THE END OF THE PREAKNESS AT PIMLICO?

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

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