“When the Preakness is around, it’s like a Saturday night every night,” said La Scala chef/owner Nino Germano, adding that two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert is a frequent guest at the Little Italy restaurant.
“For probably six days, it’s Saturday night because there’s always stuff going on,” Germano said. “There’s parties all over Baltimore that week. Everybody’s going to events, everybody’s bringing friends, and it brings a lot of people to town. So not having those people, it hurts a lot.”
Last Wednesday, WBAL-TV reported that Oct. 3 was the new date for the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown series, putting it after the rescheduled Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5. But owners of Pimlico Race Course did not confirm the NBC affiliate’s report.
“The Stronach Group/The Maryland Jockey Club is aware of speculation about a potential date for Preakness 145,” the Jockey Club said in a statement. “At this point in time, there is no definitive date set and we continue to explore options. Once a date for Preakness 145 has been finalized, an official announcement will be made.”
As the Jockey Club considers its options, businesses that would have benefited from the race are feeling the financial pinch.
Tammie J. Monaco, owner of Beck-n-Call Event Services in Butler, said that she usually would staff the Preakness with about 130 servers and bartenders for the race’s corporate village, but the postponement has sapped her company of its largest single-day contract of the year, worth about $40,000.
“It’s been a real blow,” Monaco said. “Besides it being the largest single-day contract, my crew loves working it. It’s just a fun event to work. It’s where everybody is in Baltimore on the third Saturday of May. The whole world is watching. So it’s a fun event to staff, a fun event to be part of.”
Larry Frank, partner at The Classic Catering People in Owings Mills, said his company would not have staffed the Preakness itself, but would have provided full-service catering for corporate parties and events during Preakness Week and premade meals for individual homeowners hosting watch parties. He estimated that Classic Catering would have done about $100,000 worth of business during Preakness Week.
“It’s one more reminder of why the event is important to the community,” he said. “It’s just another day that will sting a little bit.”
Navin Dass, general manager of the Yellow/Checker Cab of Baltimore, also known as zTrip for the past 10 years, said that the company handles about 3,100 trips per day during a typical week. During Preakness Week, that number jumps above 4,000 as customers seek rides to Pimlico, restaurants, hotels and other destinations.
“It’s a big hit for us because the Preakness to us is as important as New Year’s Eve is to us and everyone else,” he said. “It’s like a ripple effect, a spider web that is all connected. . . . It’s a stimulus in a time of the year when not much is going on. It’s a nice shot in the arm.”
Race day was profitable for WIN Family Services, a child placement and mental health agency that owns a house near the intersection of West Northern Parkway and Pimlico Road, across the street from the track. The land around the house is large enough to park a maximum of 74 vehicles, each charged $45.
Although the advent of ride-hailing services such as Lyft and Uber has cut into the parking numbers, the revenue generated was used for summer trips to the National Aquarium or the Baltimore Museum of Art or carnival-like Christmas parties for the agency’s foster youth, according to executive liaison Laura Mueller.
“It’s a hit, but it’s one of the things that we just recognize,” Mueller said. “We’re just grateful that we’re able to remain open during this time. So if it means that we’re not able to go to the aquarium with the kids this summer and that’s the worst that’s going to happen to the agency during this time, I think we’ll just count ourselves lucky as we weather the storm a bit.”
City leaders have said the Preakness generates $50 million to $55 million of annual economic impact, and revenue from the event fortifies the state’s horse-racing industry for the entire year. On Thursday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) permitted a bill facilitating reconstruction of the Pimlico Race Course to become law without his signature.
The Jockey Club acknowledged the disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the normal course for the many businesses and industries connected to thoroughbred racing in Maryland, and we are all working hard to adjust,” the club said in a written statement. “In the meantime, our priority continues to be the health and welfare of all our constituents, and we are working with state and local governments, our industry stakeholders, media and other affiliates to determine the most appropriate time to conduct Preakness 145.”
A delayed Preakness also has affected charities that would benefit from the race.
The Foxie G Foundation, a horse rescue organization in Union Bridge, would have raised between $5,000 and $6,000 during Preakness Week with as many as three tables, a 49-inch topiary horse and a large arch adorned with horseshoes that spelled out the foundation’s name at Pimlico, estimated co-founder Laurie Calhoun.
Just as important, though, was the face-to-face communication the organization’s staff would have with potential donors, horse adopters and volunteers.
“What’s hard to put a value on but becomes pretty invaluable is to get more people interested in what we’re doing because that then spreads out,” Calhoun said. “Someone becomes interested in adopting, someone is telling somebody else about us, someone volunteers, someone has items to donate, or someone wants to make a year-end donation. So then you can get up into somewhere around $10,000 by the time it’s said and done, and that’s because of the far-reaching impact of the Preakness.”
Stacie Clark, operations consultant for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, which is affiliated with six horse rescue farms in Maryland, said the organization raised about $100,000 a few years ago during Preakness Week. That money was redistributed to help others care for and retrain retired horses for adoption.
“I think this is a loss for all of us in the industry,” she said. “This is a big race. It’s important for people in Baltimore economically, but it’s the second jewel of the Triple Crown. It’s a hopeful race, and it’s sad to not be planning.”
Germano, the La Scala owner, said that the return of the Preakness would help revitalize Baltimore.
“When the city is busy like that, it’s great for everybody,” he said. “It’s just a lot of action, and it’s festive. Everybody’s in a good mood, and in our business, that’s what it’s all about. Everybody comes in, it gets crowded, and people are enjoying themselves.”
— Baltimore Sun
Baltimore Sun reporter Childs Walker contributed to this report.