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Move Preakness to Laurel, close Pimlico

Tim Ritvo, the chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, said in a news conference Saturday afternoon at Pimlico Race Course before the 143rd Preaknessthat there are no plans on the table to invest more of the organization’s funds into the 148-year-old facility.

Last summer, The Baltimore Sun published my commentary, “Moving the Preakness to Laurel Park is a winning bet” (July 9, 2017). After spending three days experiencing racing at Pimlico this meet, I am more than ever convinced that it is time to move the Preakness to Laurel Park and close Pimlico. The Baltimore Sun editorial, “How to keep Preakness at Pimlico” (May 17), declared “Given that the Stronach Group has consolidated virtually all non-Preakness Maryland thoroughbred racing at Laurel, a much more modern facility conveniently located between Baltimore and Washington, there is little economic case to be made for Pimlico’s owners to invest that much [$300 million] on their own.”

Despite the above statement, The Sun seeks to encourage the use of public investment to keep Pimlico open. The Stronach Group is a national innovator in horse racing with the creation of the Claiming Crown, the highest purse Pegasus Race, and hosting multiple Breeders’ Cup races. They have put significant financial resources into Laurel Park, which makes it fan friendly and inviting for new and existing racing fans as well as continuing to improve its racing product. Maryland has a storied history in horse racing and breeding. Moving the Preakness to Laurel Park will not diminish that history.

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Closing Pimlico and consolidating racing at Laurel Park does not mean that hotels and restaurants in Baltimore will sit empty during Preakness Week. Downtown Baltimore is less than 20 miles from Laurel Park. The modernized Laurel Park will have the opportunity to host a Breeders’ Cup, which is the crown jewel of worldwide racing.

Unfortunately, some of the loudest proponents of keeping Pimlico open attend races one day a year, if at all. The last couple of years I have attended Pimlico when I was hard pressed to find 1,000 fans in attendance. Baltimore is faced with significant challenges. To ask for public investment of up to $500 million to host a two-day race meet when there is a logical and cost-effective location available just down the road at Laurel Park does not make sense. I understand and support the efforts to use public and private dollars to enhance the area where Pimlico is located. Moving the Preakness to Laurel Park should not preclude improving housing, education, business and health care in the immediate area of Pimlico.

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Kevin O’Keeffe, Baltimore

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