Tear it down. Fix it up. Keep it here. Move it there.
Many at Pimlico Race Course Saturday, from celebrated trainers to $2 bettors, offered thoughts of what to do with Old Hilltop, the methuselan home of the 138th Preakness Stakes.
The Maryland Jockey Club, which owns the track, has agreed to renovate both Pimlico and Laurel Park with a share of the state's slots revenue — an estimated $112 million in matching funds, if the organization ponies up the equivalent.
How those funds are spent to modernize the country's third oldest race track is another matter.
"Pimlico is an old-time jewel with a lot of nostalgia," said Doug O'Neill, trainer of Goldencents, who finished fifth. "Cleaning things up can only help, but hopefully you won't lose the flavor of this beautiful place."
Nonsense, said John Green, a racing fan from Cleveland.
"Raze this place and start over," said Green, a retired teacher. "I've come to the Preakness for the last 15 years, and it's pretty much a dump. Why keep anything? You don't have a twin spires or something in the grandstand area that's nostalgic. It would be more cost efficient to level it and rebuild."
Do that, racegoer Chris Tilly said, and she might not come back.
"This place is a hidden gem. I like the old-school feel of it, right down to the old bathrooms and the wooden floors," said Tilly, a teacher from Akron, Ohio. "Pimlico has a historic atmosphere, and it's a blue-collar track — and one that you can afford.
"This is my fourth Preakness, and I like it here way better than Churchill Downs. It's not big or fancy and you can find your friends here. A seat today cost me $125, one-fourth what it would be for the Kentucky Derby."
Renovate Pimlico, she said, "and the prices will go up. That scares me. Still, you do want it to be safe."
Saturday, prior to the Preakness, track officials briefed the media on renovations but offered few specifics regarding Pimlico.
"One thing [we] don't want to do is make some kind of promise and not deliver. That's worse than anything we could do," said Tom Chuckas, the Maryland Jockey Club president. "Hopefully towards the middle or the end of the year, we'll try to make some announcements."
Mark Robbins suggests they level the ground floor of the grandstand, which has been slanted since the track was built in 1870.
"Why is the floor pitched this way? Why is everything on a slope? Maybe the horses came through here and pushed everything downhill," said Robbins, a casino manager from Galloway, N.J.
Tear it down? Fix it up? The question set two co-workers from Delaware to sparring.
"Get rid of this place and build it up again," said Walt Opalach, an electrical supply salesman from Wilmington attending his 20th Preakness. "How fast you do it is another matter. You'd have to find somewhere else to hold this race next year."
Nuh-uh, said Ken Gould, of Middletown.
"This track goes way back," he said. "To tear it down would be a sad day. There's too much history here in the architecture of the facility. But if you could renovate the inside, and bring it up to modern times, great. Engineers should be able to do that."
Sharon Beckstead agreed.
"I've been coming here since 1984, and I'm a traditionalist. I enjoy seeing some of the same things, over and over," said Beckstead, a pharmacist from Altoona, Pa. "Steamroll it? Never. Update it, make it look like Camden Yards."
Chris Jones would like to see Pimlico refurbished much like Churchill Downs.
"There's a lot to be said for this track's ambiance, its heritage value," said Jones, a home contractor from Barnesville. "But please, redo the grandstand. It goes back a long time. Keep its basic look, but make it more functional, so it can be used for other money-making events, like concerts."
His sentiments were echoed by trainer Shug McGaughey. His horse, Orb, finished fourth after having won the Derby.
"The barns need a facelift, and I'd like to see more of an outdoor-type paddock. But do something with the grandstand, like they did at Gulfstream Park (Fla.)," McGaughey said. "On Saturday afternoons in the winter, that's a happening place for young kids. It gets to poppin.'"
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Jon Meoli contributed to this article.
An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.
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