Hope for Md. Horse Industry Renewed With Pimlico No Longer for Auction, Derby

Baltimore Sun
Sunday, May 3, 2009

Maryland's beleaguered horse industry is getting a stretch of renewed hope with Friday's announcement that the Pimlico and Laurel tracks have been removed from the bankruptcy auction block and with yesterday's Kentucky Derby focusing eyes on the Preakness in Baltimore for the next two weeks.

Magna Entertainment of Ontario, in a filing with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, took the local properties out of the auction of assets it is seeking. The removal came after the Maryland General Assembly authorized Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to use eminent domain to seize the Preakness and the tracks to ensure that the second jewel of the Triple Crown keeps running in Baltimore.

At least four potential bidders have emerged for Laurel and Pimlico, including Baltimore developer David Cordish, but it is not clear whether Magna will sell the assets or try to maintain them under a reorganization.

Maryland Jockey Club officials hope the Derby will boost sluggish Preakness ticket sales but are bracing for a more subdued scene at the usually raucous horse race.

The recession has dampened spending from ordinary spectators and corporate party hosts. Advance infield ticket sales are down 17 percent compared to this time last year.

BlackBerry is the race's first "title sponsor" in recent memory, but corporate underwriting revenue overall is down 10 percent, or $75,000, because sponsors such as UPS, Heineken and the Maryland Lottery have been lost, jockey club officials said.

"Some companies are no longer entertaining, and I think from the general public's perspective, they're also downsizing," said jockey club President Tom Chuckas, who nonetheless predicted the May 16 event at Pimlico Race Course would attract more than 100,000 revelers. "Sales have a tendency to pick up momentum once we get past the Kentucky Derby. . . . I'm cautiously optimistic."

Pre-race festivities also are being curtailed. The Preakness Celebration Balloon Festival, which has for 20 years showcased hot-air balloons, was canceled.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company