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Pimlico's shortened meet opens Thursday

The Preakness meet at Pimlico begins Thursday, but don't blink, or you might miss it.

The season has been trimmed to 12 dates this year.

In 2015, Pimlico raced 37 days. The meet was tightened to 28 programs in 2016. The lost dates have been transferred to suburban Laurel Park, where The Stronach Group, the owner of both tracks, has made major capital improvements over the past several years.

Pimlico, located in a rough Baltimore neighborhood, first opened in 1870. The facility's infrastructure is in need of repair, and a February report by the Maryland Stadium Authority, a state agency, estimated it would take $300 million in improvements to make Pimlico "economically competitive" with the two other Triple Crown tracks, Churchill Downs and Belmont Park.

The Authority's second phase of the study, which is under way, will make recommendations on how to pay for such an undertaking.

Although the Preakness had record attendance of 135,256 and record handle of $94.9 million in 2016, the track's condition limits its revenue potential, according to Sal Sinatra, president of the Maryland Jockey Club. Preakness revenue is a major part of the MJC's annual budget.

"We've kind of maxed out the ticket prices and such," Sinatra said. "We just don't have the high-end amenities to offer."

A factor in further reducing dates, according to Sinatra, is that business at Pimlico drops off significantly following the Preakness. Last year, Laurel handled more money than Pimlico on a number of days during the Pimlico meet.

The meet will run from Thursday to Sunday this week, from Thursday to Saturday during Preakness week, and then Thursday to Monday the following week, with the final program on Memorial Day.

The meet's 15 stakes will all be held Friday, May 19, and Preakness Day, May 20. The stakes have a combined value of $3.7 million. Eight are graded.

The $1.5 million Preakness, which will feature Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, is supported by seven other stakes, including the Grade 2, $250,000 Dixie.

Seven stakes will be held Friday, topped by the Grade 2, $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan and the Grade 3, $300,000 Pimlico Special.

The purse of the Chick Lang, a six-furlong race for 3-year-olds on the Preakness card, has been doubled to $200,000 this year.

The connections of the Black-Eyed Susan winner will receive a free breeding to the stallion Ghostzapper, who this year is standing for $75,000. The owner of the Grade 3 Miss Preakness winner will receive a breeding season to Point of Entry, whose fee is $20,000. Both stallions are at Adena Springs in Kentucky, which is owned by Frank Stronach.

With only five days of racing prior to Black-Eyed Susan Day, the turf course will be in excellent condition for the stakes. The temporary rail will be 10 feet out from the hedge to start, and the inner ground will be saved for May 19-20.

Jockey Victor Carrasco, who has been sidelined since injuring his shoulder April 2, will begin his comeback on the nine-race opening-day card.

Post time is 1:10 p.m. Eastern, except on Black-Eyed Susan Day (11:30 a.m.) and Preakness Day (10:30 a.m.).

Magee, Rice tie for leading trainer

Kieron Magee tied Linda Rice for leading trainer at the Laurel Park meet with his final starter on Sunday's closing-day card. Magee and Rice each sent out 27 winners at the meet, which began Jan. 1.

Rice had only 51 starts at the meet, which calculates to an amazing win average of 53 percent. Magee had 128 starters and won with 21 percent of his runners.

Claudio Gonzalez finished third in the standings, one win behind the top pair.

Trevor McCarthy won the riding title by 11 victories over Horacio Karamanos, Rice's go-to rider in Maryland.

The title was the sixth in Maryland for McCarthy, who will turn 23 on May 16. He had 994 career wins through Sunday.