MJC, Baltimore pledge to work on bolstering Preakness, Pimlico

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: June 27, 2019

Representatives of the Maryland Jockey Club and City of Baltimore June 27 told the Maryland Racing Commission they will do everything in their power to work toward keeping the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore and upgrading Pimlico Race Course to properly accommodate the Triple Crown race.

Meanwhile, The Stronach Group, which owns the MJC, indicated construction of a new three-level barn, dormitory and office complex at Laurel Park should be completed in the second quarter of 2020.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but we think we’re up to meet the challenge and can meet it,” MJC attorney Alan Rifkin said regarding Baltimore’s desire to keep the Preakness at Pimlico. “We’ve already met multiple times and have had conversations, and we will be reaching out to other stakeholders. There is nothing more significant to us than to find a resolution.”

Rifkin at the MRC meeting was joined at the table by Bill Cole, Chief Executive Officer of the Baltimore Development Corp., and Alan Foreman, legal counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. Cole said he was present to represent the city, while Foreman said he was asked to provide expertise during the ongoing negotiations.

“My goal is to protect the racing industry,” Foreman said. “We want to make Maryland racing all it can be.”

MRC Chairman Michael Algeo called it a “seminal moment in Maryland racing” in light of the conflict between the TSG and Baltimore that effectively killed legislative action on a funding mechanism for projects at Laurel, the Bowie Training Center and Pimlico this spring. The earliest a change to allow bonds to be floated on the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account—funded by a 1% cut of revenue from casino slot machines—is the 2020 General Assembly session.

Next year, it’s possible the General Assembly will also act on legislation authorizing sports betting via a constitutional amendment in November. Under previous bills that did not progress, racetracks—including Pimlico—would be eligible for sports betting operations.

“When I was appointed chairman, my hope was the industry could work together in what is in the best interest of Maryland racing,” Algeo said. “I hope to get a call soon that you have reached an agreement.”

A Maryland Stadium Authority report set the cost of a rebuilt Pimlico at $420 million, but that included money paid by Baltimore to improve infrastructure and about $30 million to re-position the racing surfaces to make room for ancillary development. Some have said just redoing Pimlico could cost half or less of what the MSA suggested.

The talks on Pimlico resumed after the city dropped its lawsuit against TSG claiming it had neglected Pimlico and funneled RFRA money to Laurel. TSG officials had repeatedly said their plan was to end racing at Pimlico and move the Preakness to Laurel.

Given the comments at the June 27 MRC meeting, that no longer appears to be the case.

In a project update, Tim Ritvo, Chief Operating Officer of the TSG Racing and Gaming Division, said plans from now through 2020 include, along with the new Laurel barn, improving protocols for the health and safety of horses and jockeys and repairing water lines at Pimlico. A water main under the parking lot broke several days before the Preakness, and though it was repaired, it led to pressure issues in multiple restrooms this year.

“We will fix the problem for the 2020 Preakness,” Ritvo said. As for the decision to close the historic portion of the grandstand this year after tickets had been sold, Ritvo said the company’s options are making structural repairs to save it or adding temporary seating in that part of the facility.

The new Laurel barn requires a new water main, and Ritvo said the company is working with Anne Arundel County to extend a water line to the barn area. Construction of the Amish barn, or “stick barn” as it is called, is projected to be completed in the second quarter of 2020.

The Pimlico water project is estimated to cost about $750,000. Algeo said the MRC would like to see a capital expenditure plan for 2020 and 2021 for Pimlico.

“We need to do everything we can to make (Pimlico) a Triple Crown venue,” Algeo said. “Hopefully we don’t have (another) crisis moment before the Preakness.”

(Pimlico photo by Tom LaMarra)