Stronach Group may move Preakness Stakes to four weeks after Kentucky Derby

Flavien Prat atop Rombauer wins the 146th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course
Pimlico Race Course, despite being in major disrepair, has been the longtime host of the Preakness Stakes.
(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)
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The Stronach Group, which upended California racing a few weeks ago by announcing it was closing Golden Gate Fields, threw another stunner into the horse racing landscape when its chief racing executive suggested it may move the Preakness Stakes to four weeks after the Kentucky Derby.

Currently, the Preakness is two weeks after the Derby and the Belmont Stakes follows three weeks after that. Because of the short two-week turnaround, most horses that run in the Kentucky Derby, except the winner, tend to skip the Preakness and point to the Belmont.

Aidan Butler, chief executive of 1/ST Racing, said the move should be made in the interest of horse safety.


“We have discussed it internally and believe it’s in the best interests of horses and horse safety to move the race four weeks after the Kentucky Derby,” Butler told the Thoroughbred Daily News, which first reported it on Wednesday night. “This would give horses more time to recover between races to be able to run in the Preakness. Horse safety is more important than tradition. [The New York Racing Assn.] is aware and considering how this would impact the Belmont. Stay tuned.”

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The NYRA, which runs most New York racing, was pretty clear how it would affect the Belmont Stakes. It won’t.

“NYRA has concerns about fundamental changes to the structure of the Triple Crown,” said Patrick McKenna, vice president for communication for NYRA. “We have no plans to move the date of the Belmont Stakes.”

Butler did not respond to a message from The Times.

It’s unclear if this is setting up a showdown, seismic change or just posturing on the part of Stronach, which owns Santa Anita, Pimlico, Laurel and Gulfstream racetracks.

Stronach is a private company that is known to operate in secrecy and keep its intentions known to few people.

Before announcing the closure of Golden Gate last month, the company did not share plans with major stakeholders, including the California Thoroughbred Trainers and the Thoroughbred Owners of California. The California Horse Racing Board found out about it by accident two days early when it received a question from another state agency. The trainers and owners groups were not informed until after Stronach learned The Times was publishing a story announcing the closing.


Stronach has not disclosed what will become of the land that the track sits on. It would take a ballot initiative for the area to become anything but a park or green space.

Coincidentally or not, the timing of the Preakness potential date change announcement, which is still in the “this-is-what-we’re-thinking” stage, comes just before the Preakness television contract with NBC expires after next year. As late as a year ago, NBC carried all three Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup. But Fox has shown a big interest in getting into horse racing. It outbid NBC to acquire the Belmont and carried it this year when Jena Antonucci became the first woman trainer to win a Triple Crown race.

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Fox made a major investment in racing when it purchased 25% of NYRA Bets, the advance deposit wagering arm of NYRA. Most New York racing is no longer on FanDuel but on Fox channels.

NBC’s contract with the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup expires after the events in 2025 and Fox is said to be very interested. NBC may have sent a signal to racing this year when it moved the Breeders’ Cup signature race, the Classic, on Nov. 4 to the third-from-last race on the Santa Anita card so the network can switch to coverage of Big Ten football. It will be the first time in the 40-year history of the event that the Classic is not the last race.

The Turf Sprint and Sprint will be shuffled off to the NBC streaming service Peacock and FanDuel TV, formerly TVG.

If the Triple Crown schedule were in danger of being disrupted it could, at least in theory, give a rights fee negotiating advantage to the disrupter. Or it could have the opposite effect, driving away any potential interest and dropping the rights fee price.


Fox did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Butler addressed the possibility of moving the Preakness in an interview with The Times in May in Baltimore.

Horse racing once again in the spotlight as Saratoga Race Course has exceedingly high number of fatalities since meet opened on July 13.

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“I guess we could,” Butler said when asked if he could unilaterally move the date of the Preakness. “We could say, don’t worry about [the Belmont]. But we have a really good relationship with both Churchill [Downs] and NYRA. It hasn’t always been the case.

“The Triple Crown Inc. is a thing we own between the three of us. So, you would want to be thoughtful and mindful. Sometimes it’s a little unfair on NYRA because [the Belmont is] not that crazy an event unless there is a Triple Crown in play. It means most of the time they have to carry the burden of that third leg. But when they get the possibility of a Triple Crown winner, it boosts the whole ecosystem of the Triple Crown.”

As for the ecosystem inside the Stronach Group, Butler made it seem as if there was no clear consensus.

“Our company is straight down the middle,” Butler said. “A lot of them want to do it, a lot of them don’t.”

Apparently, that equation has changed in three months.