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Fans mingle in front of a closed-off north grandstand at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on May 17, 2019.
Fans mingle in front of a closed-off north grandstand at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on May 17, 2019. (Rob Carr / Getty Images)

The leaders of Baltimore’s General Assembly delegation are calling on the Maryland Racing Commission to investigate The Stronach Group’s management of Pimlico Race Course, including lopsided spending of state subsidies for renovations that favored Stronach’s Laurel Park racetrack.

Del. Cheryl D. Glenn and Sen. Antonio L. Hayes urged the commission, as the state’s regulatory body for horse racing, in a May 23 letter to hire an independent accounting firm to aggressively audit Stronach’s operations.

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The lawmakers cited the company’s decision to close nearly 7,000 seats at Pimlico a month before the Preakness Stakes and the malfunctioning of bathrooms on Preakness Day. Such standard maintenance problems and Stronach’s record of spending most of its state grants to renovate Laurel Park should prompt the commission to bring in outside experts to examine the company’s spending, they wrote.

“Their willful neglect of Pimlico has become an embarrassment to the state of Maryland and to racing,” the Baltimore Democrats wrote commission Chairman Michael Algeo. “Stronach has simply chosen not to maintain the facility as part of its strategy to abandon Pimlico and move the Preakness to Laurel Park. The racing commission cannot sit idly by while Stronach allows Pimlico to sink into complete disrepair.”

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh accused the Maryland Jockey Club of wanting to abandon the city for a preferred Laurel location, saying the firm “allowed Pimlico to deteriorate" by spending most of its state-funded improvements in Laurel, not Pimlico.

In an emailed statement Wednesday, The Stronach Group said that it has used the state’s racetrack renewal funds according to state law and racing commission regulations. It said it submits all capital spending bills eligible for matching grants — along with a “certification of eligibility from an independent” certified public accountant — to the commission for review and approval.

State law and regulations “do not require any specific allocation of funds for projects between Pimlico and Laurel,” The Stronach Group said.

The legislators urged the commission to act, asking: “Will it force Stronach to obey the law, maintain Pimlico, account for its state funding, and meet its obligations as a licensee? Or will it collaborate with Stronach, actively or passively, in allowing Pimlico to become unusable and allowing Stronach to move the Preakness out of Baltimore?”

Baltimore’s top lawyer has sent a letter to Maryland’s top tax collector alleging that Preakness owner reports inaccurate data needed to proper tax collection.

Algeo did not respond to a request for comment, and commission director Mike Hopkins declined Wednesday by email to comment.

The Baltimore Sun reported in February that since 2013, Stronach has spent 87 percent of its state subsidy at Laurel and 13 percent at Pimlico. Maryland’s Racetrack Facilities Renewal program, funded by slot machine proceeds, generated $22.5 million to pay for a total of $45 million in renovations after required funding matches by Stronach. Of that, $39 million went to clubhouse upgrades and stable repairs at Laurel Park and $6 million was spent at Pimlico, where it paid for Wi-Fi, air-conditioning and electrical improvements.

City and state officials have been saying the disparity helps explain the dilapidated condition of the 149-year-old Pimlico, home each May to the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown. Elected leaders who support keeping the race at Pimlico raised the issue this year as Stronach pushed for legislation to use state bonds to overhaul Laurel Park to host big events, including eventually the Preakness.

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