse race running there or anything…)

From the letter signed by Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman:

The Horse Empathy Park would feature educational displays highlighting interesting facts about horses and how almost every aspect of their nature is thwarted by the abuse inherent in the horse racing industry. It would feature a memorial to well-known horses who were raced to death, such as Barbaro and Eight Belles, and an exhibit of whips, bits, clamps, toe grabs, and spurs. And children could play games in which they race around the Pimlico track wearing a “jockey pack” that would simulate the weight and pressure a horse feels with a jockey on their backs. Each person entering the museum will be given a blinker — a hood that restricts horses’ vision when they are forced to race — to wear for the duration of their visit, and they will also receive a few lashes with a whip.

Wow, sounds like fun for the entire family!

I really wonder what would happen if PETA actually came up with a thoughtful suggestion for the ethical treatment of animals instead of wasting its time drafting letters that will make headlines for one day because of their ridiculousness, then be forgotten about 24 hours later. Who knows — people might actually take the group seriously and I might have to find something else to blog about.

Race to the auction block?

In Thursday’s filing by PNC bank that asks for Pimlico Race Course to be sold by its bankrupt owner before the Preakness Stakes, the creditor had this to say:

“If the Pimlico/Preakness Assets were sold prior to the Preakness Race, the assets would yield a significantly higher purchase price than if the assets are offered for sale after the Preakness Race since the bulk of the revenues that Pimlico Race Course generates result from the Preakness Race itself.”

OK, I understand an angry creditor being annoyed at Magna Entertainment Corp. for dragging its feet in setting up the procedures in which it will sell its assets. (Magna, the largest track owner in North America, filed for bankruptcy on Mar. 5 and doesn’t plan to auction most its assets until July 30.) I think PNC does have a point when it later states that providing Magna sole discretion over which bids it will or won’t accept as qualified could lead to collusion between the company and its stalking horse bidder.

But asking Magna to hurry up and sell Pimlico and its rights to the Preakness Stakes now is like asking poor Charlie to give up his golden ticket and miss out on Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Preakness won’t solve all of Magna’s problems but they sure could use the money this one last time. And do we really want the most important horse race in Maryland scrambling under brand-spanking-new ownership?

The objection sounds a little mean-spirited and unrealistic to me…