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Sal Sinatra, general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, shown at Laurel Park.
Sal Sinatra, general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, shown at Laurel Park. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Allow me to send a facetious thank-you to Sal Sinatra, the second-year general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club who, just a week after one of the worst periods in Baltimore's history, publicly raised the idea of moving the Preakness out of town. Great, and thank you very much.

This city is in pain — from a broken relationship between its police force and thousands of its citizens, from the aftermath of riot and fire that destroyed or affected more than 300 businesses, from a lingering tension that puts a knot in the stomach of everyone who cares about Baltimore, and from a surge of violence that recalls the shootings and killings of the crack epidemic of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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And just as the Preakness approaches, with its restorative potential as a great Baltimore event, here comes Sinatra, making statements about moving the big race to Laurel. "Right now, I'd say Laurel is in the lead" to host the Preakness, he told reporters Saturday. "My goal is to try and not let that happen. ... I don't think it's the last Preakness here, that's for sure."

If you find the message conflicting, welcome aboard. We've heard this kind of ambiguity before, and the presentation is predictable — first, an expression of preference to preserve tradition by keeping the Triple Crown race where it has been held since the 19th century, followed by a suggestion that moving it would make more sense financially.

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We're used to hearing this sort of stuff — about sports franchises and other businesses — and Sinatra, who arrived here from Florida only last year, apparently doesn't realize the level of cynicism to which that kind of talk inures Baltimoreans.

He might think that talking about moving the Preakness on the day of the race is what a guy in his position is supposed to do.

He might think it puts his employer, the Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico and Laurel Park, in a good position to negotiate even more money from the state for track improvements.

So, in terms of the way business is conducted, it makes sense for Sinatra to float casual threats about moving the Preakness to lovely U.S. 1 in Laurel. Especially when the national press has assembled and surrounded him.

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But in terms of reflecting some appreciation for what the city has just gone through — and is still going through — Sinatra gets a dubious-achievement award for obliviousness. He deserves it even more when you consider that Saturday's Preakness drew its largest crowd ever (more than 131,000) and had its sixth-highest betting handle ($85 million) while Friday's Black-Eyed Susan races pulled a betting handle of $18 million, a jump of more than $7 million over last year.

The chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, Tim Ritvo, made a point of saying that we need to take this talk of moving the Preakness seriously because it's all part of company founder Frank Stronach's desire to make horse racing in Maryland great again. This is a quote from Ritvo (and not a character in a Damon Runyon story): "He wants it to operate in perpetuity for the next 25 years ... "

Let's hope perpetuity goes on a little longer than that.

Let's hope Baltimore emerges from this crucible, and with the Preakness still in place in Park Heights.

Not that the Preakness is even in a Top 10 of concerns for this city.

In fact, you could say my 13-paragraph poke at Sal Sinatra just now was a way of taking the day off from the most serious issues facing the city — the daily municipal turbulence, the insane gun violence, the sense of dysfunction, of leadership in over its collective head.

All of that weighs heavily on those of us who live in this ailing city (or near it) and who care about it. (I'm leaving out those who do not care or who actually take glee in the city's troubles, because they just don't matter.)

Certainly life goes on here for the vast majority of citizens. Thousands go to jobs or to school every day. They look after their kids. They feed their families. They make daily decisions that affect business and commerce, or the health and lives of others. There's a Baltimore that still hums along, where people eat in restaurants, drink in saloons, go to Orioles games, take the bus, ride bikes, run through the streets. In all parts of the city, you can find the even, steady normal flow of life — people looking after their gardens, walking their dogs, sweeping the sidewalks.

But the whole time, without relief, there's the steady beat of bleak news. Shootings and killings. Shootings and killings still, after all these years. And you look around for leadership, and a new idea, a sense of urgency, and there's not much there, which makes the whole picture seem even more dire, and the last thing you want to hear is a guy talking about moving the Preakness to Laurel.

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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