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Laurel Leader

With Preakness 2015 this weekend, a possible future at Laurel Park gets mixed reaction [Commentary]

A possible move of the Preakness Stakes to Laurel Park was brought up several times this week by various media and horse racing experts.

Don Hansford, 51, who works on Cherry Lane in Laurel, began following horse racing in the 1980s. He lived in New Jersey at the time and would frequent the Meadowlands at 1 Racetrack Drive in East Rutherford.

That allegiance has been switched to Laurel Park and Pimlico since he moved to Maryland more than 20 years ago.

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Hansford was at Laurel Park Wednesday afternoon, armed with a newspaper listing the lineup on a day of simulcast racing being held here. Since Laurel Park and Pimlico are run by the same company, the Stronach Group, Hansford was asked if the Preakness should be moved to Laurel Park.

"There is plenty of parking" at Laurel Park, he noted. But the Preakness "is an icon where it is. Baltimore city people probably wouldn't go for it. I'm 50-50 on it."

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Hansford works as a blacksmith in Laurel and lives in Owings Mills, which makes it easier for him to get to both Pimlico and Laurel Park. He was thinking aloud now, giving serious thought to where the second stop in horse racing's Triple Crown should be held.

"It is an icon [in Baltimore]. That is where it should be, really. Now I'm 60-40" on the race staying at Pimlico, he said.

The 140th running of the Preakness is Saturday in a northwest Baltimore neighborhood that lacks easy access to major highways, among other things.

Asked if the Preakness could move, Stronach Chief Operating Officer Tim Ritvo told The Baltimore Sun, "Obviously, it stays in the state of Maryland. If we moved it from its historic site, we would get beat up a bit. But could we pull off a good event at Laurel? Yes."

A possible move to Laurel Park was also brought up this week by Andrew Beyer, long-time racing columnist for The Washington Post, who said Laurel's location make it a "logical" place for year-round racing.

This is not the first time Laurel has been mentioned as a possible landing site for the Preakness. And, of course, the Anne Arundel County part of Laurel was also mentioned in the 1990s as a building site for a new stadium for the Washington Redskins. We should be glad that never happened, with the team already look for a new site after less than 20 years in Landover.

Shawn Sharber, of Severn, follows horse racing and watches the Preakness on television but doesn't attend in person because of the traffic "hassle." Even though Laurel Park would offer easy access to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Route 1, Sharber feels the Preakness should remain in Baltimore. "I think there is too much tradition. I don't think it would be a good move," he says.

At the Turf Motel on Route 1 in North Laurel, a person at the front desk who gave her name as Nikki said a move would probably bring in more business.

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Meanwhile, Laurel residents Kenneth Slater, 30, and Jay Neeley, 27, would welcome the move of the Preakness to Laurel Park. Slater says he likes to play the horses.

"It would bring in jobs," Slater said Wednesday, standing outside the Starting Gate Bar and Lounge on Route 198. "I wouldn't have a problem with it."

Neeley noted the recent unrest in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray.

"They may need a change of scenery" for the Preakness, he said.

David Driver is a former Laurel Leader sports editor.


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