Preakness 2024: As Seize the Grey and his 2,500 owners win day, Pimlico fans hope for future

As Seize the Grey held off Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan’s hopes for a Triple Crown, the two horses stomped down the final stretch — one, the Derby champion, the other, a horse belonging to thousands of people via a unique ownership model. Roars rang out, bouncing off Pimlico’s aging structure.

Seize the Grey is owned by MyRacehorse, a platform that allows individuals, with or without deep pockets, to own a piece of a horse. More than 2,500 people, including 48 from Maryland, own a tiny slice of the new Preakness winner, trained by D. Wayne Lukas. One stake in the horse paid out $127 a share, which comes on top of earnings from other races.

Liz Ruffini of Towson arrived at Pimlico around 8:30 a.m., as she usually does, but this year, it came with a more personal investment.

When she purchased a piece of Seize the Grey, she’d just wanted to say she owned a share of a racehorse. Now, she told The Baltimore Sun, she can say she owns a share of a Preakness winner. “It feels amazing,” she said via text.

Jonathan Poland, a racing fan from Anne Arundel County, purchased a single share of the horse. “If you only own one or two hairs on the horse, it’s better than not owning a horse at all.” Afterward, he called the victory “overwhelming, when you think of the history of this race.”

The 149th Preakness Stakes represented the last gasps of an era — and the hope for what’s to come.

Amid on-again-off-again rain, infield concertgoers danced around puddles while racing fans tried to pick winners from the grandstand. In some ways, it was the same as it’s been for years. In others, it represented a long-anticipated crossroads for the storied, yet troubled race and industry.

Fresh off the signing of a new law that would use $400 million in state bonds to renovate the Pimlico Race Course and build a training track elsewhere, some fans expressed skepticism that a new Pimlico would ever, actually come to fruition, while some displayed optimism. Others, like Michelle Richburg, were just happy to have won $12.50 on their first-ever wager and to have tasted — and delighted in, to her surprise — a black-eyed Susan cocktail.

“Just the liveliness, the people watching,” Richburg, who moved to Baltimore last year with her husband, Ron, said of attending her first Preakness. “Why not?”

Following the race, a performance from headlining rapper Jack Harlow capped a full day at Pimlico. Organizers did not provide attendance figures immediately after the Preakness Stakes, but the crowd did not appear to be any larger than last year’s, an announced 46,999. That’s a far cry from decades prior, when more than 100,000 people regularly flocked to the track, but is by design, Preakness officials have said.

Saturday’s race was expected to be the last Preakness before demolition begins at Pimlico.

Ahead of next year’s event — as part of the new blueprint that would eventually call for a state-created nonprofit to operate the Preakness instead of The Stronach Group, the longtime Canadian operator — some old barns and the condemned Old Grandstand are expected to be destroyed.

Finally, after decades of decay, Pimlico is on the precipice of being equipped to host a race as prestigious as the Preakness. Wrecking balls are expected to visit Pimlico, which would mark an elusive sign of physical progress, before next year’s race, the 150th edition. During the new venue’s construction in 2026, the race will temporarily move to Laurel Park (which will eventually cease to operate as a track), and in 2027, it will return to a newly minted facility in Northwest Baltimore.

At least, that’s the plan.

“I would say it’s 50-50,” racing fan Kevin Perry said Saturday of his confidence in the timeline, noting that that’s an improvement from prior years. “[It] used to be just a running joke — so there was zero chance.”

The usual problems — inoperable elevators, blemished walls, out-of-order signs taped to bathroom doors — greeted turf fans and festival attendees, the two genres of Preakness attendees. There was also a peculiar injury, witnesses say. Three people told The Sun they saw a pony bite the finger of an elderly woman trying to feed the pony carrots. A small piece of her middle finger was bit off and she was taken to a hospital, the witnesses said.

Still, the revelry carried on.

Before noon, a fan poured beer down his throat through a horse head mask and others danced in the mud as acts like Frank Walker, Gryffin and Channel Tres performed in the afternoon. Inside the concourse, cheers as horses sprinted down the stretch replaced the sound of live music. Anthony Kinoian, who grew up around racetracks like Narragansett in Rhode Island, had his nose in a program as he handicapped earlier races.

“Of course, I’m making wagers,” he said when asked if he was betting. “That’s my life — I’ve been doing it for 50 years.” He also offered a reporter a winning pick — Catching Freedom in the Preakness, a premonition unrealized when the horse placed third.

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When the recent $400 million plan to renovate Pimlico was passed, some lawmakers bristled at the idea of using state-backed funds to rebuild Pimlico and add a training track elsewhere in the state — either Bowie, Aberdeen or Woodbine — but by 2027, a revamped Pimlico is expected to welcome a much larger crowd, potentially more than 100,000 people.

“We want to make Preakness great again,” Marc Borady, executive director of the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority, told The Sun earlier this month. “It’s that simple.”

A new day seems to dawn for racing. But amid the back-slapping, as the plan was agreed to, questions remain. Can the state-created nonprofit do what a private company could not — operate racing in the state without millions of dollars in annual losses?

Recent history would suggest no. Proponents of the brave new plan say yes.

Some skeptics question the new deal to renovate dilapidated Pimlico — which would tear down the aging venue and rebuild it on a new axis. Scribbled on a “History of the Preakness” placard in the press box bathroom was a postscript to the storied event’s lineage. “In 2023, the main elevator was euthanized,” the written text read. “In 2024, the track was euthanized.”

As the deal received final approval Wednesday in Annapolis, Maryland Treasurer Dereck Davis said that during his three decades as a lawmaker, “we’ve been a few laps around the track trying to make this happen,” but that efforts have “fallen flat.”

“What can we say to Marylanders? I mean, respectfully, the platitudes are nice. Why is this different than other failed attempts?” he asked.

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Perry, a racing fan, said he’s heard of plans to rebuild Pimlico “all my life,” but this time, it feels more “serious.” Other fans agreed, and officials say this iteration is different. The efforts are more solidified and the plans more concrete; this time, it’s real, they say.

“In years past, it’s been uncertainty,” Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, said Saturday. “I think this year it’s more celebratory.”

Greg Cross, chair of the racing authority, has cited a formal agreement with Stronach and the backing of the Park Heights neighborhood as reasons the vision will come to fruition.

“I feel like we’ve turned the corner,” he said.

The racing authority, which will create a nonprofit to operate the event come 2027, has said it seeks to return the event to its Maryland roots, perhaps removing the concerts that have become a staple, and, in the process, returning the event closer to its former attendance numbers.

“We have to get out in front of it and market it the right way,” Cross said.

As Seize the Grey crossed the finish line, a soundtrack of cheers from its many owners and fans echoed against the eerily empty Old Grandstand. Next year, it won’t be there — provided plans proceed as envisioned.

Baltimore Sun reporters Sam Janesch and Matt Weyrich contributed to this article.