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Talks between Maryland Jockey Club and Baltimore raise hopes of keeping Preakness at Pimlico

Talks between Maryland Jockey Club and Baltimore raise hopes of keeping Preakness at Pimlico
Continuing talks on the future of Pimlico Race Course are considering extension of the Preakness stakes there byond 2020. (Rob Carr / Getty Images)

Officials negotiating the future of Pimlico Race Course told the Maryland Racing Commission on Thursday that talks have been progressing positively enough the Preakness Stakes could be run in Baltimore beyond 2020, which many feared could be its last year in the city.

Baltimore city government and Maryland Jockey Club officials struck an optimistic and unified tone while addressing the racing commission during its meeting at Laurel Park — ground zero for the animosity that burst out between the two sides this year when the track owner pushed a plan to rebuild the facility as the future home for the Preakness.

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Discussions began in earnest this month after city officials withdrew a lawsuit to seize the 149-year-old Pimlico Race Course and the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown from The Stronach Group, the jockey club’s parent company.

“We’re on the same side of the table,” said Alan M. Rifkin, an attorney for the company. “There is nothing more significant to us than to find a resolution. And we think we can.”

Rifkin was joined by Bill Cole, the former CEO of the Baltimore Development Corp., who is representing the city, and Alan Foreman, general counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

Racing Commission Chairman Michael Algeo praised the two sides for coming together to talk after months of what he described as “vitriol and personal attacks” over the future of Pimlico and Laurel Park.

“I believe that this is a seminal moment in Maryland racing,” Algeo said. “The future of Maryland’s horse industry depends upon us working together and I hope that we continue to do that.”

Rifkin, Algeo and Cole all said it is possible the Preakness could remain at Pimlico through 2021 if negotiations can lead to a plan to pay for essential repairs.

During this year’s General Assembly sessoin, Anne Arundel County legislators tried to pass a Stronach-backed bill that would have established a “super track” at Laurel Park. The measure would have led to the redevelopment of Pimlico without a racetrack.

Baltimore lawmakers hit back, with Del. Nick Mosby raising concerns about what he called “deplorable” living conditions of workers at both parks. The Stronach-supported measure failed, leaving the two sides without a credible plan for how to pay for massive renovations at Pimlico.

After the bill died, the jockey club announced that it had to close nearly 7,000 unsafe seats at Pimlico a month before the Preakness in May. And during the state’s biggest horse racing event, nearly all of the women’s bathrooms broke down, forcing female fans to wait in long lines or use the men’s room, like Algeo’s wife.

“That obviously was a difficult experience,” Algeo said.

Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group’s racing division, apologized for the “negative impact on their experience during an otherwise outstanding Preakness day.”

“The infrastructure at Pimlico is ancient,” Ritvo said to the commission. “Which is why we are hopeful that the new negotiations with the city leads to a permanent solution.”

Algeo said he hoped Ritvo would be able to provide an updated capital improvement plan that included a concept for funding renovations at Pimlico in the future.

“I have no idea where we’re going long range, obviously,” Algeo said. “But I think it’s reasonable to conclude we’re looking at the Preakness there for at least the next two years.”

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Ritvo said that depended on the negotiations. Budgeting for Pimlico would be difficult until the city, state and the company can come to some resolution over funding repairs, he said.

Mosby said the meeting appeared to show that the two sides were uniting around the concept of keeping Preakness at Pimlico.

“It’s very encouraging,” the Baltimore Democrat said. “But it’s important that the capital plans are inclusive of Pimlico.”

He said that Baltimore-area lawmakers worked hard to get involved in the process and that the racing commission should never meet without someone from the city present to look out for Pimlico’s interests.

“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” he said.

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