Pimlico race track has hosted the hooves of legends. Secretariat and 11 other Triple Crown champions have kicked back on rivals in the Preakness Stakes. It’s where Seabiscuit beat War Admiral in a famed 1938 showdown. And on Saturday, the second oldest racetrack in the country will host the 142nd Preakness.
Despite all of its history, the Baltimore venue has problems that could force a move for the middle leg of the Triple Crown. The Preakness Stakes at Laurel Park? That’s possible in the near future.
According to a report published in February by the Maryland Stadium Authority, Pimlico is “antiquated” and “in need of substantial renovations.” The report’s maximum estimate of the cost of those improvements is $322 million.
Attendance continues to grow at the state’s largest sporting event — the Preakness drew 135,256 last year. But Old Hilltop is running out of time.
Saturday’s race headlined by Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming could be one of the final times the Preakness is at Pimlico before aging infrastructure forces the venue to close and the iconic race to move to Laurel. Both venues are owned by the Maryland Jockey Club, and Laurel Park is the only other mile-thoroughbred racetrack in the state.
The Maryland Stadium Authority review, which is the first piece of a continuing report, projected that a new grandstand and clubhouse are needed, along with an expanded stable area and parking lots for the Preakness to remain relevant.
Pimlico needs a major bailout, a combination of public and private investment, to save the 147-year-old track. Pending completion of the stadium authority study, Pimlico’s fate could be decided as soon next year by the state legislature. Lawmakers must fund at least a significant part of the restoration. Historically, they’ve been reluctant to help the industry without many years of discussions. Pimlico doesn’t have that much time.
While the track has deep ties to Baltimore, Pimlico has steadily shortened its racing dates annually from four months in the 1990s to 12 days this spring. Investing more than $300 million for just two weeks of racing annually seems like a poor investment.
It’s finally time to create the supertrack industry leaders have been discussing for 25 years, one that could help restore Maryland to its once “Lion of the Mid-Atlantic” status.
The Preakness should’ve moved to Laurel 20 years ago. Expanding Laurel into a modern gaming facility would be a smarter investment. Laurel has lakes in the infield that would reduce the Preakness crowd to somewhere around 60,000, cutting into the people that only go to the event for the infield concerts.
Bettors know decisions based on emotions lead to torn tickets and lost dreams. Maybe it’s time to let Pimlico rest in peace.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the length of the Pimlico and Laurel tracks. They are the only mile-thoroughbred tracks in Maryland.
Read more columns from Rick Snider: