The morning after the 142nd Preakness, the Baltimore Sun front-page headline said:  “Record Turnout” and the sub-headline added”  “Pimlico shows its age, but the fans love all the Preakness traditions.”

The first paragraph read:  “…a record crowd of 140,327 wondered whether they were witnessing one of the last editions of the marquee event at 147-year-old Pimlico Race Course.”

I was in the crowd and wondered myself how much longer the middle jewel of the Triple Crown can continue to be run at such a dilapidated racetrack.  The color and tradition of the Preakness were apparent but the physical surroundings were incongruent with a figurative jewel.

The Sun reported—under a headline “Glue, bubble gum, and duct tape”–that the Maryland Stadium Authority estimated in February 2017 a monetary outlay of between $250 million and $320 million to modernize Pimlico.  The Stronach Group, which owns the facility, countered that a “complete rebuild” would cost $300 million to $500 million.

Shuttering Pimlico and moving the Preakness to Laurel Park in Maryland near Washington, DC is an emotionally-charged issue for many horse racing fans and residents of Baltimore and the state of Maryland.  Moving the event outside Maryland ramps up the level of emotion.

Reading between the lines in what Maryland Jockey Club general manager Sal Sinatra has stated publicly, the Preakness is likely headed to Laurel Park in the near future, possibly even for 2018.  Sinatra has come close to promising that the race will remain in Maryland but has offered no assurances about Pimlico’s future.

Realistically, the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Stronach Group cannot justify a capital outlay of the magnitude required to rebuild a facility for an annual two-day event in May.  If Pimlico is viable as a racing venue, a much smaller infrastructure can be built at a defensible cost.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland is the second oldest racetrack in the United States, founded in 1870, seven years after Saratoga Race Course was opened during the Civil War.  The inaugural Preakness Stakes was run in 1873 and won by Survivor.  (The first Kentucky Derby was held in 1875 and the first Belmont Stakes in 1867.)

The Preakness has seen many changes over the years.

In 1890, the Preakness was run as a handicap–at Robert Morris Park in the Bronx—and won by a 5-year-old horse, Montague.   The Preakness was not run at all in 1891 through 1893 and was moved to Gravesend Race Track in Coney Island, New York from 1894-1908.  In 1909, the Preakness came back to Pimlico and from 1910 through 1915 it was a handicap.

The Preakness has been run at seven distances ranging from a mile to 1 ½ miles.  In 1927, the race was set at its present distance of 1 3/16 miles.

On two occasions, the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby were on the same day and eleven times the Preakness preceded the Derby.

Charles “Chick” Lang (1926-2010) was the individual most responsible for building the Preakness into the national event it is today.  Lang was the vice president and general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, where he was employed for 27 years.  Earlier in his career, he was the agent for Hall of Fame jockey Bill Hartack.  Lang’s grandfather trained a winner of the Kentucky Derby and his father rode a Derby winner.

In recent years, there have been suggestions that the Preakness be moved to Laurel Park near Washington, DC, owing to Pimlico’s aged infrastructure.  That would be likely to happen only if the Stronach Group, which owns both racetracks, closes Pimlico entirely.  The Stronach Group has committed to keeping the Preakness in Maryland but has not made such a guarantee about Pimlico being the site.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


Every Saturday the Wall Street Journal includes a couple of challenging (for most people) math problems supplied by the National Museum of Mathematics.  On May 6-7, 2017, the problems were about horse racing in conjunction with the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown.  The problems make some unrealistic assumptions, but are nonetheless challenging.

I have posted the answers as a comment (so you won’t inadvertently glance at them).

Problem 1:

“Some team members are watching a different race to get in the mood for the Derby, and because of late scratches there are only four horses running.  The odds on the horses are listed at 5-1, 4-1, 3-1, and 2-1.  One team member exclaims, ‘If only we were at the track, we could guarantee that we would make money on this race.’

What is the total amount of money you could bet on this race (possibly different amounts on different horses) so that you would end up with a net gain of exactly $3 no matter how the race turns out?  (Assume that there is a single valid winning horse and ignore payoffs except for the winner.)”

Problem 2:

“A stable has 16 horses and wants to select the three fastest.  There’s only room on the practice track to race four horses at a time, and the track has no timer, so the only information from each race is the order in which the horses finish.  (Assume for simplicity that each horse runs the track in exactly the same amount of time in each race, and that no two horses run the course in exactly the same amount of time.)

What is the smallest number of races the stable can run on the practice track to determine the three fastest horses?”


Problems were published in the Wall Street Journal, May 6-7, 2017, on page C13.