The news that Kentucky Derby winner Country House will not compete in the Preakness Stakes is "another blow" to the event and Pimlico Race Course as fans "wonder how much longer the race will be run at its historic home," according to a front-page piece by Childs Walker of the BALTIMORE SUN. Next Saturday's race will mark the "first time in 23 years that the Derby winner will not compete for the second jewel in the Triple Crown." The Preakness field will also be "without the top three Derby finishers for the first time" since '51, and that stat "doesn’t even account" for the absence of Maximum Security, who finished the Kentucky Derby first before being disqualified. The Preakness is still "expected to draw a massive crowd with its combination of sporting competition and infield entertainment." But it is "now in the position frequently faced" by the Belmont Stakes when the Triple Crown is no longer on the line: "Attendance and television ratings inevitably drop." Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association General Counsel Alan Foreman: "It’s not that we’ve done anything wrong or the Stronach Group has done anything wrong. We’re just a victim of circumstances" (BALTIMORE SUN, 5/8).
BRACE FOR IMPACT: In DC, Matt Bonesteel notes the absence of a Triple Crown possibility has "historically depressed TV ratings for and betting on the next race in the series." After American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in '15, the '16 Belmont Stakes that had no Triple Crown on the line was the "lowest-rated and least-watched" since '10, and the "total amount bet on the race fell" from $82.4M to $52.2M. Attendance also "fell, from 90,000 to 60,114" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/8). In Louisville, Jason Frakes writes the "lack of a Kentucky Derby winner is just another blow for Pimlico, which announced in March that it was closing 6,670 seats at the facility because of structural concerns." This while The Stronach Group "wants to move the Preakness from Pimlico to Laurel Park but has met resistance from Maryland politicians" (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 5/8).
BAD TIMING? ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt noted many people in the horse racing industry "aren’t fans of having to race two weeks after" the Kentucky Derby. He said, "Given the overarching issues that haunt the sport with the deaths at Santa Anita as Exhibit A, the time is right for conversation about changing the Triple Crown layout." Van Pelt: "We all understand the role television plays here, so you’d need some help from your partners on that side, but look at the way golf changed its calendar." Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde said racing two weeks after the Derby is "something that most people just don't want to ask their animals to do," and it is "time to very seriously look at changing the schedule" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 5/8).
Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles is "predicting a 3-5% uptick in attendance over last year" for Saturday's sixth edition of the Indianapolis Grand Prix, according to Jim Ayello of the INDIANAPOLIS STAR. Boles "would not reveal exact numbers," but Ayello estimated there were "around 35,000 fans in attendance for last year's race." Boles said that "if the weather cooperates," this year's attendance may be "even bigger." Boles said that credit for the "anticipated increase belongs at least in part to fans and drivers' growing acceptance of the Grand Prix as the official kickoff of May." Boles added that the race could have a new entitlement sponsor "hopefully soon," but there is "nothing imminent on the horizon." Ayello notes Angie's List "held the mantle for the first three iterations of the race but was forced to bail" after '16 when facing financial woes. While "having an entitlement sponsor is ideal, it's not critical to the race's long-term health." Boles said that the Indianapolis Grand Prix, even "without Angie's List or another sponsor, is a profitable race based on ticket sales alone" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 5/8).
Saturday marks the NASCAR Cup Series' last night race at Kansas Speedway for the time being, as NASCAR "moved next year’s spring race date" from the night before Mothers' Day to Sunday afternoon the week after Memorial Day, according to Randy Covitz in a special to the K.C. STAR. Kansas Speedway "sought to move the early May Saturday night date as a way to build attendance," but Fox "didn’t want to televise a third consecutive night race following the All-Star and Coca Cola 600 races." ISC and Kansas Speedway in '11 invested about $2M "installing lights at the track." The only remaining night racing "likely will be the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series in the spring and the ARCA series race in the fall." Still, having the lights in place "will play a large role in Kansas Speedway maintaining its fall date during the autumn NASCAR playoffs." Kansas Speedway President Pat Warren said, "I thought there would be much stronger interest in a Saturday night race, but the tradition of NASCAR racing on Sunday afternoon is so strong, and some people feel like Saturday night is a short-track racing night." He acknowledged TV ratings are "generally better on Sunday afternoons than Saturday night," so unless that trend changes, Fox is "unlikely to want to add more night races" (K.C. STAR, 5/7).