The races are reordered, and the Belmont Stakes ran without spectators but the pursuit of horse racing’s fabled Triple Crown is underway. After Tiz The Law won to deafening silence last month, the calendar is devoid of racing until the so-called LaborDerby (on September 5). Then the action moves to Pimlico in Baltimore – which after much political horseplay, we now know will remain the home of the race.
And for an oval track, it has traveled a long, strange road.
The debate started swirling years ago. Pimlico Racetrack, home of the Preakness, opened in 1870 – and was showing its age. Badly. And over the years, it had been subjected to a series of Band-Aid fixes that resulted in the Stronach Group, which owns the facility, delivering an ultimatum to Baltimore City: fix the track or we won’t host the race there any longer.
The price tag for that fix was substantial: The initial results of a study commissioned by the Maryland Stadium Authority concluded it would cost $250 million to $320 million to renovate Pimlico, which is located in the Northwest quadrant of Baltimore, in an already economically depressed area.
And that started an odyssey of ideas for the facility – not only where the money could come from but how it could be earned back. Pimlico could host concerts. Pimlico could be tapped for festivals. Pimlico could even become a sports tourism hot spot. The rumors swirled and Baltimore fretted.
But a development that took place during the pandemic was missed by much of the sports tourism world. Gov. Larry Hogan permitted a bill to become law that would enable the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue up to $375 million in bonds to refurbish Pimlico and Laurel Park (a sister track also owned by Stronach). The money would be paid back by the Maryland Lottery and casino proceeds already designated to subsidize the racing industry.
The Racing and Community Development Act is designed to upgrade Pimlico for racing and convert it into a multipurpose venue. When it’s not staging races, the track’s clubhouse and facilities will be used for community activities, recreational purposes, civic events and other public purposes.
According to Ashley Harper Cottrell and Terry Hasseltine of Maryland Sports, the concept of Pimlico hosting sports and other purposes, "is still on the table."
There’s no doubt the Preakness is a prime revenue generator for Maryland. In 2017, a report by the Office of Research of the Maryland Department of Commerce showed that visitors spent an estimated $11.1 million and that Including indirect impacts (multiplier effect), total Preakness-related expenditures totaled $38.2 million.
In other words, the city was not going to let go of the race without a fight.
2020, which upended the race calendar, will find the Preakness taking place on October 3, an unusual spot for it to hold since it’s generally held in May and is the race at which the possibility of a Triple Crown is either born or denied.
But even with its financial future in hand, much of the Preakness is still up in the air. The spectator capacity of the event is unknown, according to the race website, and will depend upon what Maryland’s restrictions are for social gatherings. (At the moment, the state is in the second phase of reopening and is requiring that outdoor venues be limited to 50 percent capacity).