BALTIMORE — The potential move of the Preakness Stakes from Baltimore to Laurel, a subject of speculation and political maneuvering for years, appears closer than ever, with the owners of Maryland’s two thoroughbred tracks on Saturday saying they prefer a move to Laurel Park over a rebuild of aging Pimlico Race Course, where the Preakness has been raced since 1873.
“I’m understanding of the city and the historical value of the race being run here,” Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, said in the Pimlico press box a few hours before the 143rd Preakness was run on a rainy day, at the end of a rainy week. The group owns both tracks, plus four others nationwide.
“But at the same time,” Ritvo said, “from a business perspective, obviously, we struggle to see why you would rebuild this facility. We have another facility that you put a lot of money [into] and that actually gives a little bit of a better experience.”
Ritvo also conceded that Pimlico, should it lose the Preakness, would likely be finished as a horse racing venue. As it stands, the track is down to 12 days of live racing per year, highlighted by the Preakness, the second jewel of the sport’s Triple Crown.
“What keeps Pimlico here in Baltimore is the Preakness,” Ritvo said. “I think that if there wasn’t any Preakness, then you’d probably see no racing here. They’d have some other plans for it. And we’d like to be part of that [discussion]. We’d like to find out what the solution is. . . . The track being here 143 years hasn’t helped the neighborhood. It hasn’t grown the neighborhood.
“The neighborhood has deteriorated a little bit. It’s not our fault. And we’re not sure just building a new racetrack would work unless there was a bigger investment in the entire city.”
Any move is unlikely to occur before next year’s race.
Ever since the Stronach Group began pouring tens of millions of dollars into upgrades at Laurel Park some 10 years ago, speculation has grown about the potential move of the Preakness. The Maryland Stadium Authority is in the middle of a study regarding the viability of a major renovation of Pimlico, which sits in the middle of a struggling, residential neighborhood in Baltimore’s northwestern corner. The results of the study are expected to be released later this year.
Ritvo said the Stronach Group isn’t interested in contributing funds to a major renovation of Pimlico, when it already owns a ready alternative about 25 miles south in Laurel Park, but said if the city and state governments decide to do so, they would not stop them.
“We want to make sure that we’re not here holding a gun to anyone’s head or looking for a handout,” he said. “ . . . But if somebody was to spend 300 to 500 million dollars on a facility here, I’d probably start to like this place, too.”
Ritvo said he expected both the attendance and total betting handle to be down significantly Saturday, compared to past years, owing largely to a near-constant rainfall that arrived early in the week and lasted through the race.