Report: Track that hosts Preakness should be demolished

DAVID McFADDEN (Associated Press)
The Associated Press

BALTIMORE (AP) -- The nearly 150-year-old Baltimore track that hosts one of America's premier horse races should be torn down and rebuilt at a cost of $424 million, according to a report issued Thursday.

The Maryland Stadium Authority, in the second phase of a comprehensive study of Pimlico Race Course, recommends demolishing all existing structures at the historic track that hosts the Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown of thoroughbred horse racing.

The rundown condition of the aging Baltimore track presents challenges threatening the "continued existence and the success of the Preakness Stakes," according to a summary of the conclusions.

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The Maryland agency said that despite the track's physical condition, there does not appear to be "situational factors" such as the surrounding city neighborhood of Park Heights and accessibility issues that would "negatively affect Pimlico Race Course's ability to remain the long-term home of the Preakness Stakes."

The Stronach Group, a Canada-based development company that owns and operates Pimlico, has looked at a fresher track it owns in Laurel Park - located about 30 miles south of the Baltimore track- as a viable option for the Preakness. Under state law, the race can be moved to another track in Maryland "only as a result of a disaster or emergency."

In a Thursday statement, Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of The Stronach Group, agreed with the study's findings and called for collaborative action by state and city authorities during Maryland's upcoming legislative session in Annapolis.

"A successful and viable future for Maryland Racing requires an industry encompassing and thoughtful capital plan that looks beyond one weekend of celebration to achieving great success year-round," the statement said.

The company has previously suggested it could be open to a public-private partnership.

Sandy Rosenberg, a state Democratic lawmaker whose district includes the Pimlico track, said the study sets forth a blueprint for "an extraordinary community development opportunity on the racetrack site that would also allow us to transform the current Pimlico into a 21st century racing facility."

He said it's important to understand what the redevelopment would do for the other 51 weeks of the year when the Preakness isn't running. He noted the study recommends adding infrastructure around the track including a central plaza, various shops and a hotel.

"It's putting on the table for public consideration a proposal that would be of great benefit 52 weeks out of the year to northwest Baltimore, the city and the region and to the racing industry, especially during that one week of the Preakness," Rosenberg said.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said the city strongly endorsed the redevelopment plan recommended by the Maryland Stadium Authority, saying the economic opportunity it would bring could dramatically revitalize an area that's experienced disinvestment for decades.

A spokeswoman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he's always been supportive of keeping Preakness at Pimlico and would review the study in coming days.

Back in its heyday, Pimlico hosted many of the sport's most memorable races: Seabiscuit's match race with War Admiral in 1938; Man o' War's debut in 1920 with a stunning win over Upset; and Secretariat's last-to-first victory during his Triple Crown run in 1973.

Though work crews have found a way to make the track presentable for the Preakness every year on the third Saturday in May, many racing fans have said the need for a dramatic makeover has been blatantly obvious for many years.

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Associated Press writer Brian Witte in Annapolis contributed to this report.

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