For nearly the last century and a half, Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore has played host to the Preakness Stakes, but momentum has picked up over the last two years to outright move the middle jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown away from the traditional site.
The sport is preparing for Saturday’s 141st running of the Preakness at Pimlico, with 3-year-old Uncle Mo colt Nyquist the overwhelming favorite in the 11-deep thoroughbred field vying for a $1.5 million purse and a shot at the elusive Triple Crown.
However, with the race one day away, the Maryland Stadium Authority continues to study whether Pimlico, the second oldest racetrack in the country after Saratoga Race Course in New York state, can continue as host.
Pimlico’s age, opening in 1870, along with the surrounding area’s decay, has led track operator, the Stronach Group, to consider a half-billion dollar renovation effort that would eventually move the Preakness to nearby Laurel Park, Maryland.
Roughly 30 miles and 40 minutes southwest of Pimlico, and more heavily linked to nearby Washington, D.C. rather than Baltimore, the idea of moving to Laurel Park has local politicians and business leaders worried about what losing the Preakness would do to the city and the neighborhood around the track.
“It’s like taking the Colts to Indianapolis,” William H. Cole, president of the Baltimore Development Corporation, told The New York Times. “It’s a very, very difficult thing. We have every reason to believe that the Preakness is a product of Baltimore and Pimlico and not something that can be relocated simply and easily. We will fight to ensure that it doesn’t happen.”
Critics of the move will admit that Pimlico needs updating, and that Laurel Park is a stronger site even though it was built in 1911, while the debate has picked up over the last couple of years.
Before American Pharoah galloped around Pimlico last year, Sal Sinatra, the general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, told The Baltimore Sun he didn’t want the switch to occur but that Laurel Park could be easier to renovate.
"This building is old, you just can't add suites to it," Sinatra said of Pimlico. "It's almost a rebuild here, where Laurel is a pretty healthy building. Laurel you can renovate, so that plays into it as well. ... Obviously, we have more acreage over at Laurel than we do here."
Enough land to actually complete a much-needed renovation aside, Pimlico currently isn’t even situated on a solid foundation and Timothy Ritvo, executive board member and the chief operating officer for Stronch Group’s racing development, told The Times efforts to keep the Preakness in Baltimore might not be beneficial to the surrounding area.
“The whole community, what do they get out of it?” Ritvo said. “They get a venue space two days a year when they can hustle cars in parking lots and stuff like that. What if we had a plan for that property where we create year-round jobs in the community?”