Maryland lawmakers consider new plan to rebuild Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness

ABC News
Maryland lawmakers consider new plan to rebuild Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- A new plan to rebuild Baltimore's storied but deteriorating Pimlico Race Course and transfer the track to state control is making a late charge down the stretch of Maryland's legislative session.

The measure, released Thursday with less than a month to go in the session, would use $400 million in state bonds to rebuild the home of the second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes.

The plan calls for transferring Pimlico from the Stronach Group, which is the current owner of Pimlico and nearby Laurel Park, to a newly formed nonprofit that would operate under the state.

Greg Cross, chairman of the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority, said in a statement Thursday that the authority supported the plan “that will help secure the future of horse racing here in Maryland.”

Cross thanked Belinda Stronach and the Stronach Group for the “professionalism and good faith they brought to this process with the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority.”

“We know the state is eager to see the long overdue improvements to Pimlico and investments in the Park Heights community come to fruition, and the governor looks forward to working with the General Assembly to finalize this deal and pass the authorizing legislation to make it a reality,” Cross said in the statement.

Craig Fravel, executive vice chairman of 1/ST Racing, the Stronach Group's racing and wagering business, said extensive negotiations have taken place since an announcement in early January outlined a framework for an agreement between the Stronach Group, the Maryland Jockey Club and the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority.

“That agreement aims to secure a sustainable future for the Maryland Thoroughbred racing industry and ensure the successful operation of Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness in Baltimore,” Fravel said. "We thank Greg Cross and the MTROA board. We look forward to the legislative consideration process and collaborating with the MTROA and Maryland stakeholders to usher in a new era for racing in the state.”

Under the plan, the Preakness would relocate to Laurel Park in 2026 while the new facility is being built, before returning to Pimlico, likely in 2027. The temporary move would come as the third Triple Crown race, the Belmont Stakes, is scheduled to return to Belmont Park from a two-year hiatus at Saratoga Race Course while the New York track undergoes a $455 million reconstruction.

Maryland lawmakers approved a plan in 2020 to rebuild the track, but it never got off the ground. The new plan increases the amount of state bonds to be used from $375 million to $400 million. The plan also calls for a training facility, with details to be determined.

“It’s always been the goal of the authority to put Maryland racing and breeding in a position where we can be a major player in the sport of Thoroughbred racing again," said Tom Rooney, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, who was appointed by Democratic Maryland Gov. Wes Moore to serve on the authority. “We are one step closer to achieving our goal.”

The bill is being introduced late in the General Assembly's 90-day session, which is scheduled to adjourn April 8, but lawmakers had mentioned the possibility of a proposal coming before them.

“We knew it was coming,” Democratic Sen. Guy Guzzone, chairman of the Senate's budget committee, told reporters Thursday, noting that “there are a whole host of issues that we're going to have to review over the coming days.”

If the bill gets to the finish line, it would represent the biggest step forward for Pimlico, which has faced an uncertain future for several years and gone through several proposals for updates and changes.

In 2019, the Maryland Jockey Club closed off nearly 7,000 grandstand seats, citing the “safety and security of all guests and employees.” The Preakness has struggled to draw pre-pandemic attendance numbers in recent years, down to 65,000 people in 2023 for Friday and Saturday compared to more than 180,000 for the same days four years earlier.

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